Everyone seems to be too busy online shopping to recognize another consumer powerhouse: the advent of fast fashion. Defined as the quick turnaround from runway to retail, fast fashion takes trends minute-by-minute and tells shoppers to keep up. Us shopaholics drink it up—who doesn’t love a lace-up top at half the designer cost?
H&M, Forever 21, and Zara are just a few of the major proponents of cheap chic. The concept is simple: buy it, then sell it—fast. The fashion industry mimics the instantaneous nature of today’s world by convincing shoppers that trends are in, and then out, by the week. Faster delivery rates from the Far East markets and the advent of more efficient technology allow the companies to coordinate better and cut costs. The entire idea is centered around wearing a top only once or twice, so companies feel guilt-free about going for the synthetic cotton/poly-blend; as Walmart says, save money, live better. And we seem to be living better too, with a fresh outfit for every Instagram. That is, until we find that our closets are overflowing—and our wallets, not so much.
But let’s backtrack: these companies are moving quickly because they are getting their products from the Far East. Not only is this hurting U.S. manufacturing, but it leaves us to wonder exactly what working conditions are as affordable as the slashed prices that these brands are offering.. And the retailers are causing more than just labor problems: production and consumption of fast fashion rapidly accumulates waste. The thin fibers that make up our piles of affordable clothes are typically non-renewable or recyclable, and factories waste tons of water in their operations. Especially since production changes every few weeks, workers’ rights, safety measures, and sustainability issues are likely to be put on the backburner. It’s a far cry from luxury designer policy: Louis Vuitton has had an environmental charter since 2001, and Tiffany & Co. filed a Corporate Responsibility Report about joining U.N. Global Compact in 2011.
In fact, the luxury designers are undoubtedly the ones who are hurt the most. They are the ones who introduce the trends to the runway. They are the ones who create each handbag, shoe, and skirt as a quality guarantee. Yet they are the ones now recognizing the omnipresence of fast fashion, and they are the ones driven to negotiate with large retailers (remember Lilly Pulitzer for Target?) There has been a clear trade-off between quality and quick payoff. Perhaps even more detrimentally for fashion in general, increased affordability has changed consumer perception of the field. Luxury subsequently runs the risk of losing its luster. And what is fashion without its glam?
The future of fashion is not all gloom and doom, though: we must recognize that adopting fast fashion is also an opportunity for more people to embrace being fashion forward, and for more companies to embrace innovation. As the world spins faster, we must inevitably try to keep up in all aspects. There’s no harm in indulging in Birkin for its built-in lifetime guarantee—in fact, it helps fashion maintain its intoxicating air of exclusivity. But cheap chic is undoubtedly here to stay, so here’s to donating a few boxes of old outfits and snagging that new $20 top.