What is fast-fashion?

Fast-fashion... First appearing in the 1980s when fashion brands drew inspiration from haute-couture to produce similar designs at more affordable prices, it is now omnipresent in our lives. Multinational brands such as Zara, Boohoo and Uniqlo have built up gigantic fast-fashion empires. But in the end, what are we talking about here?
But what are we really talking about when we talk about fast-fashion? That's what we're going to find out together.

The concept of fast fashion refers to the rapid and very regular renewal of ready-to-wear collections, resulting in very low-cost products. This disposable fashion has disastrous consequences on both social and environmental aspects.
This model has rapidly become the norm in the industry, as fashion manufacturers seek to reduce production costs, manufacture just-in-time and shorten lead times, all with the sole aim of optimizing and maximizing profitability, and therefore offer poor-quality garments.


We're now going to take a look at how fast fashion works.

The model is based on a highly polluting industry, which consumes a lot of fossil fuels, low-cost labor and raw materials. It operates according to a very specific process.
It operates according to a very specific process specific to this movement.
Firstly, production is carried out by subcontractors, in factories on the other side of the world, often Asian countries such as China, India, Bangladesh or even Pakistan with very low labor costs and in an unethical manner. Working conditions are poor, and employees are paid very little. And let's not forget forced or child labor. Textile workers work up to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. And that's not even counting their poverty wages, which in 2019 will be €23 per month in Ethiopia, €127 in India, $0.32/hour in Bangladesh and $0.55/hour in Pakistan.

Unlike classic fashion brands, which release between 2 and 4 collections a year, the fast-fashion giants can release up to 36 collections a year(that's 1 every week and a half!). With so many collections comes plagiarism. Indeed, fast-fashion brands don't hesitate to plagiarize massively from creators and other designers, even if it means intimidating them afterwards in the event of a complaint.
Raw materials are of very poor quality in order to keep costs as low as possible. Most garments are made from synthetic materials which are plastics derived from petroleum (polyester, nylon etc)
All this is based on an aggressive marketing model, with over-the-top advertising that constantly intrudes on our minds, as well as ever-increasing promotions, sometimes up to 90% off.


Let's now turn our attention to the impact of fast fashion on environmental and social aspects.

The**environmental impact** of this industry is phenomenal, with the multiple stages involved in making a garment contributing to the heavy carbon footprint. Indeed, the entire production and consumption process pollutes: whether it's the production of raw materials (cultivation, breeding, manufacturing), the transformation of these fibers into yarns (dyeing, finishing) or even the transportation of these garments without forgetting the use and end-of-life of these garments. Each of these stages inevitably leads to pollution of the air, water and soil as well as miraculous consumption of water and energy.
Take greenhouse gas emissions, for example. A garment travels nearly 1.5 times around the Earth before ending up in our stores. An estimated 4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent are emitted each year by the clothing industry (including clothes and shoes). According to Ademe, this is more than the impact of international flights and maritime traffic combined.

Let's continue with water. It's estimated that the fashion industry is the third most water-hungry sector after wheat and rice cultivation. Some crops, such as cotton, require astronomical quantities of water to grow; rain is not enough, so rivers and streams have to be diverted to quench the thirst of the crops often depriving local populations of water to drink. To give you an idea, the manufacture of just one cotton t-shirt uses the equivalent of the water consumption of 70 showers (Ademe).

Fast fashion favors the use of petro-sourced materials such as polyester, the most produced material. 60.5 million tonnes of polyester were manufactured in 2021 (Ademe). So, in addition to air pollution and the use of non-renewable resources, fast-fashion, with plastics pollutes the water. Indeed, with each wash, these garments releasemicroplastics that are not filtered by our washing machines and therefore end up in the oceans. It is estimated that around 240,000 tonnes of plastic microparticles are released into nature every year, the equivalent of 24 billion plastic bottles.(Ademe)
Let's not forget animal-based materials such as leather, wool and silk. If the factories are not supervised, the animals may live in difficult conditions and are often mistreated. In addition to water pollution, we must not forget the environmental impact of our products.
In addition to water pollution, fast fashion pollutes the soil, notably because of the many pesticides used in crops, in cotton cultivation for example. A huge number of chemicals are also used in dyeing and finishing fabrics. These substances are ultra-toxic for the workers who use them and for the marine ecosystems that receive them during washing. According to Ademe, 20% of water pollution worldwide is attributable to textile dyeing and treatment.

To this we can add the emissions induced by transporting clothes to distributors, because traveling 65,000 km and well that emits!
Overproduction induces waste with lots of unsold items but also (and above all) overconsumption. Marketing doesn't help...
Sales, promotions of all kinds all year round, omnipresent advertising, aggressive marketing,everything pushes consumption. Today's fashion dictates an extremely rapid and frequent renewal of the pieces in our wardrobes. In Europe, an estimated 4 million tonnes of clothing are discarded every year. Of these, 80% are thrown away in the household rubbish and end up in landfill or incineration.
Clothes are sometimes donated. If they are not used in France they are often sent to other countries such as Kenya or Tanzania. However, this can very quickly turn into poisoned gifts. Indeed, far too many clothes are sent, not always suited to the climate of the countries in question. They end up in garbage dumps, turning countries into veritable open-air dumps.


In addition to its environmental impact, fast fashion has an incommensurable social impact. The lives of millions of workers, nearly 80% of whom are women, are impacted by the clothing industry. You're no doubt familiar with the Rana Plaza scandal in 2013 in Bangladesh, when the building housing the garment factories of various brands collapsed, costing the lives of 1,100 people and injuring 2,500 others.

Unfortunately, this is only a small part of the story. In the so-called sweatshops( garment factories), working conditions are deplorable, the minimas sociaux are in no way respected. Long working hours, low wages, forced labor, child labor, unsanitary buildings, no contracts - the list is unfortunately very long. Today, it is estimated that nearly 170 million children are exploited by the textile industry. Wages are constantly revised downwards, at the whim of brands and their desire to make a profit.
Safety measures are not respected at all, with employees working with chemicals with little or no protection.
Dyes, heavy metals and other extremely toxic products are discharged into watercourses, essential to the life of the locals and seep into groundwater. The latter are forced to use them for drinking, washing or watering their fields, leading to illnesses such as cancer, gastric diseases and other pathologies. No one is spared.
No one is spared, as the plastic microparticles that escape during washing end up in the oceans but also in marine fauna such as fish. By eating them, we ingurgitate these microparticles which have an impact on our immune and respiratory systems or even induce a decline in fertility.


We've just seen how problematic fast-fashion is on various levels. But as if fast-fashion wasn't enough, today we're witnessing the birth of another movement: the**'ultra fast-fashion**, represented in particular by major chains such as Shein.

And what's this? Well, it takes all the characteristics of fast-fashion (rapid production under poor social and environmental conditions with low-quality materials for cheap) and does even worse..
With ultra fast fashion we're not talking about between 1,000 and 2,400 products released per month like fast fashion. No, we're talking about 5,000 to 10,000 products released every DAY.
The model is pushed to the extreme... Marketing is very aggressive and perpetually pushes to buy with products available for a short time, promo codes galore, ever-lower prices...
But the consequences are also taken to extremes... Greenhouse gas emissions are increased tenfold. It is even estimated that if the trend continues, in 2050 the fashion sector will emit almost 26% of global emissions.
Product quality is further reduced, making clothing very fragile and thus prompting frequent wardrobe changes. Finally, it's even more waste and textile waste generated. And we're not even talking about the workers who are increasingly exploited to keep up with the infernal pace...
So there you have it, we've seen just how much trouble fast-fashion causes on so many levels. It's up to us, consumers to change our consumption habits so as not to encourage overproduction and thus limit the impact of fast fashion.

What are the alternatives to fast fashion?

In total opposition to fast fashion, there's the concept of slow fashion. But what is it? Well, it's an ethical method of production with respect for the environment, humans and animals. This ethical fashion emphasizes the quality of raw materials with a low environmental footprint, respect for social minima or transparency and traceability of the value chain.
Everything must be done to ensure that this responsible fashion becomes the norm. We must therefore choose to consume less but better by favoring pieces with sustainable design ( eco-design, recycled, organic raw materials..) and reasoned production methods (good working conditions, local manufacturing, pre-ordering..). The product life cycle is also taken into account from design to end-of-life.


So it's possible to turn to eco-responsible brands with certified, organic, sustainable, recycled or upcycled materials. For example, you can buy ethical or vegan clothing, or others made from hemp or linen, which are low-water-consuming materials, or organic cotton. The most local production possible is also to be preferred. Labels or other certifications such as Oeko-Tex, GOTS, Fair Trade, PETA Approved Vegan, Fair Wear Foundation are sure-fire ways to spot quality clothing.

Countering fast-fashion also involves how we use our clothes. We need to preserve their durability. It's important to keep our clothes as long as possible by repairing them, for example, or even paying attention to their care (cleaning them less, reading labels well etc ) to limit overconsumption.

Participating in the circular economy by buying these clothes second-hand to give clothes a second life is also a good alternative that helps reduce clothing production.
You now have all the keys in hand to stop buying fast fashion. Discover our Eco x Ception brands that are taking fashion in the right direction!