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Who on Earth Started Fast-Fashion?

Fast fashion, as a concept and business model, has evolved over several decades and can be traced back to several moments in fashion history. While the term "fast fashion" might have been coined in the late 1980s, the roots of the concept can be found in earlier developments. Let's break down its evolution...

19th Century: Early Origins

The idea of rapidly changing fashion trends and quickly produced garments can be traced back to the 19th century with the rise of department stores and making fashion trends available to more than just the rich classes who were used to having clothes fitted. Mass production techniques allowed for the creation of affordable clothing, enabling a wider range of people to participate in fashion trends especially after world war II. In 1947 Erling Persson opened Hennes, later known as H&M, in Vaesterås, Sweden. To get the economy back and running the message was spend more, use more. Back then it was a positive, exciting change. People had spent a long time making do with hand me downs and charity. New was desirable and attainable.

Man walking along high street ogling car

1980's & 1990's Rapid Change

The term 'fast fashion' appeared in a New York Times article on the far edge of 1989. Anne-Marie Schiro covered Zara's opening in New York, using the term to describe the trend of rapidly changing fashion and quickly produced clothing. This marked the formal recognition of a business model that focused on speed and trend responsiveness. Again, this was a desirable trend flag-shipped by H&M which allowed women to access those catwalk trends from Paris without the super high price tag. What could possibly go wrong?

Global Players

Zara's emergence as a global player in the 1980s and 1990s contributed significantly to the popularisation of this highly trending concept. Zara's model of designing, producing, and delivering new styles quickly to stores was a major disruptor in the industry. As we know the fashion industry is a competitive beast and Zara and H&M were quickly followed by Top Shop and Primark with the high street crammed with shops selling low cost clothing. Something had to give. To keep costs low so were workers wages. Snipping away in the background were low ethical standards that were largely unconsidered. 

man lying down surrounded by stuff

The Digital Age and Online Shopping

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the acceleration of fast fashion due to advancements in communication technology. The internet and social media played a role in spreading fashion trends globally, and brands sought to capitalise on consumers' desire to stay current. Our globe had suddenly become a smaller place with a wider shopping opportunity. More pressure was added for low cost clothing.

Environment and Ethical Impacts

The UN raised concerns over human's impact on the environment back in 1972 in Stockholm. They raised the connection between economic growth and pollution. Over time, the fast fashion model has come under scrutiny due to its negative environmental and ethical impacts. The relentless pace of production, overconsumption, and disposable fashion have led to concerns about waste, labor exploitation, and unsustainable practices. This has led to this now mainstream term taking on a more negative than it's positive responsive beginnings of post world war II.

Clothes seen from space

The Future of Fast Fashion

This growing awareness about the social, economic, and environmental consequences of the industry's practices has also contributed to a culture of excess and disposability, which has raised important ethical and sustainability concerns in recent years. Evidence displays there is no slowing down of this consumption but even Shein has tried saying they “consistently limits excess inventory to single digits through on-demand production, a percentage that is much lower than traditional retailers,” which it says results in less waste. What they mean is they stop making a product when people stop buying it. But is that really helping less waste?

Long live our clothes!



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