At present, the fast fashion industry is comprised of 52 “micro-seasons” a year. Do some quick maths and you’ll notice that’s a season a week. The industry has come a long way from the spring/summer and fall/winter biannual seasons. Most of these collections wouldn’t survive a full four-month season, anyways. Suspiciously, it’s as if the clothes are designed not to last.
According to Fortune, Amancio Ortega opened his first “Zara” store in 1975 glorifying speed to be the driving force of the brand. The New York Times was the first to label “Zara” as “fast fashion” in reference to Ortega’s vision, scoffing at the mere two weeks necessary for a garment to be designed, produced and sold in stores. The Spanish label continues its impossible pace of production and now with the likes of other European powerhouses like “H&M”, “Primark” and “Topshop”.
Ready-to-wear fashion operates at a low cost, high quantity model - sell more for less is the motto. It’s a reflection of the times and the global society it clothes. The fast-fashion craze snowballs with every customer asking, ‘how can I get more for less’? And what seems like a bargain price is anything but. Someone’s got to pay for that three dollar t-shirt.
There’s a growing disparity between the people who make clothing and those who wear it. Fast fashion erases any trace of the garment’s mission to the mall. The “made in” tags are intentionally forgettable next to the bright red, “50% off” signs. Documentary The True Cost reports “roughly 40 million garment workers in the world today; many of whom do not share the same rights or protections that many people in the West do. They are some of the lowest-paid workers in the world and roughly 85% of all garment workers are women.” Most produce clothing they’ll never be able to purchase at retail price.
The health of the planet and its people are continuously compromised for the growth of the fast-fashion world. Natural resources are depleting at an unfathomable rate and all for the sake of profit. Seven thousand liters of water go into the production of a pair of jeans, roughly the amount an individual drinks over 5-6 years. Forbes reports, “nearly seventy million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, which is now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. But it takes more than two hundred years to decompose.” The Ellen Macarthur Foundation notes that carbon dioxide production is greater in the fast fashion industry than in shipping and international flights combined.
If your head is spinning, that would be the appropriate response. Hit pause and take a step back. The fast-fashion monster only seems out of control and unbeatable for anyone striving to live more mindfully. But change can be pretty simple.
Take the need for speed and slow it down. Exchange fast, micro-season fashion for slow and seasonless. Slow fashion is less concerned about creating trends and keeping up with them but rather inclusivity as seasonless designs are timeless and classic. Slow works with materials and shapes that stay relevant over time and are mindfully designed to last.
Seasonless fashion connects consumers to creators. There is complete transparency in slow fashion, placing top priority on the health and well-being of the people who produce clothing. The emphasis is no longer on speed or profit but rather people. Slow fashion recognizes and respects the amount of time and human resources necessary in the production of clothing by offering workers a more than minimum wage and safe working environment.
Slow fashion protects and defends the planet in its emphasis on circular design and use of natural and mindful materials. The circular design is the consideration of a garment’s entire life cycle. What happens to that three dollar t-shirt after its use and lifespan is also the responsibility of the brand. Slow fashion avoids waste, taking only what’s necessary and celebrating creativity in limiting resources. The priority is in using natural, recyclable and sustainable materials and avoiding the toxic and chemical at all costs.
Much like the vision of the slow movement, the rejection of ready-to-wear fashion will be steady and gradual. Consumers are already growing in number with the awareness of the destructive symptoms of fast fashion. It won’t be long before the unsustainable industry collapses. With the recent bankruptcy announcement of retail giant “Forever 21”, it seems the winds are changing quicker than expected. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for the mass market.