Fast Fashion Isn’t Working — Here’s How We Fix It Before It’s Too Late

The Venture Collective (TVC)
4 min readFeb 22, 2022
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

First there was Forever 21, Zara and H&M. Then there was Amazon. Now, not only are the aforementioned fast fashion companies just as relevant, but new competitors like Shein, Boohoo and Fashion Nova have entered the arena of the $500 billion fashion industry. This may not come as a surprise — commercialism is alive and well– but the fact that the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second may give you pause. If, somehow, that doesn’t seem that alarming, consider that approximately 60% of all materials used by the fashion industry are made from plastic and 500,000 tons of microfibers are released into the ocean each year from washing clothes — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. With dire numbers like these, it’s no surprise the fashion industry is under intense pressure to develop new initiatives that cut apparel waste and reduce its environmental impact. Fast fashion, in particular, comes at an astonishing environmental and social cost and is forcing us to rethink the concept. These statistics stress the need for more sustainable business models and practices. Yet, while the data supports the need for a complete overhaul when it comes to fast-fashion and fashion production in general, the industry is dangerously behind.

While it’s clear fast-fashion companies and policies that allow for 86% (or 15 million tons) of all textiles to be wasted annually are in the wrong, the blame also falls in part to consumers. Currently, apparel is a $1.5 trillion global industry and is expected to grow to $2.3 trillion by 2025. There is a rising demand for sustainable brands especially among Gen Z, 62% of whom say they prefer to choose sustainable brands and are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Re-sale fashion is also growing in popularity, with fashion shopping app Lyst seeing more than a 37% increase in searches for sustainability-related keywords. Still, similar to using the words “clean” or “natural” in beauty products, “sustainability” is a broad term that has practically lost all of its meaning in the fashion industry. The true crux of the problem is that despite being the generation credited with leading the charge on climate activism and social justice, Gen Z consumers are also the ones propelling the growth of fast-fashion behemoths. Despite caring about the environment, Gen Zers are still choosing these wasteful retailers in order to keep up with ever-changing trends on social media. While this may be, in part, due to a lack of awareness of the severity of the issue, some studies show that when it comes to purchasing decisions in the apparel category, sustainability is ultimately undermined by the influence of low prices and desire to keep up with the latest trends. In short, fast fashion isn’t going away. So how do we move forward? Enter zero-waste real-time fashion.

What is zero-waste? Zero waste in the context of fashion is anything that seeks to eliminate waste from the production of clothing. Broadly, you could think about how you can reduce fabric waste during the design process or how to eliminate the overproduction of inventory by avoiding the traditional “produce now, sell later” mindset. For example, a fashion company could do this by better forecasting trends to avoid the overproduction of unsold/unused inventory. By leveraging recent advances in AI technology, brands can better predict viral trends and demand, thereby creating goods that actually get purchased versus the 80% that end up in landfills.

This dovetails into the concept of “real-time” fashion, the evolution of fast fashion which originally started in the late 1990s with the Zaras and H&Ms of the world, which was then followed by the ultra fast fashion era with brands like ASOS and Boohoo. While what Shein has been able to do in terms of introducing trendy items faster than any of its predecessors is undoubtedly impressive, my feeling is that the next evolution of fast fashion will not only leverage data analytics and AI to forecast trends and demands, but will also focus on higher quality garments and greater transparency across the entire supply chain.

As Paula Sutter, TVC’s Chairwoman and former CEO of TSG Fashion Group and President of Diane von Furstenberg, says, “The pressure to never repeat an outfit on TikTok is growing among Gen Z and Millennials and it isn’t slowing down. Urging consumers to reduce consumption isn’t necessarily the answer either. With fast fashion’s poor labor and environmental standards beginning to come to light, I’m encouraged by this next wave of brands that are taking a new approach — fast fashion with a focus on sustainability.”

As a VC dedicated to making a positive impact in this world, our firm is interested in making investments that help to address these inefficiencies across the spectrum, from design and product development to manufacturing and logistics. As a woman with an appreciation of fashion, I understand the allure of fast fashion. However, as a conscious consumer, I look forward to the next chapter of fashion production and consumption. If you, like me, hope to disrupt this space, let’s find a way to do so together. If you’re a founder operating in this space or a fellow VC looking to exchange ideas, I’d love to chat! You can reach me at steph@theventurecollective.com.

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