Fast fashion brands are slowly killing the industry — and our planet.
The rise and downfalls of buying into fast fashion, as explored by Holly McLaren
With growing pressure from social media and the influencer lifestyle, fast fashion has secured its place as a staple in the fashion industry. While wearing outfits one time only was once reserved for celebs and the uber-rich, brands like Missguided and Boohoo provide the champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget.
Going ‘out-out’ used to be documented on digital cameras and uploaded to Facebook the next day with little-to-no filtering. Repeated outfits were the norm. Floral Topshop tank top dresses? Perfect for every event. All you needed was a fitted blazer and something from Jack Wills to cement your style status and you were good to go.
Your tagged photos on Facebook were a mess — but they were authentic.
Launched in 2010, Instagram has changed the way in which we present ourselves. Facebook is who we were, Twitter is what we thought and Instagram? It was who we wanted to be. Soon, we began to filter out our bad hair days and carefully vet how the world saw us.
The exclusive nature of wearing outfits only once began with celebrities. Red carpet looks were hidden away and never seen again until perhaps a charity auction — there were even rumours the David Beckham only ever wore a pair of underwear once. This disposable attitude to clothing suited the rich and famous, who could afford to reinvest in new outfits on a whim.
Your regular Jane Doe’s had staple wardrobes. Like a Sims character build, it would be comprised of casual wear, party wear and formal clothing (maybe sportswear too if you were that way inclined). Disposable fashioned seemed like an unattainable dream.
With the rise of Instagram and the scrutiny placed upon everyday people to constantly look their best, fast fashion became a godsend. Knock-off versions of designer looks, that many couldn’t tell the difference between, allowed Jane Doe to channel her inner Paris Fashion Week goddess.
These billion dollar businesses have made their fortune in a simple, albeit shady, way: taking ‘inspiration’ from the latest fashion house designs and passing them off as their own. Taking away the lengthy and often complex initial design process, their overheads are lower. Teamed with cheap labour and materials, their low prices are reflective of the garments they’re producing.
Amelia Horn, Product Assistant at swimwear powerhouse Heidi Klein, believes that the design process is integral to higher quality items and in turn, a higher price.
“Designers put months and months of work into a collection — people don’t realise how long the design and development process is,” she says. “All of our fabrics are high quality, with bespoke colours and prints, and the fit of a garment is very important for us. We can fit a garment in the development process up to 7 times.”
While this design process is integral to high-end brands in order to create original pieces, fast fashion brands specialise in duplicating them. The design process, to an extent, has already been done for them.
“It’s the worst thing to see up-and-coming designers have their work copied — yes people take inspiration from others but [fast fashion brands] shouldn’t outright copy things,” she adds. “Seeing it first hand really puts things into perspective and you’re able to see [just] how considered things are, which reinforces why [prices are higher]… you get what you pay for, and if you’re paying more for a high-quality item, then it should last a long time.”
Quality control is a huge factor for why fast fashion brands are able to get away with such low prices. With the price bracket set so low, it begs the question — why pay more something when - aesthetically - you’re getting the same item for a fraction of the cost?
Milly Cornforth, a sales associate at Brick Lane’s Hot Futures and Fashion Management undergrad, echoes this.
“For me, I often have to buy from these fast-fashion retailers due to the price and convenience; to buy from a high-end store both the product and brand must be something I truly desire to own and see it’s worth.”
However, it’s not just price points that are making consumers buy into fast fashion brands. Instead of gifting celebrities their clothes and hoping magazines will pick up on their garments, fashion houses are now able to target their consumers directly. This is largely thanks to the rise of influencers and ‘insta celebs’. Click-through links and thinly veiled brand sponsorships are paving the way for instant access to the latest trends.
“Fast fashion brands such as NastyGal, Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing all use their marketing and PR techniques effectively to encourage their target consumer to buy from them; they all hold strong social presence and connect with their young audience,” adds Milly.
“Using influencers is a great way to promote a brand and shows how products can be part of a consumer’s lifestyle. The main problem with this market is influencers showing huge hauls of clothing that they are often gifted and don’t pay for themselves. This creates a throw-away culture that demands something new constantly.”
This throw-away culture is not only damaging to the fashion industry, but environmentalists also believe it’s having a detrimental effect on our planet. Back in 2018, MPs released a report claiming that the fashion industry is a major source of the greenhouse gasses slowly killing the Earth. Not only this, but synthetic materials are clogging up our landfill sites, and fabric fibres are polluting our water when cheap garments go through the wash.
“This aspect of the industry must change and influencers should use their following to promote brands with more focus on creating new social trends that aren’t about constant buying of products.”
It is estimated that 235 million items of clothing were sent landfill in 2017, with that number only increasing.
“Gen Z consumers say they are demanding more open and transparent brands, but the truth is that most consumers aren’t aware of what sustainability is or what they can do to be sustainable,” Milly claims.
“There is a demand for brands to provide more than just a product. Fast fashion brands must concentrate resources on standing out on screen and creating an experience for their consumers, whilst showing an honest and diverse culture.”