Fast fashion has been growing in the textile and apparel industry, changing the way we produce and consume clothes forever. Over the last two decades, clothing has become cheaper and disposable. Shopping for new clothes is now a weekly or even a daily event for many consumers.
Fast fashion stores can be easily detected with their low pricing strategy, weekly mass production of new clothes, absence of social standards and sustainable material certifications.
Overconsumption and overproduction of clothing come with a very high social and environmental cost. The fashion industry has a huge negative impact on the people, the animals, and the planet.
Sustainability is now rising in the fashion industry. People are starting to worry about the environmental consequences of their clothing purchases. Conscious consumers want to know #WhoMadeMyClothes and the carbon footprint of their wardrobe.
There are valid reasons to stop buying fast fashion. The exploitation of workers, toxic chemicals, textile waste, clean water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Are you new to sustainable fashion? I encourage you to follow my guide on how to stop wearing fast fashion.
If you want to avoid buying unethical fast fashion and instead pick more eco-responsible clothes, here is how to know if a store is fast fashion.
The first fast fashion stores
Fast fashion has become very popular in the last 20 years. It's responsible for the massive growth of some brands and store chains, enabling them to become large corporations. The most popular fast-fashion retailers in the world are Uniqlo (21%), H&M (18%), and Zara (18%), as reported by the University of Economics in Bratislava.
Fast fashion brands push new collections to high-street stores weekly. They offer new trendy clothes to consumers at an affordable price. New garments are made to be cheap and disposable. Fast fashion stores want you to buy more clothes and more often, replacing old items with new style trends as fast as possible.
With their contribution to the throwaway culture, fast fashion stores have made clothing a commodity. New clothes are now so cheap that they become single-use.
Only 63% of consumers globally put time and effort into finding sustainable clothing, as reported by Cotton Incorporated. In the United-States and the United Kingdom, 56% of consumers prefer shopping for fast fashion, followed by consumers in Germany (46%), Italy (33%), and Mexico (30%).
At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of garment factories started to increase rapidly worldwide. But a lot of clothing production was still done at home or in small workshops. Clothing was then seen as an investment. Buying new clothes was a very sporadic event.
In the 1960s, consumers' demand for cheaply made and affordable clothing started to rise, particularly among the younger generations. In Europe and the United States, this change provoked massive labor outsourcing to faraway overseas countries.
Now fast fashion stores such as Zara, H&M, TopShop, and Primark focus on affordable trendy clothing and cut manufacturing costs as much as possible. And they use the cheapest labor in the world's poorest countries.
Fast fashion stores aren't sustainable or ethical. They have problems such as wrongful labor practices and catastrophic amounts of waste.
Let's be more mindful of our purchase decisions to stop fast fashion, avoid polluting the air, land, and oceans, endangering human health and ecosystems.
If you aren't convinced about the detrimental effects of fast fashion, read up my article on why you should quit fast fashion.
Fortunately, more people are becoming aware of the issues related to fast fashion. Especially young shoppers are being more eco-conscious with their clothing purchases. Climate change is a very worrisome problem driving people to care more about their impact on the environment.
The green movement is booming and, with it, slow fashion, an alternative to fast fashion. It's about making more responsible choices, buying with purpose, realizing every one of our shopping decisions affects the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
Until fast fashion companies start making more efforts to reduce the damage they are causing, as consumers, we have to be careful in choosing more environmentally friendly fashion stores to buy from.
How to recognize fast fashion stores
There is a lot of greenwash going on in the fast fashion industry. It 's now more difficult to check if fashion brands like Uniqlo are fast-fashion or not.
Uniqlo is an example of a fast-fashion chain store claiming to make long-lasting products. Read up my analysis of the reasons why Uniqlo is a fast-fashion brand.
To check if a store is fast fashion, you have to do a bit of research. With a little effort and time, you can take a good look at their products, and visit their website or social media profiles.
Find out if the brand is transparent with information about its supply chain, facilities, processes, values, and management strategies. Many fast fashion stores will hide that kind of information. They don't want you to see their unsafe factories, hazardous chemicals, human and animals right violations.
Before buying from a store, look especially for:
- sustainable materials,
- high transparency,
- lower frequency of new collections,
- support for social causes,
- fair product pricing.
Ethical and sustainable fashion brands are against fast fashion. They minimize their social and environmental impact as much as they can. They care for their customers and the quality of their products, as well as the people behind their clothes. You can identify conscious fashion stores because they:
- minimize the environmental impact of their activities,
- respect all fundamental human and animal rights,
- provide enough information to make informed purchase decisions.
To know if a store is fast fashion, you want to:
- check the materials they use,
- read the labels to look for certifications,
- find out if they produce locally,
- lookup how often they come up with new collections,
- check their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies,
- check the standards used in their facilities,
- ask them directly for more information.
If you used to shop for fast fashion a lot, all of this can seem overwhelming to you. But fear not. With a bit of experience and practice, it will come naturally to you.
You will learn to recognize fast fashion when you see it much easier after some time. After studying a fashion store, if anything doesn't feel right, then it's probably fast fashion.
Does the store try to keep up with ever-changing trends, often inspired by runway shows, celebrities, and social media personalities? Then, it's probably fast fashion. Look at what GAP, Zaful, Forever 21, Boohoo, Fashion Nova, and Target are doing.
Typically, a fast-fashion store will offer a high amount of various styles and change them very quickly. The materials used for clothing are cheap, low quality, often synthetic or natural but without organic certifications.
Learn to identify relevant certifications on clothing labels by reading my guide on the best certification standards for textiles.
For fast fashion stores, production takes place overseas for a large majority of their clothes, or locally but with very short turnaround time. New garments are also made available only for a limited amount of time.
Unsustainable apparel-making methods are the worse. Producing inexpensive clothing rapidly in response to the latest style trends isn't right.
The overuse of cheap synthetic materials and harmful chemicals isn't the way to go forward. It's inexpensive in the short term, but we will all have to pay a very high price in the long run.
Instead of shopping in fast fashion stores, you can thrift and give old garments a new life. You will keep them away from landfills and avoid wasting resources for the unnecessary production of new clothing.
Also, remember that the less you buy, the less your impact on the environment. Buy less and higher quality! This is the most sustainable habit you can adopt today to drive change in the wasteful fast fashion industry.
When you do have to buy new, make purchases that fit your lifestyle perfectly. Pick durable, high-quality, simple yet chic clothing that you can style easily and will wear for a long amount of time. Buy intentionally to choose pieces that will last.
If you don't know what kind of fabric and materials to look for when buying conscious fashion, check out my list of the top 10 eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.
Clothing is your second skin! It should make you feel comfortable and confident at all times. Do yourself a favor and buy from fashion stores that offer high-quality sustainable clothes, without all the negative consequences of fast fashion.
Do you know some excellent ethical fashion stores to buy from?
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 four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.