People are buying more and more clothes with each passing year. But only keeping them half as long as before. In fact, 85% of all textiles bought are thrown away each year. In Switzerland, it is estimated that only 50 to 55% of all textiles are being recycled.
Clothes are not only a necessity. They also allow human beings to differentiate themselves from each other, to outwardly show who they are. And for long, that was why they were custom made: To show how rich or poor a person was, to show their social status, or even where they came from. This continued until the Industrial Revolution and the arrival of machines. Clothes became cheaper to manufacture, and thus accessible to more people. And it culminated in the 1990s with the arrival of brands like Zara and H&M. Clothes were even cheaper to manufacture, trend cycles began to accelerate, and shopping for clothes went from something you did once or twice a year, to being a hobby. And led the New York Times to coin the term fast fashion.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is when consumers get access to cheap, trendy clothes at a low cost. These clothes are usually copied from runways, designers or just people in the streets. They are also characterised by the fact that there is a high turnover in their collection. Clothes don’t stay on the shelves, available for purchase, for more than a few weeks, thus creating a deeper sense of urgency to follow trends.
Fast fashion emerged at the end of the 20th century. Before that, fashion had four seasons: Fall, winter, spring, and summer. When Zara arrived on the market, they shifted this model by releasing a new collection every two weeks, not answering to consumers’ needs anymore, but actually creating them. Soon, brands like H&M, Topshop, Primark and Uniqlo followed.
Contributing to the climate emergency
In the last few years, fast fashion has been in the public eye for all the wrong reasons. Greta Thunberg in her interview for the first issue of Vogue Scandinavia said, “The fashion industry is a huge contributor to the climate and ecological emergency, not to mention its impact on the countless workers and communities who are being exploited around the world in order for some to enjoy fast fashion that many treat as disposables”. Indeed, since people have easy access to countless pieces of clothing, they are more willing to discard them than before. There is no hiding now, how harmful the fashion industry is to the environment and the climate.