Fast fashion. It’s a term we’ve all heard used to describe the type of clothing that comes into our lives like a speeding freight train and exits much in the same manner.Each of us has purchased fast fashion and can easily identify different brands that fall within this descriptor. Fashion alone is an interesting and loaded term that has a lot of different cultural connotations and subjective meanings to each of us. Whether we consider ourselves slaves to it (did you notice everyone’s wearing Birkenstocks now? I mean everyone!?) or we pay no mind to its constant barrage of new and now trends, you can’t help but find the vast machine of fashion an interesting one. I mean, I always have. It’s what lead me to studying fashion at Parsons and believing I wanted to work in the industry when I graduated.
But, when we tack the word fast in front of it suddenly it’s a whole different beast. And that’s what I’m looking to unpack today.
This is not pretty and I get a bit preachy, but bear with me. In the next blog post (part dos, deux or simply 2, if you will) I’m going to do a overview of what the traditional manufacturing process looks like and the harmful effects it has on our planet and the people living on it. If you stick with me until part 3, I’ll outline my feelings about what we can do to disrupt the system and make a positive change. Hey, at least in the end you can consider yourself a bit more educated about the whole impact that fast fashion has on our world. My main goal here is to make you a bit more aware of the things you support when you buy those cheap t-shirts at Walmart or another pair of leggings at H&M. If you prefer to live in blissful ignorance and would rather skip this, so be it.
Here we go.
Fast was a good thing for so long in retail and the service industries. When your food came out fast it revolutionized how we ate (you can’t reduce the social impact of companies like McDonald’s or Panera Bread) and when things sold fast at retail that meant product or clothing designers were doing their job successfully. Fast was a key element of success, so what happened?
Fast fashion began its rise during the 80s when globalization began to impact our supply chain and created a space for less expensive consumer goods from faraway countries like China or Vietnam. Leave it to everybody’s favorite capitalists, the United States, to create a system called Quick Response manufacturing in order to compete with overseas production. At first, Quick Response was successful and allowed domestic manufacturers to operate at the same level of efficiency as their competition, or at least in a manner that would allow for it to still be appealing for companies to produce their goods here in the USA.
But, Quick Response manufacturing was easily adopted by retailers looking to improve their concept to market timeline. The most famous (and arguably most successful) example of quick response manufacturing and the systems it has influenced is the company Zara, who by the 90s had opened in most major markets around the globe and brought us what we now know as fast fashion: products that are designed, sourced, manufactured and brought to the consumers at the retail level in only a matter of weeks. What used to take months of designing, improving, directing and creating is now only a matter of days. Brands like H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy, Nike, Walmart, Target and many, many others just followed suit. I mean, how could they say no to the prospect of making tons of money?
This is all very interesting, no? It’s amazing to consider that our world is so interconnected that we’re able to design something in an office in Spain and have it made across the globe in a factory in China, put on a ship and sent back around the world to be sold in some little outlet mall in the middle of say, New Jersey. The countless people who have to be involved to bring to life a simple t-shirt is truly astounding when you begin to think about it.
But that’s the problem: most people don’t think about it.