More and more of us are starting to realise the negative effects of fast fashion, and are seeking out alternatives. But, you might not have thought about how fashion became so fast in the first place.
Let’s rewind just a bit.
Until pretty recently, clothes were hella slow. Material like wool and leather needed to be sourced, prepared and hand-made into clothes. There were two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. They were split this way due to necessity, and weather, and for no other reason. At the turn of the season, you’d box away your big thick jumpers and take out your light linen dresses. Simple.
Clothes were made from quality materials, and were designed to last a long time. After all, what would be the point of spending time and money on making something for it to fall apart after wearing it a few times? That would just be silly.
By the 1940s, the war effort had meant materials were limited and clothing was rationed. The ‘Make Do and Mend’ campaign encouraged people to make their clothes last longer. Posters told women to go through their wardrobes to see what could be fixed or made into something else. In fact, mending and making your own clothes was seen as a really impressive way to help the country. People got really creative and even launched classes to show each other how to cut patterns and reuse materials. Silk from old parachutes were used for underwear and even wedding dresses.
The next generation, however, would become the first generation to really have ‘teenager’ culture, where the youth would use fashion to express themselves creatively, and often, rebel against the system. But even with the fashion waves of the 60s and 70s, fashion still wasn’t fast. Clothes were still good quality, and trends varied year to year, rather than month to month.
It was really with the 1990s and 2000s that fashion sped up, and for that, we can blame the internet. With the creation of online shopping, retailers could reach far more customers than they ever had before, and therefore, had to speed up their processes to keep up. Not only did they have a wider audience, but news was spreading faster.
Trends didn’t have to wait for radios to spread an idea or magazines to print. As soon as someone wore something on a catwalk or red carpet, people were seeing it on their screens and wanting to get their hands on it. So retailers began to create cheaper copies of high fashion designs, reproducing them quickly and cheaply. With ever improving technology, this was even easier to do, outsourcing all production to other countries, then shipping it back.
By the 2010s, fast fashion retailers were well established. But what would really kick energy into retailers like H&M and Primark? Yep, we can blame the internet again. With the invention of social media, particularly Instagram, new trends are at our fingertips every second, and we care even more about what we look like. One study found that 1 in 7 women said social media was the reason they shopped so much, because they were terrified about being pictured and tagged in the same outfit twice.
Nowadays, the fast fashion industry had created 52 ‘micro-seasons’ a year, with new styles and trends coming out every week. This obviously means that consumers all feel out of style all the time, and want to buy more, all the time. Research shows that the average item of clothing is worn between five to seven times, and then either left in a wardrobe or chucked in the bin. A third of women consider clothes old after wearing them only three times.
With the need to create things so quickly and keep the price down, the standards of clothes have also fallen. In an article about Primark, The Economist wrote ‘Primark forces consumers to buy heaps of items, sometimes even the same ones to use when the first one is worn out, discard them after a few wears and then come back for another batch of new outfits.’
What? Can it really be true that our standards have fallen so much that we knowingly buy two of something as we are prepared that it is made so badly that it will fall apart after wearing it a few times?
How have we gone from teaching our friends how to reuse old material to judging our friends for being tagged in an outfit twice?
It looks like this history lesson is ready for a new chapter, the time when in the 2020s, everyone decided to hit the breaks on fast fashion and slow it right back down again.