The True Cost of Fast Fashion

The True Cost of Fast Fashion?

Published On: December 13, 2022

We’ve all heard the phrase “fast fashion.” Maybe some of us have even shopped a piece or two of it ourselves. As a fashion aficionado, it’s practically unavoidable. And its proliferation grows day by day.

As Investopedia says, “Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends. (At times, designs move from sketchpad to store in a matter of a few weeks, vs. close to a year in traditional industry practice.) The collections are often based on styles presented at Fashion Week runway shows or worn by celebrities. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase the hot new look or the next big thing at an affordable price.”

Okay, that all sounds well and good. After all, who doesn’t want cute clothing at an “affordable” price? But what is the true cost of clothing that offers affordable prices and instant gratification for consumers, more profits for companies, and the democratization of stylish clothing?

Well, that true cost is higher than one might think. At its worst, fast fashion is associated with pollution, waste, a “disposable” consumer mentality, low wages, and unsafe workplaces.

The Economics of “Throwaway” Clothing, AKA Disposable Fashion

Everyone loves a bargain. And fast fashion offers exactly that. But despite what appears to be an advantage for the customer, fast fashion has also been criticized because it encourages a “throw-away” attitude. In fact, according to The New York Times, “Many fast fashionistas in their teens and early twenties—the age group the industry targets—admit they’re only wearing their purchases once or twice.”

Fast fashion is the very definition of planned obsolescence; it is not meant to last. Its main goal is to cash in on a trend – or the latest celebrity sighting – produced to be worn and discarded quickly.

But when you think about it, fast fashion math doesn’t really make good consumer sense either; multiple purchases of fast fashion garments, cheap as they are, end up eventually costing the consumer more in the long run than buying a few pricier ones that last much longer.


The Cost to Our Planet

Fast fashion has an undeniable impact on the environment. The cheap materials and manufacturing methods used by most fast fashion companies significantly contribute to

pollution and waste. According to GlobalEdge, from Michigan State University, “Fast fashion creates a host of issues that make it more problematic than it is beneficial… This industry contributes to climate change, pesticide pollution, and enormous amounts of waste.”

And that’s just the beginning.

The poorly made garments, by their very nature, just don’t age well. The cheap materials and construction methods do not stand up to repeated washing and wearing. So, they’re very quickly deemed “unwearable” by the consumer. But since they’re predominantly (over 60%) made of environmentally unfriendly synthetics, they can’t be recycled! Which means when they’re discarded, they molder in landfills for years.


Social Implications

Very few fast fashion companies have their own factories (with a few exceptions). These companies typically outsource their production. That, in itself, is not the problem. The problem is that outsourcing is usually contracted out to manufacturers based in developing countries. The companies themselves often provide little, if any, oversight of their subcontractor’s business practices.

That practice has led critics to charge that fast fashion is built on substandard working conditions, poor wages, and other abusive, exploitative practices.

What’s more, because the clothing is made overseas, fast fashion is also seen as contributing to a decline in the U.S. garment industry, where labor laws and workplace regulations are stronger, and wages are better.

As an aside, there have been serious intellectual property issues. Some designers allege that their designs have been copied, duplicated and mass-produced by fast fashion companies without their consent. Lawsuits are often brought about, with mixed results.


What’s a Designer to Do?

For now, fast fashion is here to stay. So, what can you, as a “slow” fashion designer, actually do about any of it? Quite a bit, it turns out.

  • Pay attention to where your fabrics come from. The raw materials used to make a garment are often the biggest contributing factor to environmental distress. Look for industry certifications, like GOTS and USDA. There are others that are equally viable. These include Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and Standard 100 by OEKO-Tex.
  • Vet your development and production partners carefully. Obviously, price is a big consideration in bulk production and the pricing of your collection. But many times, the lowest per unit price comes with sub-standard (and sometimes illegal) business practices and less-than-ideal working conditions. So, don’t just consider the price per unit. Pay attention to who is making your clothes and partner with a factory that you can be proud of.
  • Watch your packaging. There are some actionable ways to do this:
    • Promote the use of renewable/reusable materials (compostable shipping envelopes come to mind here!)
    • Cut back on packaging-related expenses
    • Eliminate the use of toxic materials in the production of packaging
    • Provide options to recycle packaging easily
  • Educate your customers on what it takes to get a garment made ethically. This requires transparency. Which sounds a bit scary, we know, but with transparency comes understanding. Remind them (on your website and in social media) that your garments are made to the highest quality standards, with ethically sourced fabrics, by skilled people being paid a living wage.

As we mentioned earlier, it looks as though fast fashion is here to stay (for now)! And while you can’t change the minds of everyone, you CAN change the minds of a few. Be an ethical consumer yourself, then share what you know and learn with your team and your customers.

We’re big believers in clothing made thoughtfully and with the finest craftsmanship. When you’re ready to discuss your ideas for your collection, feel free to reach out to us at or call us at 800-916-0910. We’ll talk.



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