There’s an interesting trend we’ve started to notice. People are having a hard time figuring out which brands they can trust and which ones they can’t. As stories of working conditions in factories and the environmental impact of fashion brands come to light, calls to boycott fast fashion brands have exploded across social media. But what is fast fashion and is it really that bad? Read on to find out.
WHAT DOES FAST FASHION MEAN?
The term fast fashion was first coined in the 1990’s by the New York Times in their description of Zara’s mission to take 15 days to make a garment from start to finish. Before this (and currently with slow fashion brands like Everlane or Ekster) it took about 2 years for a product to go from the design stage to being sold in stores. Currently, fast fashion companies like Fashion Nova and H&M have completely changed this towards a “see now, buy now” business model dictated by something called quick response manufacturing. Here, they cut out the lengthy design process by copying looks off the runway, streamline supply chains by keeping low-quality raw materials always on hand and streamlining distribution.
This means that instead of a 21 month process to create a new line, fast fashion brands have shaved down their process to 4 months or less.
[Most factories waste huge amounts of water, that's why we use water-efficient DriTan leather.]
WHAT ARE EXAMPLES OF FAST FASHION BRANDS?
In 2021, people are buying more stuff than ever before. One statistic says that the average person today buys 60% more clothes than in the year 2000. This is made possible by the overwhelming amount of fast fashion companies out there, most of which you probably already know:
- Fashion Nova
- Victoria’s Secret
- Urban Outfitters
- Pretty Little Thing
What you’ll start to notice is that it’s much harder to find something that isn’t a fast fashion brand than the other way around.
This is because consumers and businesses have such a high incentive to continue using this business model. Consumers can get cheap, trendy clothes in large quantities and brands are selling more and more than ever before. Unfortunately, the true cost of fast fashion is much more than what you’ll see on the price tag.
[Our Vegan Leather made from recycled windshields helps saves old cars from the dump.]
WHY IS FAST FASHION BAD?
Let’s start with how it can hurt the consumer. While fast-fashion gives the illusion of living like the rich and famous - anyone can get a knock-off version of ‘the Balenciaga’s that look like socks’ and feel like Cardi-B for a moment - the downsides to the consumer may be larger than the pay off. While people are buying 60% more than in the year 2000, the clothes they are getting only last half as long as they used to. Every year some $500 billion in value is lost due to clothing that is barely worn, not donated, recycled, or ends up in a landfill. On average young women, the largest consumer of fast-fashion, say that they consider a garment worn once or twice to be old. What this means is that 3 out of 5 fast-fashion items end up in a landfill after being worn only 2-3 times.
So while consumers may think they are getting a fantastic item at a very affordable price, in the end they are basically buying something that will be trash within a couple months.
[We source our leather from factories that function under strict codes of ethics to promote only the best working conditions.]
WHAT ARE THE WORKING CONDITIONS LIKE IN FAST FASHION FACTORIES?
Most people know about the horrid working conditions for garment workers in the factories that pump out fast fashion clothing. Stories of suicide nets surrounding factories, child labor, and desperate calls for help written in messages on the sewn-in tags of clothing. One only has to remember the tragedy that happened at Rana Plaza.
Fast fashion companies overwhelmingly choose to use factories in places where workers rights are largely nonexistent or highly limited. In the average garment factory people are forced to work 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for less than the minimum wage, on average 49 cents an hour. This only increases during peak season when, in order to meet a brands demands, employees are often forced to work until 2 or 3 AM. Their salaries are so low they are unable to refuse overtime and often overtime isn’t paid at all.
[We have invested in solar panel technology for our Tracker Cards as a way to phase out toxic batteries.]
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DOES FAST FASHION HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT?
On top of the terrible working conditions, the fast fashion industry poses a threat to those far beyond the walls of garment factories. As of 2018, the Global Fashion Industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, responsible for 10% of worldwide annual carbon emissions, more than that produced by all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
One of the major factors contributing to this colossal amount of pollution are the fabrics favored by fast-fashion brands which produce huge amounts of textile waste. As a general rule of thumb, the cheaper the material is to make, the more damage it does to the planet. Fabrics like polyester, nylon and spandex cost a whopping 342 billion barrels of oil a year to be made, leak harmful chemicals into the environments around their factories and can even impact the health of workers who produce them.
All of this is to say that whenever an item is shockingly inexpensive, there is usually another hidden price to pay.
[Find our whole line of sustainable leather goods here.]
WHY IS FAST FASHION SO POPULAR?
As the fast-fashion business model continues to dominate and becomes increasingly attractive to prospective brands, the landscape of the fashion industry begins to look different. A rift has opened up with many options at the very top of the price range, that are unattainable for most, and many options at the very bottom of the price range that are unsustainable, unethical and ultimately not consumer friendly in the long term.
Fast fashion brands are killing legacy brands by squeezing them out of the market. Think about it, why would you buy a pair of GAP jeans for $40 when you can get seemingly the same pair from another shop for $20? With all these cheap options that seem to be about the same quality (though they are not) there is a smaller and smaller section of the market that middle ground brands have to fight over. Moreover, it is costly to a business to be more environmentally friendly and equitable because it means higher margins, slower production and higher prices.
HOW TO AVOID FAST FASHION (HOW TO TELL WHAT ISN’T FAST FASHION)
Even though fast fashion is king for now, many customers are expressing their desire for ethically made, sustainable clothing. For customers who are endlessly confused about what products to buy, here is a helpful way to know for sure you can trust a fashion company. When a brand has a B-Lab or Climate Neutral certification, customers can immediately know that they are being held accountable for their carbon footprint, the way they treat their employees and their cultural impact. Furthermore, these certifications function on complete transparency, meaning everyone has easy access to the actual impact of a certain business, shown through their energy consumption, carbon footprint and offsetted emissions.
SUPPORT ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE BRANDS
Supporting ethical and sustainable brands is one of the best ways to not only avoid fast fashion but help shift the entire fashion industry towards sustainable and ethical business practices. Once you know how to identify which brands can be held to their word through B-Lab or Climate Neutral Certifications, you have the power to help enact change and buy brands that make you feel as good as they make you look. You can go even further by choosing to support brands that invest their profits into sustainable solutions, like creating vegan leather from recycled windshields or investing in solar panels. If a company is willing to take money out of their own pocket for the greater good, they probably aren’t a fast fashion brand!