The Harmful Effects of the Fast Fashion Model


Hi everyone, it’s Emily!

In this blog, I will discuss the fast fashion model from an operations perspective and talk about its harmful effects on consumer perception, garment workers, and the environment, as well as what you can do to mitigate the harmful effects. 

So let’s get started!

The Fast Fashion Model

Fast fashion is a business model that offers the perception of fashionable, trendy clothing at an extremely affordable price. It requires a highly responsive supply chain to support a frequently changing product assortment. 

If you have ever been into a Forever 21, it’s barely ever the same twice. The cheap prices and immediate satisfaction of large retailers like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 have a stronghold over most people’s shopping habits, despite the rise of many independent designers and online shopping brands. 

The XXXL retailers with ridiculously low prices come at a cost. Their super speedy supply chains rely on outsourced underpaid labor often from factories overseas. The process comes with environmental damage and intensive resources. 

The fast pace at which clothes are manufactured, worn, and discarded from the fast fashion model results in clothing being perceived as disposable rather than long lasting keepsakes. Consumer perception has shifted to expect a new stream of items constantly. In fact, Fashion Nova launches 600-900 new styles every week! The rapid rate at which new collections are released feeds into a shopper’s desire to buy more, as well as the rise of social media and influencers that desire to avoid outfit repetition for a low cost.

We usually don’t hear of the harmful effects on garment workers until we hear a news story about a factory collapsing or catching on fire. For instance, the New York Times published a report on Fashion Nova revealing factories producing their merchandise were under investigation by the US labor department for underpaying workers and owing them millions of dollars in wages. 

Although consumers are being increasingly driven to  purchase more mindful and sustainable products, fast fashion is still present. In my opinion, we cannot rely on retailers to change, actual change will happen when consumers decide what is more important - cheap, disposable fashion or higher quality, long lasting, sustainably sourced, and ethically produced manufacturing. 

Let me give you an example: In the 1950s, if a woman wanted to purchase a dress, she would spend $9 (or $72 today) to order an item from a Sears catalog. Today a shopper can walk into a mall into an H&M and buy a dress for $12. The cost of material, labor, and supply chain logistics required for production is cheap and slo not likely to last. We can attribute this cheap, fast production to artificial intelligence and the quick relay and feedback of information. 

Fast fashion retailers often rely on middlemen factories to produce clothes which allows them to distance themselves from wrongdoing. Companies can manage to avoid claims thanks to a state law that places the burden on middleman companies. 

Moving Towards Ethical Production and Sustainability

Consumers are changing their attitudes toward sustainability and transparency in fashion brands. 60% of shoppers surveyed by Nielson claimed they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies with social or environmental commitments, but it does appear that there is a gap in what shoppers say they will do versus what they actually purchase. 

What can you do? Consumer opinions are what will put pressure on big retailers to change their ways. The fashion industry today has conditioned consumers to keep buying. 

The simplest thing you can do is stop buying clothing from fast fashion retailers. It’s not enough to have a mission statement that they will change their ways. We need to actually see them slow down production and manufacture in a sustainable and ethical way. 

Once you realize the impact of cheap fashion on worker’s lives and consumer habits, I believe people can translate that knowledge into their shopping habits. Although smaller brands - myself included - may have higher prices, you can rest assured that you are making an impact when you know the clothing was produced ethically and sourced sustainably. 

I’ve talked about it before, but making clothes to order like we do at Emily Westenberger and upcycling old materials offers respect to garments workers and decreased waste in the environment. Ultimately, my mission is to utilize my love for style, fashion, and design to benefit society at large, while serving as an example of success that will shape the future of society.

I created my brand to fulfill my desire to balance business, creativity, style, and goodwill within a fashion brand through a passion for the process, small scale production, and an appreciation for the customer. I hope to educate customers to help change the fashion industry and that truly starts with the customer. 

Comment below if you’d like me to do more blogs on fast versus slow fashion. Subscribe to my channel and click the bell to get notified when I upload new videos every Friday. Thanks for watching and have a great day!

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