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How is fast fashion unsustainable?

For most of us, it has become important to dress in a manner that is trendy and flex-worthy. But do we truly grasp how overwhelming it is to the environment to always be at the forefront of the latest fashion trends? Through this article, we are going to understand how the model of the fast fashion segment influences us and our environment.

So what is Fast Fashion? Fast fashion is a model that emerged as a response to a huge market of consumers who demand high fashion(premium fashion) at a lower cost. And the brands that are involved in this market are able to cater towards this demand by making knock-offs of premium fashion products (through a completely legal standpoint) and then quickly flood the market with trendy clothing products every week.

Essentially, its effectiveness can be attributed to two key aspects that are characteristic to this model; Dynamic assortment and quick-response manufacturing. Though these two words sound technical and complicated, the very concept is quite simple...yet brilliant.

Quick-response manufacturing encapsulates a strategic course of action that is fairly straightforward in business. Basically, companies that are the first to arrive at the marketplace (with the product that satisfies the needs of the consumer) ends up capturing greater market share and generating substantial profits. Fast fashion brands do this by absolving themselves from participating in the process of producing exclusive and unique designs and instead have a general repository of raw materials that serves the function of swiftly producing products that are in trend. In other words, Fast fashion brands transform the designs of premium brands into low-cost mimics that better meet the demands of the average customer.

An example that corroborates this model is when Zara made knock-offs of the famous and most coveted Balenciaga's and Kanye’s YEEZYs in 2017. It was only a short time frame within which Zara responded to the hype for these premium products and made their own ‘legal rip-offs’ at a much lower price-point. However, to prolong this model, fast-fashion brands have to constantly rely on data from analytics and scouring social media. They are able to maximise the retention of information through a ‘dynamic assortment’ of products that essentially serves the purpose of understanding the changing consumer tastes. The dynamic assortment is a strategy whereby companies quickly release new lines of products and make the older lines outdated and unfashionable. To facilitate this, FF brands have streamlined supply chains, production process and distribution lines so that instead of offering 4 major seasons of clothing lines, they now offer 52 micro-seasons of clothing every year. This way, FF brands are able to quickly identify and even create new trends. What this does is that it quickly outdates the wardrobe of the average household quickly which thereby spurs demand for additional purchases. In essence, FF brands rely on supplying excessively to create a demand for more and quench their profit motive desire.

Considering how the FF brands engage in a model that is dependent on excessive supply, it can be accordingly deduced the magnitude of their impact onto the environment. It has been found that the apparel industry alone accounts for approximately 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 10-20% of global pesticide use, 20-35% of microplastics that flow in the ocean, and lastly, the industry’s solvents, washing and dyes that are used in the manufacturing process are also responsible for one-fifth of the global industrial water pollution. (McKinsey & Company and The Business of Fashion, 2019) Additionally, Rivers in developing countries like India, China, Bangladesh have been destroyed and have become biologically dead-zones, brimming with carcinogens, because of the influence of waste waters from manufacturing factories. The rivers that were once thriving and a symbol of prosperity, now threaten our lives as tiny microfibres are being inundated into our water supply and food chains.

But to describe this fashion model without its social component is ignorant and distasteful. Fast fashion has truly shaped consumer behaviour through the durability of the clothes they offer and transforming the use of clothing by creating trends on social media that aligns better with capitalist desires. Brands like H&M & Zara release new lines every week so that their products always stay in trend and also satisfy the Cinderella syndrome - the phenomena of buying clothes and wearing it a few times, only to have a few posts on Instagram, and then dispose of it - which is being increasingly accepted by the millennials.

It is honestly disheartening to witness how the perils of capitalism are having an effect onto the world's resources and the future generations. Not only does this fashion model place an unprecedented strain on our resources but it acts like a disease, which as a consequence of unbridled capitalism and greed, will simply multiply the magnitude of impact onto the two victims of fast fashion:

1. The human rights of workers in developing economies

2. Environment.

Think of buying clothes as an investment. An investment into the value that it represents. A value that stands for fair-wages, human rights for employees, no carcinogenic byproducts released onto the environment. A value that stands for “Sustainability”. A value that is intrinsic to Emacity. To know more, read the following article by Ansh Bakshi on sustainability and how Emacity is worthy of your attention.

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