What Is “Fast Fashion,” and How Does It Impact Us?

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This past summer we read an excellent article on The Robin Report entitled “Preference for Polyester May Make Fast Fashion Brands Vulnerable,” and here at Barnhardt Purified Cotton we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. While the article was written by James Pruden, the Senior Director of Public Relations for Cotton Incorporated, the arguments and stats he offers are compelling—and also worrisome.

“Fast Fashion” has often been compared to fast food, and it’s a fair comparison. Many of us live in a fast-paced lifestyle, especially compared to 20-25 years ago. Some of this is the direct result of both parents or partners entering the workforce. It is also true that many members of the millennial generation like to have newness in their lives on a continual basis.

Reasons for the shift aside, there are some disturbing trends in fashion, as outlined by the article on The Robin Report:

“According to Lifestyle Monitor™ survey responses, 47% of U.S. consumers want their favorite clothing brand to offer new styles once per month or more. That figure rises to 70% among millennials. Close to 20% of all consumers surveyed say that they shop at fast fashion retailers, with 33 % of millennials making the same claim. The result is that consumers are buying 60% more apparel than they did 15 years ago and keeping them half as long. And, like fast food, it’s not the fast fashion model that is at issue, but the ingredients that go into the products.”

Interestingly enough, these very same millennials are concerned about the environment, preferring organic products and supporting sustainable initiatives. So this is the question we keep asking ourselves: how can there be such a disconnect between their fashion purchases and their concern for the world we live in? Obviously we don’t want to pick on millennials—the fast fashion issue certainly spans generations—but that 70% number wanting more definitely caught our eye.

That’s why the last line of the quote above is key; the “ingredients” is a direct reference to polyester, which is at the heart of the problem. Much of the apparel being purchased today in this “fast fashion” culture is made from polyester. In the past 15 years, the total number of garments presented at retail has doubled. In fact, as the article notes, 60% of garments available at retail today are made with polyester.

For many reasons, this is a concerning fact. As these garments are disposed of, they can still be found in landfills for extreme lengths of time. Additionally, the manufacturing of polyester creates over two times the amount of CO2 than does the equal amount of cotton fiber. When you factor in what the article outlines about the impacts on our rivers, lakes, and streams, there’s a lot of damage being done.

We can only assume that the consumer disconnect lies in a lack of knowledge or understanding regarding the impact of this fast fashion trend. Surely consumers that are sensitive to the environment and sustainability initiatives that are taking place all over the world will become more informed, over time, about their garment choices and how they affect our world. Hopefully, they will find articles like the one we’re referencing here, and alter their purchasing habits.

While cotton has long been the consumer-preferred choice for apparel and other products that come in contact with our skin, and isn’t so harsh on our environment, only time will tell if the fast fashion trend is a flash in the pan, or here to stay. Inevitably, the consumer will drive what fibers are used in the garments that are made. Hopefully, for now and future generations, they’ll make the wise choice.