The Rise of Fast Fashion

The Rise of Fast Fashion
And how it came to be

Hello hello,

I hope you've had a nice week.

A warm welcome to our new subscribers: Carla, Max, En Hui, Agnese, Anita, Ariana, Ken, Taa, Merlion, Alex, A., Vivienne, Pauline, Julie, Georgia, Amber and Vivek.

So you know what to expect with this newsletter: each Sunday I muse about a sustainability-related topic, and it's decidedly non-sales-y.

Today's topic is the origin of fast fashion, however we have a (revamped) newsletter archive, here, where you can delve into a whole host of topics, such as the making of a bag (Parts 1 - 4) or what happened when I asked some of my suppliers for more information about their sourcing. Hint: it wasn't pretty.

The appeal of fast fashion. It's seductive, for sure!

Fast Fashion

It's probably safe to say that we have all heard the term "fast fashion". To make sure we're on the same page however, here's the definition we'll be using today, courtesy of the website, Good On You.

Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand.

Fast fashion has been around since the early 2000s, but do you know how and why it came to be?

Believe it or not, it did not just appear out of thin air... which, in all honesty, is what I thought until I took a short course at Central Saint Martin's a few years back. Our tutors, Clare Farrell* and Alice Wilby explained the geopolitical changes the facilitated the emergence of a new era in fashion.

* Our backpack is named the "Farrell" in honour of Clare, who is also a founding member of Extinction Rebellion. You can read her interview with LUXTRA here.

Lifting the curtain: The reality behind the glossy exterior.

Here is how things unfurled...

In 1974, the US and European nations protected their clothing trade economy by imposing quotas on the amount of garments that could be imported from developing countries via the Multi Fibre Agreement (MFA). In 1995 however, this was replaced by the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with a view to remove the quotas for all signatories to the WTO, and for each signatory to be treated equally.

In 2001, China joined the WTO, opening freer trade opportunities with over 100 signatory countries worldwide. In 2005, the MFA and ATC ended, and restrictions on the import of garments from developing countries to the US and Europe were removed. In the 2000s, exports from China to the EU rose by 21% while prices of garments dropped 26%.

Chinese and Asian exporters were able to produce clothing cheaper and faster than in developed countries due to cheap labour, fewer labour rules and mass manufacturing infrastructure.

It's not hard to see the appeal: LEFT: Saint Laurent SS15 "Candy" platforms. RIGHT: Nasty Gal's version. I'd guess there's a $1000 price difference between them. Source: DAZED.

Younger people and those on lower incomes were now able to buy into clothing trends seen on catwalks and celebrities: see above!

The rise of the internet in the 2000s and access to global media contributed to fashion trends changing more rapidly, creating more demand for the trends to appear on the high street fast and affordably. Retailers such as H&M, Zara and TopShop were able to reproduce and sell trends quickly and cheaply using cheap labour out of Asia. Zara’s mission was for a garment to take just 15 days from design to sale.

15 DAYS!!!!

At the same time, online shopping became increasingly popular, with access to fashion trends without leaving the house, delivered the next day to the doorstep.

And thus, my friends, is how the fast fashion mindset came to be.

How To Quit Fast Fashion by Emma Mathews - the guide to sustainable clothing

The social and environmental impact of fast fashion merits their own newsletter (and in reality I may well be preaching to the choir here...). So for today, let's leave it there.

Next week however, we'll take a look at some tips from Emma Mathew's fantastic little book: "How To Quit Fast Fashion".

I've met Emma a few times, and I very much admire her fight against planned obsolescence. She is also the founder of Socko - sustainable socks made in the UK. I can vouch they they are very warm and comfy indeed! :) 🧦🧦🧦


As always, I hope you've learned something of interest today!
Sending you my best,

LUXTRA Founder | Slow Fashion Advocate | Proud B Corp-er

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The modern equivalent to medieval "indulgences"?
How To Quit Fast Fashion*