Have you ever heard “I Like It” by Cardi B? There’s a lyric that goes on like this, “I like those Balenciagas/ The ones that look like socks.” Even though Balenciagas costs about $800, with the help of fast fashion, everyone gets to have these sock-looking shoes. Why? Zara started selling them for $60. It is affordable, stylish, and ephemeral. This is the magic of fast fashion: It comes, it goes.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Fast fashion quickly becomes common with consumers because it allows them to have the feeling of luxury without paying full price.
Fast fashion is also called fast because it doesn’t last in one’s wardrobe for very long. $800 Balenciagas? I don’t like them, but to stay on trend, I’ll just get a knockoff for $60. Once it’s not trendy, I can just toss it in my closet.
In 1980, the average American bought about 12 new articles of clothing every year. Now, the average American buys 68 new pieces a year (Thomas). 68?! Imagine multiplying that by the American population. Obviously, many of these garments become trash.
Operational Pillars of Fast Fashion: (1) Quick Response Production
Fast fashion becomes a consumer addiction for many due to its operational pillars. Before fast fashion, shopping for clothing was considered an event, and consumers would save money to buy clothing at certain times of the year.
This is because legacy brands spend months designing pieces, buying and treating fabrics, and manufacturing in scale and distributing. It’s a process that can take about 21 months (“The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion”).
Fast fashion pioneered and perfected the fast fashion business model that takes about 4 months (“The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion”). This quick response production soon makes shopping for clothing a form of entertainment, meaning that the demand for clothing increases.
Operational Pillars of Fast Fashion: (2) Dynamic Assortment
There is a reason why fast fashion is possible. According to the Constitution, it says “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writing and discoveries” (US Const. amend. I, sec. 8). This clause is also known as the Progress Clause.
The Constitution does give the right to stop copying, but only to promote the progress. The Constitution allows knockoffs to be legal. Knockoffs are what sells. The Constitution can allow knockoffs to become illegal if without them there is still “progress.”
Dynamic assortment means selling new garments (or knockoffs) every day (Caro and Martínez de Albéniz). Fast fashion companies depend on data to regulate supply and demand, monitor trends, and scour social media for feedback in order to make knockoffs sell to the public. Dynamic assortment is basically why instead of a few seasons a year, we partially have several a year.
Impact of Fast Fashion
Due to quick response production and dynamic assortment, the fashion industry increasingly damaging our environment. According to a BBC video shown in Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, it says “Growing the cotton to make [a] jacket will have taken 10,330 liters of water... [Which is] 24 years of drinking water for one person” (“The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion”). That is just how much it takes to make cotton fabrics. Other fabrics are even worse, such as synthetic fabric and viscose.
In Dana Thomas’s New York Times article, “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” mentions “more than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics” (Thomas). In other words, the majority of the clothing that we throw away will not decay.
The process of manufacturing all fabric uses a lot of toxic chemicals. The factories often dump them in the water near villages. This is considered polyester pollution. The microfibers, which are a very fine synthetic yarn, are also released into our waterways. Wildlife from the water can easily consume them and their upper food chain is us!
Fast fashion is growing and it is also having a significant negative impact on the environment. For us, fast fashion is affordable, stylish, and ephemeral. This is the magic of fast fashion. But does it really come, and then go? But for our environment, fast fashion is just pollution and creates permanent impacts.