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Here's what actually makes fast fashion so 'fast' — and why that's such a big problem

Fast fashion brand Shein was named the most popular fashion brand of 2022.

Fast fashion

Photo Credit: iStock

If you're a fashionista, you may have heard of the term "fast fashion." But for those not in the know, the term is used to describe the mass production of cheap, trendy clothing. It's a type of fashion that's designed to be quickly manufactured and sold at a low cost. 

This type of fashion has become increasingly popular in recent years, as different trends and styles quickly go in and out of vogue. 

But recently, fast fashion has also been increasingly criticized for its impact on our environment, in addition to its ties to unethical business practices.

What makes fast fashion 'fast'?

It's true that fast fashion is designed to be affordable, but it's also unfortunately designed to be worn for only a short period of time before being discarded. 

Clothing labeled as fast fashion is often made with cheap materials and labor. But because it allows people to stay on trend without breaking the bank, fast fashion remains quite popular.

Some of the biggest names in fast fashion are H&M, Zara, Forever 21, Uniqlo, and Shein, which was named the most popular fashion brand of 2022. These brands are known for their low prices and their ability to quickly produce new styles.

Zara, for example, produces nearly 12,000 new clothing designs every single year, with each purportedly taking only five weeks to move from design to production. 

What are the biggest problems with fast fashion?

The biggest problems with fast fashion are the environmental and social impacts. Fast fashion is incredibly wasteful, as it produces large amounts of clothing that are often discarded after a short period of time. 

The polyester in some of these textiles is produced with planet-warming oil, with brands using hundreds of millions of barrels annually. Plus, a lot of these clothes end up rotting in landfills after a short period of time. 

In addition to the massive amount of textile waste produced by fast fashion, the industry uses an enormous amount of water. How enormous? More than 20 trillion gallons of water a year.

Besides environmental concerns, some take issue with fast fashion as it can lead to the exploitation of workers without adequate labor protections. Often garment workers are exposed to incredibly unsafe working conditions and materials, like toxic dyes and chemicals, and all for low wages.

How can we avoid supporting fast fashion?

The best way to avoid supporting fast fashion is to thrift or buy secondhand clothing. Secondhand stores are a great way to find quality clothing at a fraction of the cost while also often supporting local businesses.

Luckily, the future of secondhand stores looks bright. One recent report predicted the secondhand clothing industry will double in value (to $82 billion) by the year 2026

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