• Tayeeb Khan

Fast Fashion & Slow Fashion – The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion


Text that reads Fast & Slow Fashion with IIFT Logo

There was a time when the whole concept of fashion was simple. You would buy clothes when there was a shift in seasons or trends and the trends used to last for years. New lines of clothing used to be released twice or thrice a year, depending on seasons.


The change in consumer behavior has led to tremendous growth in Fashion Industry. In today’s time, there is a new line of clothing every week. As a result, people are buying clothes a lot more than they used to so that they can keep up with the ever-changing trends.


As a fashion enthusiast, you might have already heard of the terms fast fashion & slow fashion floating around. But what exactly is fast & slow fashion and how did it become a foundation for such a big debate in the fashion industry?


I will answer these questions in this blog post along with some more information about fast & slow fashion. By the end of this post, you will know what fast & slow fashion is, the differences, why one is better than the other & the famous brands playing in fast & slow fashion.


The most important aspect of this blog post will be the environmental impact of fast fashion, which will be covered in the disadvantages of the fast-fashion section.


What is Fast Fashion?


Clothing has become a form of personal expression. With the increase in celebrity culture, everyone wants to look like their celebrity icon or wants to pull off those trendy dresses showcased in the most recent fashion show.


We live in a time where trends change every day. All thanks to social media and the celebrity culture. Most, if not all, fast fashion brands want to keep up with these trends and make as much profit as they can off of these trends. The problem though is that whatever is trending today might change in a day, week, or month and hence this kind of fashion that solely depends on trends is not exactly sustainable in the long run.


This change in the perception of trends and colossal shift in consumer interest led to the inception of fast fashion. Fast fashion plays on the psychology of clothing & the psychology of spending which has led to a change in the way people think about clothing & fashion.


Fast Fashion can be defined in several ways, but all the definitions lead to the same underlying concept. As the name suggests, fast fashion is all about producing trendy & cheap clothes faster.


Why do they need to produce clothes faster, you may ask?


Well, the answer is simple. Fast fashion at its core is nothing more than the imitation of trends and styles from big-name designers on the runway.


The whole fast fashion industry solely depends on the trends & other big-name designers on the latest runway. We are talking about the kind of trends that might not last more than one or two weeks. When the trends are changing this fast, fast fashion brands need to be on their toes and churn out clothes as soon as possible.


Fast fashion can produce up to eleven different collections in a year, whereas standard fashion houses only produce two collections. These collections can have a turnaround time of just two weeks from paper to production and retail.


While churning out clothes as soon as they can, they also need to keep the prices of the clothes cheaper. Because, if the rates are high, then the chances of people buying clothes during the next week's trend might go down. Since the trends wear out soon, the clothes need to be disposable in order to make way for the new trend that is just around the corner. In this game of trends, speed, and quantity, the quality of clothes is lost down the line.


But, if you think that is the only repercussion of Fast Fashion, you could not be more wrong about it. Read on and you will figure out what I mean by that.


What is Slow Fashion?


Slow Fashion is the polar opposite of Fast Fashion. The fundamental aspect of Slow fashion is sustainability. If you ever want to go on the internet and search for the definition of Slow Fashion, I am certain you will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of definitions and are bound to get confused.


You ask how do I know? Well, that is what happened when I began researching for the purpose of this article.


I don’t want that to happen to you. And hence I decided to explain Slow Fashion in the simplest terms possible and you would not have to go scouring for the internet for definition.


The term Fast Fashion was first coined by Kate Fletcher, and she defines slow fashion as quality-based rather than time-based.


Slow Fashion in simplest terms focuses more on the quality, sustainability of the product and has a comprehensive & ethical approach to the process.


While the holistic approach slows down the process, it does not impact the environment as much as Fast Fashion does.


In today’s time, slow fashion has become a global movement to promote sustainable clothing, which in turn reduces the production of clothes. The goal of the process is to have an environment-friendly approach towards fashion.


I believe we all should be a part of this movement. Let me know your thought in the comments section. I would love to discuss this further.


Difference between Fashion & Slow Fashion:


You might have already understood the major difference between Fast & Slow Fashion by their definitions. But, just to summarize and benefit people who want to understand the other differences in both, here are a set of pointers.


Advantages & Disadvantages of Fast & Slow Fashion:


Everything that exists in this world has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The concept of pros and cons is subjective. What seems to be an advantage for one can seem to be a disadvantage to another. Though I personally am biased towards slow fashion, I will try to be unbiased & explain advantages and disadvantages that are generic.


Advantages of Fast Fashion:


  • Cost-effective:

For decades, fashion has been something only the rich and elite could afford. Fast fashion turned this belief the other way around and made fashion accessible to the masses. Thanks to its low costs.


Much of the collections by Fast Fashion brands mimic trends from expensive retailers & high fashion. This reduces the socio-economic gap between high-income, privileged consumers, and the masses. The result of fast fashion is that you can no longer differentiate between high-income consumers with their counterparts just by their clothes.


Students are one category of customers who are highly benefitted from this cost-effective fashion. Thanks to fast fashion, now students can dress up as their favorite celebrities, afford highly fashionable clothing without it costing them an arm and a leg.


  • New designs every two-three weeks:

The whole point of fast fashion is to adapt to the ever-changing trends. This has led to a drastic drop in design & production time.


What this means is there is a new style of clothing for you every week or two. The choices that fast fashion provides are immense. Affordable costs and a variety of style choices make fast fashion so appealing to consumers.


Again, students are one class of consumers that benefit the most from fast fashion. They don’t have to wear the same clothes; they now have a myriad of style choices to choose from at a very affordable cost.


Disadvantages of Fast Fashion:


Before we get into the disadvantages, I want you to know some statistical facts. If you are thinking, how this information will help you in understanding how big the fashion industry is and how big the impact of fast fashion is.

  • According to investindia (a government-run website), the domestic textiles and apparel industry contributes 5% to India’s GDP.

  • Annual consumer expenditure on footwear and clothing: 68 billion dollars.

  • We’re buying almost 60% more than we did in 2000.

  • Times of India cited an Indian Textile Journal - 2011, the study mentions that over 1 million tonne textiles are disposed of every year based on estimates, with most of this coming from household sources.

  • Over 60 percent of the fabric fibers consumed by the fast fashion industry are derived from fossil fuels. So, they aren’t biodegradable and when you discard them; they end up in a landfill where they release harmful pollutants and toxins that end up damaging the environment.

And now, to the list of disadvantages of fast fashion.

  • Impact on Environment:

The major impact of fast fashion is its negative impact on the environment. That is where the dialogue of its impacts and the slow fashion movement started. Several top fashion designers are leaning towards a sustainable fashion designing & production model. Several fashion bloggers have also joined the movement and have been making the masses aware of the repercussions of using fast fashion on the environment.


Fast fashion runs on a model where time is of the essence. From design to production to marketing, everything is on a fast track. That is why all the clothes in fast fashion are mass-manufactured at factories. To make them cheaper, chemicals & oil-based products are being used. In 2015, textile production created more greenhouse gases than international flights and maritime shipping combined.


It’s not just the manufacturing that is affecting the environment. The quality of the product and the disposability of them is also a great matter of concern. People are not keeping the clothes as long as they used to keep them.


According to research, an average American throws away 36.2 Kilo Grams of clothes. I tried but could not translate the information to Indian since I could not find any studies on that. If you have the stats or know websites that can provide me with it, please point me to it so that I can update it here. Anyhow, the discarded clothes are Clogging Land Fills. We need to look at the ramifications seriously and make decisions on a personal level. This is something that can be changed for good and we as consumers have the power to do it.

  • Makes us more impulsive:

Shopping is a pleasure for most of us, but this was the pleasure that only high-income consumers could afford. It’s not true in today’s time, especially when fast fashion brands are offering collections at such affordable prices. This affordability plays on our psychology of spending. As a result, we, the consumers make impulsive buys often than necessary and end up regretting them.

  • Effect on Fashion Designers:

As I have mentioned so many times, earlier in this post; fast fashion is all about timing. It’s a fast-paced industry and every fast-fashion brand is on a time crunch. It’s a race to the finish line. Whoever manages to put out their collection first wins the race.


Also, the trends do not last longer than weeks. And every fast fashion brand must keep up with it. As a result, there is pressure on the creative process of fashion designers. Creative processes are meant to happen naturally & intuitively, but the pressure of time in fast fashion can not afford that kind of time.


The fast-fashion brands ripping off fashion designers' collections within weeks and getting them on to the retail shops is another thing that is affecting the fashion designers in a bad way.


Advantages of Slow Fashion & Why should you consider slow fashion:


The concept of a variety of choices at low costs is tempting for sure. Every disadvantage of fast fashion acts as an advantage to slow fashion.

  • Impact on Environment:

Slow fashion is nothing but a need of the hour. Slow fashion is all about sustainability and high-quality clothing. This means the materials used in Slow fashion are biodegradable, eco-friendly, which have little to no adverse effects on the environment.


No harmful chemicals are being used in the production of these kinds of textiles and since they last a lot longer than fast fashion clothes, there is no need for the disposing of those clothes.


It’s hard to reverse the harm that has already been done to the environment, but we can always take a step back, think, and make decisions that can stop the further harm.

  • Quality & Sustainability:

There is not much to explain here. Sustainable clothing is produced using sustainable materials such as hemp, organic cotton & Pima cotton. These materials have little to no impact on the environment and they last longer. It's like shooting two birds with one stone.

  • Lower Carbon Footprint:

The fashion industry is responsible for over 10% of global carbon emissions. It also accounts for 3,990 million metric tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere each year. If that is not scary, I don’t know what is. We can reduce our carbon footprint by using Slow fashion. Imagine if everyone decides to use slow fashion, that is a lot of reduction in Carbon emissions which means our world gets to live a bit longer than it is now.

  • Support to Small Business:

Running a small business or your fashion brand is not easy. Especially, when the industry is being dominated by mass-producing fashion brands. Small Businesses and independent fashion brands are the ones who account for a larger section of slow fashion collections. By choosing to use slow fashion instead of fast fashion, you will be empowering these independent & small fashion businesses.

  • Support Fair Wages:

Every clothing in fast fashion is mass-produced by factories where workers earn low wages. Also, the work environment at these factories is harmful due to the use of oil & chemical-based products. Slow fashion on the other hand focuses more on craftsmanship & sustainability. Most of the slow fashion collections are created by independent and small fashion brands which means they get the services from the local vendors or nearby craftsmen. By deciding to use slow fashion you will be supporting fair wages and craftsmen.

  • You will feel good about yourself:

Just by deciding to use slow fashion, you are reducing your carbon footprint, helping small businesses, being part of a significant movement, and supporting fair wages and a lot of direct & indirect factors. If all of this does not make you feel good about yourself, then what will?

  • Financial Savings:

Clothes in slow fashion are long-lasting, which removes the need for you to buy clothes now and then. Though the clothes in slow fashion collections are expensive, they do last longer. While in the short term you are spending more by buying clothes, in the long term, you are saving a lot of money since you don’t have to buy new clothes every week.


Disadvantages of Slow Fashion:

  • Expensive:

Slow fashion clothes are expensive since they are handmade and use organic materials. In the short term, they can seem expensive to many people.

  • Not a lot of choices:

The designing, production & retailing process is a lot longer than fast fashion and as a result, there are not over two to three collections per year. You don’t get a variety of choices in a slow fashion.


Top Fast Fashion Brands:

  • Shein

  • H&M

  • Zara

  • Forever21

  • Victoria's Secret

  • Uniqlo

  • Mango

  • Adidas

  • Nike

  • Primark

Best Slow Fashion Brands:

  • Levi's

  • Eileen Fisher

  • Polo Ralph Lauren

  • ABLE

  • Everlane

  • Upasana

  • Fabindia

  • Ka-Sha by Karishma Shahani Khan

  • Mien

  • Altar

Conclusion:


As I mentioned in an earlier section that everything in this world has advantages and disadvantages. What we need to do is weigh those pros and cons and see which one will have a more overall positive impact. While I can’t make your decisions for you and can’t tell you what to do.


I would still suggest that it's time that we all take a step back and rethink our fashion decisions. It's time that we do something to reduce all the negative impacts on the environment and our bodies. Using fast fashion does not just affect the environment but our bodies too – both directly & indirectly. Wearing chemical-based clothes will negatively affect our bodies. Let us support small businesses and empower the idea of sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion.


Having said that and written this post, I am still open to discussions on the topic. You can get in touch with us through any of our social media or in the comments section below. Please feel free to drop your thoughts, I would love to know your thought process.


PS: Everything in this post is research-based. IIFT (Indian Institute of Fashion Technology) or the writer of this post does not take responsibility if any of the data is incorrect. If you find any discrepancy in data, please contact us through our social media or comments section below and we will try to correct it.


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