investopedia.com — Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends. The collections are often based on styles presented at runway shows or worn by celebrities. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase the hot new look or the next big thing at an affordable price.
America and the rest of the developed world welcomed the arrival of cheap and trendy mass-produced clothing and accessories. But in recent years, greater awareness about the negative consequences associated with its production, consumption, and disposal has triggered a backlash against the industry. The arguments against fast fashion include:
Fast fashion became common because of cheaper, speedier manufacturing and shipping methods, an increase in consumers' appetites for up-to-the-minute styles, and an increase in consumer purchasing power—especially among young people—to indulge these instant-gratification desires. Because of all this, fast fashion is challenging the established clothing labels' tradition of introducing new collections and lines on an orderly, seasonal basis. It's not uncommon for fast-fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times in one week to stay on trend.
Understanding Fast FashionShopping for clothing was once considered an event. Consumers would save up to buy new clothes at certain times of the year. The style-conscious would get a preview of the styles to come via fashion shows that displayed new collections and clothing lines several months in advance of their appearance in stores.
But that began to change in the late 1990s, as shopping became a form of entertainment and discretionary spending on clothing increased. Enter fast fashion—cheap, trendy knock-off garments, mass-produced at low cost, that allowed consumers to feel as though they were wearing the same styles that "walked the runway" or were sported by a sexy entertainer.
Fast fashion is made possible by innovations in supply chain management (SCM) among fashion retailers. Its goal is to quickly produce cost-efficient articles of clothing in response to (or anticipation of) fast-shifting consumer demands. The assumption is that consumers want high fashion at a low cost. While the garments are often carelessly made, they are not intended to be worn for years or even multiple times.
Fast fashion follows the concept of category management, linking the manufacturer with the consumer in a mutually beneficial relationship. The speed at which fast fashion happens requires this kind of collaboration, as the need to refine and accelerate supply chain processes is paramount.
The Advantages of Fast Fashion • Profitable for manufacturers and retailers: The constant introduction of new products encourages customers to frequent stores more often, which means they end up making more purchases. The retailer does not replenish its stock—instead, it replaces items that sell out with new items. Accordingly, consumers know to purchase an item they like when they see it, no matter the price because it's not likely to be available for long. And because the clothing is cheap (and cheaply made), it's easy to get people back into stores or online to make fresh purchases. • Quick to consumers: As for advantages for the consumer, fast fashion has enabled people to get the clothes they want when they want them. Also, it has made clothing more affordable—and not just any clothing, but innovative, imaginative, stylish clothing. • Makes clothes affordable: Even those of modest means can constantly buy smart new clothes, indulge in fun or impractical items, and wear something different every day. • Democratizes fashion: No longer is the latest look, being "well-dressed," or having a large wardrobe the province of the rich and famous. Everyone can look good.
The Disadvantages of Fast Fashion • You Get What You Pay For: Fast-fashion producers use cheap materials and skimp on craftsmanship to make as much merchandise as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The result is disposable garments that wear out after just a few uses. • Fleeting Trends Require Perpetual Purchasing: Fast fashion’s retail release cycle for new fashion items is approximately four to six weeks. This cycle is much shorter than traditional fashion cycles of four to six months. This tends to leave shoppers with closets full of low-quality clothing that goes out of style quickly. • It Creates Mountains of Landfill Waste: U.S. consumers throw out the equivalent of eight large trash bags filled with clothes and accessories per year, according to a study commissioned by global thrift retailer Savers, generating tens of billions of tons of landfill waste. • The Waste It Creates Is Especially Harmful: Cheap materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, which are common to fast fashion, take centuries or even thousands of years to biodegrade. Semi-synthetic fibers like rayon, Tencel, and modal are made with chemicals that leach into the ground when buried, or in the air when incinerated. • The U.S. Economy Can Suffer: Only about 3% of U.S. apparel manufacturing currently takes place domestically, according to Industry Week. Outsourcing contributes to the overall trade deficit in the U.S. and deprives Americans of much-needed jobs. • It Relies on Exploitative Labor Conditions: Most fast fashion is produced in developing countries. The reason that it’s so inexpensive is that the workers who produce it are typically paid low wages for working long hours in unsafe conditions. It’s common for children to be part of the labor force.