Do you still buy fast fashion currently? I know it's difficult to resist. It's fun, practical and convenient. Maybe learning about the reasons why it's so popular will help you make better purchasing decisions.
Fast fashion represents the culture of instant gratification is our modern societies. It has been growing exponentially over the last 20 years and remains extremely successful today despite many critics.
Fast fashion is the term used to describe a destructive business model in the clothing industry. It defines the design, production, and consumption of cheaply made clothing inspired by the latest trends.
Fashion is a growing industry and fast fashion is the major contributor to its growth. Using the Internet, social media, and technological innovation, many fast fashion brands such as Forever 21, H&M, Primark, Zara, Fashion Nova grew into large global corporations.
The global apparel industry is expanding at a 6.16% compound annual growth rate, valued at about USD 1.5 trillion in 2020!
The clothing category with the highest growth is sportswear with an 8% yearly rate.
In the United-States, 88% of consumers prefer shopping for fast fashion, followed by consumers in Europe (46%), India (25%) and China (21%).
The most popular fast-fashion retailers in the world are Uniqlo (21%), H&M (18%) and Zara (18%).
But fast fashion has an enormous social and environmental cost. It does no good for the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
The global apparel and footwear industry is responsible for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Every year the fashion industry accounts for 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. This represents more than all air and sea travel combined. The fashion industry's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise by 50% by 2030 at the current pace.
Climate change has already cost the United States more than USD 350 billion. And that number is expected to rise to USD 35 billion each year by 2050!
Americans alone generated more than 16 million tons of textile waste in 2017. This amount of waste is close to 10 times bigger than in 1960 and doubled over the last 20 years.
All textile production worldwide including cotton farming uses almost 100 billion cubic meters of water annually. Almost 20% of the world's wastewater is produced by the fashion industry.
Cotton farming consumes 4% of worldwide of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides.
Before the industrial revolution and globalization, consumers used to invest in high-quality and durable clothes from reputable fashion brands. Buying new clothing was a rare event.
Today's consumers want affordable and new trendy clothing inspired by runway shows. Many are influenced by celebrities and social media personalities.
Consumers are willing to buy imitations and pieces with very low standards. To answer consumers' demand, fast fashion brands and retailers keep pushing for lower labor and raw material costs.
Despite all of its issues, here are the top 10 reasons why fast fashion is so popular.
1. Fast fashion drives economic growth
Purchasing new cheaply-made and fashionable clothing in high-street stores every week is what consumers tend to do nowadays. Fast fashion has a tremendous impact on the economy.
Can you imagine a world without any textiles? The apparel and footwear industry plays a massive role in the global economy.
The very large majority of fast fashion production takes place in overseas countries. It employs more than 300 million people in the whole world. Many farmers and garment factory workers live in low-income countries, where labor is shockingly cheap.
By reading my other article, you can learn more about the influence of fast fashion on the economy.
2. Fast fashion brands and retailers make huge profits
Profit increase is part of the recent fast fashion success. The concept has changed the clothing industry fundamentally. Design, manufacturing, and distribution occur at very high speeds.
Consumers buy more clothes now than ever before from fast fashion brands and retailers such as H&M, Zara, Forever 21, and others because they are everywhere.
Fast fashion is a worldwide phenomenon where brands and retailers use all possible means to acquire more customers and make more profits.
There are no more traditional 2 to 4 seasons for new collections. 52 seasons replace them every year.
3. Fast fashion is very affordable and accessible
Today's fast fashion sensation is highly successful because of its inherent qualities and advantages for modern consumers.
Fast fashion is focusing more and more on simplicity, efficacity, convenience, affordability, and accessibility.
Consumers can now buy the latest fashion trends presented on the catwalk in Paris, Milan, and New York for a fraction of the price.
However, poor quality manufacturing and cheap materials mean that fast fashion garments have a low-lifespan and are disposable. This causes massive amounts of waste to pile up.
Read about the catastrophic impact of fast fashion on the environment in my other article on the importance of slow fashion for the planet.
4. So many styles to choose from
Zara is one of the most well-known and highly popular fast-fashion giants. There are 2259 Zara stores in 96 countries. Zara also sells its designs and styles inspired by the latest trends.
The large variety of choices and product availability is very appealing to consumers. Because design and production time have decreased dramatically, it's now possible for fast-fashion retailers like Zara to deliver new styles every week.
This increases the number of unique customers that frequents high-street stores looking for something new to replace old clothes.
5. The influence of the Internet and social media
Fashion models and celebrities aren't the only ones who can now influence consumers on fashion choices.
The rise of new technologies, communication innovations, and social media has pushed fast fashion in front of many indecisive customers.
Brands and retailers will often partner with social media personalities to promote their products in front of new audiences.
And only very few people like to appear on the Internet in the same outfit twice.
Read my article on the number of times the average piece of clothing is worn to find out how disposable clothing has become in the world today.
6. Fast fashion wants to appear sustainable
With such a negative social and environmental cost, conscious consumers are moving away from fast fashion. Some key players of the clothing industry are now making real efforts to meet consumers' demand for more ethical and sustainable products.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of greenwashing going on in the fast fashion industry. Many brands and retailers now adopt new marketing strategies to appear more green, fair, eco-friendly than they are in reality.
Designers and brands come up with eco-friendly lines. They design and produce clothing made from sustainable materials and ethical production methods. But the large majority of the business remains highly polluting.
Do you want to find out which brands have been using greenwashing as a solution to sell new items to you? Read up my article on the fast fashion brands accused of greenwashing.
7. Fast fashion started with a simple model of supply and demand
The excessive production of trendy and cheap garments at lightning speed is only the result of consumers' need for affordable and fashionable clothing.
It's fun to hunt for stylish discoveries and acquire new stuff. Some people even go out shopping for new clothes daily.
Some fashion garments cost even less than a cup of coffee for the end consumer. How is this even possible?
The overconsumption of low-cost clothing has pushed the fast fashion industry to innovate to become faster and cheaper. The production model wouldn't be so extreme if the demand wasn't there.
Luckily, this means that consumers have the power to drive change. We choose which clothes we buy and who we support with our money.
Check out my article on fashion contribution to climate change to learn why it's now important to change our behavior.
8. Sustainability isn't the determining factor to buy fashion
The green movement is booming. People are starting to care more about how their clothes are being made. Consumers are ready to pay more for environmentally friendly products.
Nearly half of consumers (48%) in the United States say they would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.
Unfortunately, sustainability is still a secondary concern when buying new fashion. First and foremost, customers care about the ease-of-purchase, price, and style of their clothes.
9. Ethical fashion isn't appealing enough
Sustainable and ethical fashion isn't popular and produced enough to stay in front of customers constantly.
Materials and manufacturing costs are still very high. It's a lot more expensive to pay workers in the supply chain a living wage and offer them decent working conditions.
Ethical fashion also encourages people to invest in classic timeless pieces and wear them for a long time. The variety of styles is more limited and doesn't inspire every consumer to buy.
10. Lack of awareness and unseen problems in fashion
Not enough people are aware of the issues occurring in the fashion industry daily.
Unpaid factory workers, physical abuse, destruction of ecosystems, greenhouse gas emissions, textile waste, energy consumption, water, land, and air pollution.
There is also a lack of transparency in the clothing industry. And even when fast fashion brands claim to monitor their suppliers and partners, external audits often miss out on many issues.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.