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What is Fast Fashion? | Fast Fashion Series Part I

What is Fast Fashion? | Fast Fashion Series Part I

What is Fast Fashion? | Fast Fashion Series Part I

I‘ve never been an on-trend person when it comes to the fashion industry. In fact, I generally couldn’t give a rats ass about fashion on the best day. However, clothes are kind of a necessary evil and I have fallen in the trap of Cosmopolitan, Elle or Vogue magazine looking at “the top fashion trends for spring 2017.” It’s tempting to walk into clothing stores and stare in awe at the latest and greatest, fall in the trap of purchasing something you just couldn’t live without and end up chucking it to the curb next year.

What is Fast Fashion?

The term “fast fashion” refers to a phenomenon in the fashion industry whereby production processes are expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible.
– Fast Fashion Definition

Or to put that in English, when trends show up on the runway companies expedite the manufacturing process in order to sell products to consumers as quickly as possible. This generally happens in the Spring and Fall of every year. Once products are no longer trendy they are sold at discounted prices. It’s a never ending cycle of consumerism.


What’s Wrong with Fast Fashion?

Okay, so companies are constantly changing trends… that’s nothing new right? I mean they have to show something new every season? Yes and no.

Fast fashion has a deep underlying problem. In fact, it has a few problems. The first one starts with the consumer; companies are selling sub-par product in order to increase their financial gain (again nothing new.) However, with this sub-par product rarely lasts more than a year. Therefore plenty of articles of clothing are ending up in landfills, yes, even when you bag them up and leave them at a goodwill or salvation army.

The second problem directly correlates with the first: environmental impact. Fast fashion is one of the biggest pollution sources in the world. It starts at the manufacturing process and works it’s way all the way back to the consumer.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator.

Environmental Impact Fast Fashion Manufacturers produce

Most Fast Fashion clothing items are made overseas in China, Bangladesh and India. Each manufacturing plant barrels out toxic water into waterways that many people thrive and depend on. (The world is round and those effects will eventually come back to bite us.)

The Citarum River is considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world due in great part to the hundreds of textile factories lining its shores ¹; from the chemical nonyphenol. Nonyphenol is a toxic by-product of the dyeing process and can even stay within freshly made clothes for more than a few washes. It has been banned in the European Union (manufacturing and exports) but is still permitted in the United States. 

According to Yale Environment 360, China releases 40% of these chemicals into waterways.
Yale Environment 360 (a great article!)

Cotton - Fast Fashion

It Starts From the Beginning: Cotton

The environmental impact of Fast Fashion doesn’t just start at the manufacturing process though (nor does it end there.) It starts from the chemicals and products used to make clothing. Cotton is one of the worst offenders for pesticide-use, fertilizer and water consumption. Not only do pesticides contaminate water, but fertilizer has shown to cause drastic changes to aquatic ecosystems and algae growth.

The water consumption and contamination with cotton doesn’t end at farming. Cotton undergoes three processes to become a textile: bleaching, dying and printing. Combined, these manufacturing processes use 360 metric tons of water².

The real kicker is after all the manufacturing, Cotton is no longer easily biodegradable. In order to biodegrade it must be placed in a certain environment with the right conditions.

It Starts From the Beginning: Synthetic Fibers

Cotton isn’t the only culprit though; nylon, polyester, acrylic and other synthetic fibers are made from petroleum. They will take a lifetime (and then some) before they ever break down; so they’re not likely to disappear anytime soon. Although they do not use the same amount of water during the manufacturing process; they still use toxic chemicals during the dyeing process.

Most textiles are manufactured overseas, therefore they must travel a long distance to be sold in the Americas. This uses natural resources and adds to the carbon footprint of each textile.

They are not made to Last

As the title would assume, fast fashion is exactly that. How many times have you bought a shirt or a pair of pants and within a couple wears they already have holes or tears? They aren’t built to last more than a few months (next season!) Fast fashion industries do this on purpose. If they made something to last, they wouldn’t be raking in as much money as they do.

When you send your clothes to Salvation Army, Goodwill or Value Village more often than not, they are not going to be placed on racks to sell. Why? Because it’s crappy product. Instead second-hand retailers are left to deal with the clothing you no longer wanted. They have a couple options.

  • Send them to the dump. The end of their life cycle.
  • Send them to a recycling facility. A time and energy intensive process of chopping up old clothing and melting them down to be re-used.
  • Send them overseas. They are often sent to developing nations.

Fast Fashion - Clothing Store

Big Fashion companies are the worst offenders

Large fashion retailers like Zara and H&M are some of the worst. The fast fashion industry is ever-changing and at one point Zara had prided itself on releasing new clothing every couple weeks. In recent years they’ve felt the backlash and have begun to add more sustainable processes to their clothing line. H&M launched the “Concious” Collection with organically sourced-cotton and recycled materials, backed by the actress Olivia Wilde. 

Unfortunately, browsing through the H&M Concious collection (and Zara’s equivalent) there really is not much choice. Even the Asos Eco-Edit seems to be lacking.

How can you be a Conscious Consumer?

Over the next month I’m going to be posting some tips on how to be a conscious consumer, limit your impact on the environment and help you source ethical and environmentally-friendly fashion brands. Every week I’ll have a post on another topic, so make sure that you stay tuned!

Did you know about Fast Fashion before reading?


To read more about the Fast Fashion industry:

²Chapagain, A., Hoekstra, A., Savenije, H., & Gautam, R. (2005). The Water Footprint of Cotton Consumption. Retrieved 27 March 2017, from

Christian, S. (2016). Fast Fashion is Absolutely Destroying the Planet. Esquire. Retrieved 27 March 2017, from

Whitehead, S. (2014). 5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 27 March 2017, from

¹Wicker, A. (2016). Fast Fashion is Creating an Environmental Crisis. Newsweek. Retrieved 27 March 2017, from

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  • Such an intereting topic. I am rarely on trend myself, but I have been thinking about that more and more lately. Funnily enough the Conscious collection was what raised awareness for that topic for me, because the need of having a Conscious collection made me realize how “unconscious” the rest probably was.
    Can’t wait to learn more.

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

    • Oh really? Well that’s good – although after looking at some of the products in the conscious collection some improvements can definitely be made in the materials, the sentiment from H&M is good! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • I don’t think I’ve been over to your blog since you changed names, and wanted to say I love it! Thank you for another super interesting post. For me, aiming to avoid “fast fashion” was more of a selfish move honestly, because I got tired of buying things only to have them wear out so quickly. I’m looking forward to reading the rest in this series…I’m definitely not always a conscious consumer!

    Kathryn •

    • Thanks Kathryn! That’s a fair statement, it’s a real pain in the butt when something wears out so quickly. Hopefully this series will help 🙂

  • I prefer classics to trends when it comes to fashion and I’ve been trying to make the move away from fast fashion so I’m looking forward to more from this new series of yours. At this point in my life, I’d rather buy less and buy better.

  • This is such an interesting read, I learnt most of this stuff during my textiles classes when I was school and it used to be my favourite class, it took me back haha!

    • Oh good! Glad that they teach that in school. I think it’s really important to know 🙂 Thanks for reading, Trishna!

  • So interesting! Thanks for sharing!



  • I’ve been aware of fast fashion and when I was a teen I always shopped at thrift or second hand stores because besides not having much money anyways, I’ve also never been one to not follow trends. Also I should probably thank my mom since she always taught me quality over quantity, and that buying things because they are the current trend isn’t worth it. Even my sister who happens to be a fashion designer isn’t caught in anything fast fashion. I swear she still wears clothes she’s had since in her 20s lol. Anyways I think you spreading this message is great because I know there’s tons of people out there who don’t have a clue.


    • Glad that your Mum was a good influence on you and that you’re aware of the Fast fashion industry! Investing in a few good quality items is well worth it! Thanks for reading, Stacey!

  • I have noticed that a lot of products that are cheaper, are not made as well and don’t last like they should. This was a great post and I love your knowledge on this subject. I have been aware of it for years, and honestly it has become a real issue in the fashion industry. It be nice if it could change but sadly this isn’t the case. Hopefully it might I really hope it will 🙂

    • Exactly – they’re essentially made to break down! Consumers drive the market, so if there is demand then there will definitely be a change. We just need to share the education on it 🙂 Thanks for reading Heather!

  • I have never been one to be on trend and since last year I have been investing in quality over quantity. I plan to start shopping at thrift store this year too and hopefully that will contribute something even if it’s a tiny impact to the environment. This is such an important topic to create awareness on and I look forward to learning more.

    • Every little step makes a difference! It’s well worth it to purchase good quality items that may cost more upfront but will last longer down the road. Thanks for reading, Shireen! 🙂

  • Rosy Ferry

    I’ve heard of fast fashion once before but not to the detail that you’ve discussed here, I’m not a fashion follower but I have a thing for buying cheap new tops from places like Primark and they only last a few months… now I know why and I’m feeling a bit ashamed of myself to be honest after reading this, I had no idea! I’m really looking forward to your next posts about this issue!

    Rosy | Sparkles of Light Blog
    My Instagram | Instagram

  • I hardly follow the trends, but stick to what I know the best. I haven’t really thought about fast fashion from this perspective before and now it all makes sense. Years ago, the competition wasn’t that much and even something you paid little would last years, and now what happens? You get something and after some wear, it just doesn’t look right. Decreased quality and increasing costs… Looking forward to reading more about your series, it is a really important topic!

    Ela BellaWorld

  • SamanthaSeries

    I became aware of this ever since Emma Watson talked about it around the time she went to what I think was the MET gala (?) lol. I am not a big clothes-buyer… I don’t really buy trendy things although this Spring I am planning on getting myself a few pieces and I have to admit Zara is really catching my eye… I’m the type of person to put tons of stuff in my cart and only end up buying 2 things that I know I will get good use out of. I always look at where my clothing is made, it is always a huge turnoff when I see it is made in China, Bangladesh, India or Cambodia…
    Like you mentioned, it’s hard because these brands dominate the market and there’s not many options. I think especially here in Quebec, due to French language laws, a lot of stores don’t ship here or open here, so it’s really hard to find anything somewhat affordable that isn’t Zara, H&M or the Gap which completely dominate here… (there’s like nowhere to buy clothes here lol everyone wears the same shit)
    I would love to see a post, if you’re able, where you scope out some ethical brands or some clothing brands made in Canada! Looking forward to the rest of your posts on this xx

    • I admit, I own a few items from Zara and they do make great clothes. I totally agree that finding good quality clothes that are more affordable is extremely hard. I’ve reached out to a couple companies that are based in the states which have affordable clothes – except they don’t ship here because of trade laws (or something…) I’m still searching for more brands, but yes! There will most definitely be a post on ethical fashion brands (the last post in the series!)

      Thanks for reading Sam!

  • Pingback: How to Be a Conscious Consumer | Fast Fashion Series II - Sustainably Savvy | Green Health, Beauty + Lifestyle()

  • Pingback: Finding Ethical & Sustainable Clothing Brands | Fast Fashion Series IV - Sustainably Savvy | Green Health, Beauty + Lifestyle()

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