Fast Fashion: What is it anyway?

Posted by Ashley Rouster Rigby on

You’ve probably heard of “Fast Fashion” from when it surfaced in the 90’s to describe hastily made clothing that mimicked runway trends. Since awareness has been raised, some are responding by moving towards a more thoughtful approach to consumerism. However, you may still be asking, “Why is fast fashion a problem? What can I do about it?”

Fast Fashion is inexpensive clothing that is rapidly produced by mass-market retailers to sell to trend-following consumers. Essentially, it is low-quality, mass-produced, fad clothing that is intentionally designed to become obsolete after one season. This business model causes harm throughout the world, impacting communities and the environment. Let’s break down some well-researched ways in which this harm is caused.

Production practices cause environmental harm in many ways, one area being textile waste. A study by Reserved Resources compared data from 7 factories in China and Bangladesh and found that “the [estimate of the] total volume of different types of leftovers from fabric mills and garment factories… is at least 25% of resources used by these factories on average, in some cases even up to 47% of the fibers and fabrics bought by a factory.”  The study goes on to note that leftover materials are often, “downcycled, incinerated or dumped.” This business model – to create as much clothing as possible as “efficiently” as possible – does not take waste into consideration, and the methods in which we handle this excess waste impact the environment and communities directly, and negatively. In addition to these facts, The OR Foundation has been conducting research in Ghana regarding the secondhand clothing trade. As clothing is donated once it is rendered obsolete by new trends, the excess that is not sold in the U.S. is shipped to countries in The Global South in bales, many of it ending up in landfills, with only a small percentage resold or reworked by local skilled traders.

As if the environmental damage isn’t concerning enough, the treatment of garment workers is equally unfathomable. More people are involved in the production of clothing than the majority of us are led to believe. In recent years, an influx of firsthand accounts have been brought to consumers’ attention from factories across the world outlining inhumane working conditions, and hourly rates that fall far below livable wages. You may be led to believe that these issues are only happening in factories abroad, but the reality is the exploitation of garment workers happens in our own backyards. Take Los Angeles for example, “the Department of Labor (DOL) conducted an investigation into factories in Los Angeles and found that 85 percent of factories had wage violations.” A few of the factories in question were producing clothing for Forever 21, Ross Stores, TJ Maxx, Charlotte Russe, Windsor, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Burlington, Dillards, Beals, A’gaci, Fashion Nova, and Urban Outfitters. The low prices reflected on articles of clothing are directly related to the exploitation and wage theft garment workers experience on a daily basis. Many workers, a majority of them being undocumented, are exploited and bullied into staying silent about the mistreatment they face. Organizations like The Garment Worker Center work directly with garment workers in LA to dismantle sweatshops and to bring first-hand experiences to the surface.

Take a look at the below example of the cost/price breakdown of a $40 fast-fashion item. This breakdown is a generic overview that is good to keep in mind while shopping. 

Let’s take a look at a cost breakdown of a $40 fast fashion produced shirt.

Our manager, Tessa Clark, shared a virtual conversation with Sydney Murdock of The Style Resolution in Sydney’s online style group, The Style Room, on Facebook. You can watch their conversation on fast fashion, ethics and sustainability in fashion, and more by clicking here. 

All things considered, Idlewild strives to provide a curated collection of timeless, ethically sourced, and sustainably made garments and products.

Values we live by at Idlewild both personally and professionally: 

TIMELESS – while of course all fashion is driven by macro trends (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economical, Political), we try our best to offer clothing that we believe will be worn multiple times, and live within your wardrobe for years, and hopefully generations. Vivienne Westwood is quoted as saying, “buy less, choose well.”

SUSTAINABLE – the harmony of all moving parts within the production process, and/or eco-friendly textile alternatives. 

ETHICAL – the definition of this adjective is as follows: “Avoiding activities or organizations that do harm to people or the environment.”


Reversed Resources “The Undiscovered Business Potential of Production Leftovers within Global Fashion Supply Chains: Creating a Digitally Enhanced Circular Economy

OR foundation

The Good Trade


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