6-part series: 2. Fast Fashion VS. Sustainable Fashion

This is the 2nd blog post in the 6-part series about:

How do we make the fast fashion industry more sustainable?

Last time, we made an introductory note on why we think the fast fashion industry needs to change. In this 2nd blog post, we promised you to tell a bit about what are the mechanisms driving the fast fashion industry VERSUS sustainable fashion. In the following, we will elaborate on these subjects.


The Fast Fashion Industry

Fashion has been defined as  “…a broad term that typically encompasses any product or market where there is an element of style that is likely to be short-lived” (Christopher et al., 2004:367). The companies that provides this are fashion companies, whose purpose is to provide fashion to consumers through design, garment quality, brand status and outlet stores (Holm and Holm, 2010). With the globalised world, fashion has also become a global phenomenon, where design can take place in Denmark, manufactured in Asia, consumed in the US, donated to international rag traders, sorted in eastern europe and consumed and disposed in Africa (Hvass, 2016). According to Christopher et al. (2004) today’s fashion markets can be summarised with the following characteristics:

  1. High volatility where the demand for fashion products in very unstable.
  2. High impulse shopping, which require a need for product “availability”, and
  3. The fact of products short life cycles, the period a product is saleable has become very short and seasons are measured in months or even weeks (Christopher et al., 2004).

These are characteristics that describes the fashion industry and makes the fashion companies’ survival determinant on flexibility, quick responsiveness, and dependence on cheap labour and cheap raw materials (Barnes & Lea-Greenwood, 2006 in Hvass, 2016: 27). This has led to that fastness and newness have become the two main pillars of the industry and described as the concept of fast fashion. The fast fashion companies build their strategies on how to reduce processes involved in the buying cycle and lead times in order to get new products into the stores as fast as possible, in order to satisfy consumer demand (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood, 2006: 259).

The fast fashion mainly consist of high street brands copying the newest catwalk trends, and translate them into affordable garments, often produced in low quality of apparel and under questionable ethical conditions. Accordingly, they are low cost clothing based on high-cost trends. The high street brands does not limit themselves to seasonal collections, but offer their customers up to 24 collections, with hundreds of styles each year. The concept of quickly manufactured, affordable clothes is used by large retailers such as H&M, Zara and Topshop (McKinsey, 2016):

“Fast fashion especially is focusing on consumption, as consumers have become more demanding and fashion savvy forcing fashion companies to provide the right product at the right time in the market (Bhardwaj and Fairhurst, 2010). It is about mass-produced fashion that is reasonably priced for most consumers, and easy to obtain, making it easy for anyone to look stylish” (Mihm, 2010).



Sustainable Fashion // Slow Fashion

As a counteraction to the concept of fast fashion and its consumption patterns, the term of ‘slow fashion’ has arised (Danish Museum of Art and Design, n.d.). As such, slow fashion focuses on quality, longer lifespan, local production, local raw materials, higher level of transparency in the supply chain for the consumer, and timeless fashion in order to use clothes for several seasons (id.).

Additionally, sustainable fashion can be discussed as a concept. Sustainability is a quite complex phenomenon, and there is no such thing as a single, general definition. Yet according to Hethorn and Ulasewicz (2008), sustainable fashion means that,

“there is no harm done to people or the planet, and that a thing or process, once put into action, can enhance the well-being of the people who interact with it and the environment it is developed and used within.” (Hethorn and Ulasewicz, 2008) 

Several companies are producing garments from environmentally friendly sources such as organic cotton, and these are for example Patagonia (Patagonia, n.d) and Knowledge Cotton Apparel (Knowledge Cotton Apparel, n.d). Both brands offers long lasting products, made from sustainable sources. However, their products are made after the linear production model of make-use-dispose. Yet, new conceptualisations of sustainability have also emerged, which are based on moving away from the linear model to a ‘circular’ economic model of producing and handling clothes. Companies are trying to decouple the amount of virgin resources from economic growth.


To be continued…

Next time, we will elaborate on what ‘circular’ economic models are – and also give you some examples on circular economy in the fashion industry. You might want to try it out yourself!


More Curious? – Here’s the References


Stine Pedersen

Stine is 27 years old, and is the main editor of The Fashion Footprint, which is based on her passion for sustainability and fashion and the ongoing question of how to make a transition of the industry. She has studied civil engineering in Sustainable Design at Aalborg University in Copenhagen, where she was engaged in 2 projects on how to make the fashion industry more transparent for the buyers and another on how to implement Circular Economy in a large danish fast fashion brand. Besides this interest, she always has a full calendar either with yoga or training, or with photography and installation exhibitions as possible.

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