Chanel inspired little black dress for $30. Red bottom-esque heels for even less. This is the way of the fashion world. This is fast fashion.
Thanks to this phenomenon, people are able to purchase runway inspired styles for a fraction of the price, and quicker than ever before.
Jennifer Wright is a Fashion Design professor here at Fanshawe College, and she says, “consumers are increasingly purchasing fashion apparel at low, low prices and disposing of that same apparel in shorter and shorter cycles”.
You may be unfamiliar with the term “fast fashion”, but chances are it’s on your back.
I asked a group of Fanshawe College students what their go-to apparel stores are and it was the same across the board. H&M, Forever 21 and ZARA were consistent answers. These stores are on the long list of fast fashion brands.
Rachel Katanik openly admits to being a shopaholic. As a student with little money, she says “you can’t resist cute clothing for cheap”.
Katanik adds that you’re almost guaranteed to score at these stores and “they’re always changing, new styles are out all the time”.
This is because fast fashion has changed the fashion industry.
Traditionally, there were 2 seasons, spring/summer and winter/fall. However now, most stores change over on a weekly basis.
When did this happen?
This isn’t a new concept, Wright says if you’re under 30, you probably remember fast fashion always being around. However, she recalls a time when the industry depended on small retailers.
“I would say that it’s probably the late 80’s early 90’s when some of the really large retailers started to come into Canada, like the Gaps, Old Navys.. and kind of wiping out that boutique and mom and pop retail”
The reason for this type of fashion is quite simple. This low quality, high production strategy maximizes profits.
Wright explains the fast fashion business model is dependent on “offshore, low wages, inferior working conditions, lack of environmental responsibility”.
What’s the ultimate price of fast fashion?
Check the label on the shirt you’re wearing. Odds are, it’s made in China, Bangladesh, or another third world country.
Wright says offshore workers often experience situations of poverty. To put it in perspective, Wright gives these numbers:
“The monthly minimum wage in Canada is just over $1500 a month, whereas the monthly minimum wage in Bangladesh is 82 Canadian dollars per month”
Fast fashion is dependent on cheap materials and cheaper labour. Wright says to remember that there’s also labour production of cheap materials, so “there’s cheap labour all the way along the cycle”.
The environment also feels the strain of fast fashion.
According to Wright, Canadian consumers dispose of between 66-68 pounds of textiles per year right into the landfill.
“Globally, it’s estimated that we are using yearly 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of water to make apparel”
Don’t worry, there are perks too!
The most obvious bonus is being able to get new clothes often without breaking the bank. However, Wright says it’s “driving the fashion and apparel industry right now”.
Although manufacturing is done offshore, fast fashion brands generate jobs here in North America. Wright says from employing product development teams to retail workers, it drives the local economy.
Despite these perks, the “slow fashion” movement is making waves.
What is slow fashion?
This movement advocates for good quality, clean production and fairness for both consumers and producers.
Wright says the philosophy behind it is “acknowledging who the maker is, it’s done in very small batches, it’s often customized, it’s limited edition, it’s exclusive, it’s certainly more expensive, it’s a very special purchase”.
When I asked some Fanshawe College students if they would do this, they were all on board.
Wright stresses the importance of finding a middle ground.
She says we simply don’t need to be buying as much stuff. Instead, we can buy less fast fashion and more vintage and second hand.