THE FAST FASHION STRATEGY
But let's just start at the very beginning and clarify what exactly fast fashion is. Fast fashion, in German “fast fashion”, is a business strategy that has been around since the 1980s. At that time it was still called “Quick Response”, an accelerated exchange of information and goods. This also gave a faster reaction time to short-term changes and trends, which grew steadily in the 90s until the highest possible speed was reached around the 00s. The entire design and production process, as well as the deliveries, were significantly accelerated in order to be able to offer a lot more in the shortest possible time on the market. Manufacturers such as H&M, Zara and Primark have become synonymous with fast fashion.
Fast fashion is therefore easy to explain. In short, it is about extremely cheaply produced, trend-related clothing, the quality of which is just as low as the price for which it is bought. Therefore, the lifespan of fast fashion is particularly short. A part usually only lasts a few washes before it loses its shape and the material slowly becomes ugly. The parts are then quickly disposed of and a new cheap part is simply bought again until it becomes unacceptable again. Fast fashion manufacturers focus on waste and extremely fast consumer behavior.
The selection has grown immensely and the absolute low prices have been reached. An ever faster changing range also provides the right buying impulses for the end consumer. With some brands, everything changes every week so that there is maximum buying stimulus. The result: the customer buys more than is necessary. Thus fashion becomes interchangeable disposable goods several times a year.
WHERE AND HOW IT IS PRODUCED
The more is bought, the better the increase in sales for the company. Because that's what it's ultimately about. The production of cheap fashion takes place in other countries, because in Germany and many other western countries the workers have rights: minimum wages, notice periods or vacation days, to name just a few. But there are also countries where workers have little or no rights and that's where production takes place. The exploitation of textile sewers is nothing new in developing countries. In addition to poor pay and a lack of occupational safety, the high time and price pressure in the fast fashion industry in particular causes unworthy working conditions. The brands are in strong competition with one another in a saturated market. Manufacturing prices are often depressed, which textile sewers then feel when overtime is not paid and life security is hardly possible.
Due to the cheap production in Bangladesh, Vietnam or Turkey, the whole thing is designed to maximize profits. The only winners of fast fashion are the companies themselves.
However, it is not only fast fashion that have fashion chains produced this way. Some higher-priced (luxury) brands also have their clothes produced in such factories. It is questionable whether this will happen under other working conditions. Many brands do not have transparency, so it is seldom known under which conditions the garment was manufactured. Even a “Made in Italy” no longer stands for invariably good Italian quality. Because there are also small factories there with textile workers, imported from developing countries, who work, eat and sleep on site at the 2 square meter workplace. So a relocation of the location. That was on the outskirts of Florence in March 2013 when I was there for a week for a job and saw the situation with my own eyes.
Of course, not all companies produce this way, but with the fast fashion brands it can be said with certainty that they also produce under these hideous conditions in order to satisfy our lavish consumption. And that without any conscience.
THE FORESEEABLE EFFECTS ON PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Not only do people suffer from fast fashion, it also has negative effects on the environment. The mere transport from the factories to the branches alone causes over a billion tons of CO2. That is more than all of the air and shipping traffic combined and is growing steadily. In addition, 120 billion new items of clothing are produced every year (as of April 2021) of which approx. 86% end up as waste in landfills because they were not sold. This overproduction of clothing shows the excessive misconduct of the fast fashion industry and the disposal of this usually does not happen in the most environmentally friendly way. The synthetic garments are disposed of in incinerators, because synthetic materials (such as polyester, polyamide, acrylic) are difficult or even impossible to recycle because the fibers are unsuitable for the manufacture of new clothing. Synthetic fibers such as polyester can be found very often in the fast fashion collections. The reason for this is simply the unbeatable low price. The use of cheap and sometimes toxic textiles makes the fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water after agriculture.
Because the water consumption of a cotton T-shirt alone is 15,000 liters / kilo in production and around 8,000 liters for a single pair of jeans. The use of cheap dyes and bleaches not only harm the environment, but can also damage the health of textile workers.
As already mentioned, the main part of cheap clothing consists of synthetic fibers. That may not sound threatening at first, but every wash at home is also harmful to the environment. This is because microscopic elements (= microplastics) fall off, which then get into the water cycle and increase the proportion of plastic in the oceans. Sports and outdoor clothing are also usually coated with toxic chemicals. We are usually not aware of this.
Despite the increasing criticism of the fast fashion industry, it is getting faster and faster. You can imagine it in numbers like this: Between 2000 and 2016, the number of items of clothing bought per year rose to a whopping 60%. However, the clothes are only worn half as long (because they don't last long) as they were 15 years ago. In plain language, this means that cheap fashion is bought again and again, only to be disposed of again after a short time and replaced with new cheap fashion.
And yet the lavish, profitable cheap fashion has already found its place in many brands. By the way, Zara now brings out 24 collections a year, at H&M it's “only” 12-16.
This production mania alone is very frightening to observe in these two fashion giants. The Spanish fashion group Inditex (including Zara, Bershka, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius) was the front runner in 2018 with sales of over 26 billion euros.
The fast fashion giant is planning even further and is responding to the criticism of the various environmental movements in such a way that there are now sustainable collection items: At the same price and with a “Join Life” label, which should promise the (possible) sustainability of the product. To what extent this is also the case is difficult to say. But other companies like H&M with the “Conscious” Collection are following suit. Greenwashing is the new trend of many fast fashion companies and this is exactly what is used to make people feel good when buying these parts, even under the wrong circumstances.
THE QUESTION IS WHAT CAN YOU DO YOURSELF?
After all the terrifying facts, many are changing their perspective on the consumption of fast fashion brands. In my opinion, it's hard to get completely free from fast fashion. Precisely because you can only now see which brands are included. A first approach is to be clear about your own consumer behavior and to be more careful with clothing. The question “Do I really need this and do I find this part so overwhelming” can be the first step in the right direction. Because we are often influenced by social media and encouraged to buy, even though we don't really want the part, we just want to “belong”. And there is a really deep problem - especially with very young women! Therefore, there are now a few alternatives that can be easily implemented if you want to renounce the fast fashion industry.
BUY SLOW FASHION: A few companies have developed an alternative to fast fashion. Slow Fashion focuses on 2 collections per year (spring / summer + autumn / winter) and pays attention to natural fibers such as cotton or linen when it comes to materials. The goal is to produce longer-lasting clothing with high quality standards and fair working conditions. For such items of clothing you usually have to put more cash down, but this is reflected in the quality and lifespan of the item of clothing. An investment for a 60 euro sweater from a slow fashion brand is significantly better than 3 cheap sweaters from the fast trade that won't last long anyway. Even if you buy regionally, that's great! There are few brands in Germany that produce fairly, but I would like to mention one brand in particular: Alina Klemm. I can say 100% that it is a sustainable and fair designer brand! From design to cutting to production, everything is done in Hamburg!
BUY SECONDHAND / VINTAGE: Second-hand shops have experienced a real boom, especially in recent years. Vintage shops are also lined up and the demand for original and unique clothing is increasing. Popular second hand platforms are, for example, Vinted or the girls' flea market. This gives garments a longer lifespan and you don't buy anything new, but something that is already there. Shops such as Vino Kilo, Videdressing or Vite-envogue offer a large selection of beautiful vintage clothing from numerous (designer) brands.
UPCYCLING: Anyone who is a little talented and can use a sewing machine can create new items of clothing from old parts. I sewed very cute tops and dresses myself from many parts of my mother's (some from the 80s). As well as simply making a pair of shorts or a denim skirt out of broken jeans. Creativity is everything!
The same applies to repairing clothing. Those who cannot sew themselves can have their favorite jeans repaired by a tailor for little money. It doesn't have to be thrown away right away.
BORROW: Shops that rent clothes are very innovative. In the USA this is already a widespread variant that has made it to Germany after a long time. Online shops now offer what you used to do with your best friend. This is particularly useful when you have an event or an important job interview. After all, how often are such parts bought for just a day and never put on again? Right - everyone knows!
So it's not that difficult at all. We can all play a part in ensuring that there is constant change in the fashion industry. We have to start with ourselves. We have to understand that fast fashion is pursuing a wrong starting point from which not only the environment, the textile workers, but ultimately also we ourselves suffer (will). In times of Fridays for Future and other climate and environmental movements, the fast fashion era could perhaps come to an end. Until then, set an example and see what exactly you are buying and needing.
Only when clothing regains its value can the fashion madness be stopped and the ecological collapse through fast fashion prevented.
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