Fast-fashion brands are overproducing at breakneck speed and consumers are throwing away before they are able to fully utilize the garment they just purchased. Here’s an analysis of consumer behavior of fast fashion based on a survey we conducted.
Each day millions of consumers walk into stores around the globe expecting to purchase a garment that finally helps them to be trendy. Fashion evolves fast, and people’s wardrobes, even faster. Unfortunately, most people are only interested in the style and price tag on the item. The reality of garments produced and consumer is getting lost in the rush.
Unfortunately, this has become such a practice, it has earned its name (for the wrong reasons). Its negative impacts include overconsumption, excess waste, and exploitation of the fashion industry workers. But we will come back to that.
Fast fashion is a practice of producing a watered-down version of runway trends and celebrity cultured clothing in large volumes. This model functions by studying fast-changing trends and producing trendy garments at a fast rate, thereby convincing people into buying them as fast as possible so they aren’t left behind. Due to this, their complete wearing span occurs to be very short. This results in the customers ending up coming back, fueling the demand and creating the need.
PETA India’s Director of Celebrity and Public Relations Sachin Bangera shares, “Consumers know that fast fashion takes a toll on the environment, but items made of animal-derived materials also support cruelty to animals and are the worst offenders.”
In the 1970s Outsourcing Revolution changed the way fashion began produced and consumed by the middle class around the globe. Hand-made made-to-order workshops evolved to machine-produced ready-to-wear factories. Soon the consumers became habituated with the idea of mass-produced clothing. In the 80s, cable networks made pop culture go global, increasing consumerism exponentially. Thus, fast fashion retailers studied the runway and delivered consumers by bridging the gap through their model.
The term “fast fashion” was first used by New York Times giving a name to Zara’s founder, Amancio Ortega’s goal. This Spanish fashion retailer was executing its garments in less than 15 days. This included starting from the ideation to be sale. It invested in practicing computer-guided fabric cutting operations, outsourcing garment sewing operations, and promotional campaigns. Thus, I can say that Zara paved the way for other fast-fashion retailers by rapidly expanding and responding.
Not long ago, there were four seasons a year in fashion – spring, summer, fall, and winter. On the contrary, now there are 52 micro seasons resulting in a new collection every week. Undoubtedly, patience and attention was the key element while making the clothes, making each garment worth its price. However, since the 1990s when fast fashion began peaking, shopping became a mere activity of enjoyment rather than an investment.
Currently, fast fashion is successful for many reasons. Stemming from the digital media, consumers attempt to buy the next closest product with reference to fashion content creators. Social media exacerbates the need to wear a new outfit for every occasion, or even every picture. To meet the consumer demand for low prices, the manufacturers are successful in making maximum profits. In return, consumers enjoy owning a lot of clothing displaying wealth as well as poor decision-making. Despite it, they stress each morning looking at their overflowing wardrobe, “I do not have anything to wear.” This desire of wearing the next best thing daily is understood and mastered by the fast fashion executors.
Our Survey on Fast Fashion-Related Consumption Habits
To get a deeper understanding of consumers’ perspectives, ShilpaAhuja.com conducted a survey in January 2022. 100+ fashion consumers who participated were in the age group 14 – 40 years, an 80% majority being 15 – 35 years old, out of which 86% identified as female.
The results of our investigation have determined that —
- 82% of consumers purchase more than 10 garments a year.
- 73% spend more than ₹ 10 thousand a year on garments.
- 70% of consumers bought their garments from fast-fashion brands.
- 59% report social media influencers and online fashion magazines as their leading influences in fashion purchases.
- A majority of 76% select brands based on the availability of trendy styles.
- Consumers claim quality, construction, and durability of the garment as the main factors impacting their purchases.
- And yet, 60% of consumers enjoy purchasing clothing for mere enjoyment or retail therapy. Furthermore, up to 40% of consumers also buy clothing when there is a mention of sales.
- 64% of consumers have bought at least one garment in their life that they have not worn even once.
- Only 12% of consumers reported having shifted to thrift/local stores due to the raising awareness of fast fashion problems.
The above statistics throw light on the fact that though there is raising awareness amongst the youth on the negatives of fast fashion, they still end up giving in due to their circumstances.
It is no surprise that the fashion industry has a huge negative impact on society and the environment, and, a huge contributor to it is the fast fashion industry. Though this impact is beyond what one can fully comprehend, it is our duty as a consumer to ask and understand why fast fashion is bad. This response lies in the following major problems facing our planet.
Lack of Workers’ Rights in the Fast Fashion Industry
Due to a lack of transparency in the supply chain, there is no visibility given to the issues that workers deal with on a regular basis. The production is generally outsourced from low-cost economies like Bangladesh, China, India, and Vietnam. People continue to exploit laborers by depriving them of basic rights, starting from the possibility of negotiating their wages to asking for better working conditions.
Alongside, there is a lack of action being taken against abuse and assault, preventing children from indulging in harmful activities and questioning gender-based violence. The cost of lives and low selling prices are frequently justified by the economic benefits generated.
Simply because it does not have its voice, the last thing that fast fashion brands care about is the environment. Their production intoxicates the water aggressively with chemicals and dyes to cut down on the maximum production costs. Every wash contaminates water when one uses polyester clothing. The garments are eventually discarded to landfills producing harmful toxins into the air or are at the risk of burning by the brand itself. Thus, contributes to climate change.
Landfills are the homes to the majority of the clothes that we have worn and will be wearing in the near future. The amount of clothing going to it has been increasing drastically in the last ten years. People believe they are compensating by donating to charities but they are not. The companies then send their poorly unmanaged solid waste across to third-world countries.
Species of animals, fishes, and insects are quickly wiping out as they continue to carry the baggage of our consequences. PETA’s Sachin Bangera continues, “The reputed ‘Pulse of the Fashion Industry’ report ranks cow leather as the most polluting material in fashion, and silk and wool are also in the worst top five.” Bangera further suggests fashionistas help animals by opting for vegan clothing as he believes that, “Caring for animals and the planet will always be in vogue.”
A lot of things may change if we stop playing the blame game. As consumers, we hold the power to change the way this model functions and even the overproduction. The root cause of overconsumption is our mindset where we confuse needs with wants. It needs to be understood that clothing is not meant to be used and thrown, rather, preserved and passed on.
I sat down to hear what our Editor-In-Chief, Shilpa Ahuja, herself had to say about this problem. She strongly believes, “Overconsumption is something most brands like to create as they need their bottom-line to go up for impressing their investors and to make stock prices go up. The government also wants these brands to be in business to increase employment, GDP, etc.”
On further asking if the problem is with fast fashion alone, she shares, “The problem of overconsumption is because we’re living in the era of consumerism, and it’s across the category. Everything from an iPhone to bicycles to clothing is made of cheaper quality so that we’re forced to buy more and more.”
Body-positive fashion influencer Dr. Barkha Vyas (@barkhavyas_) believes “Most of the fast-fashion consumers are college-going kids. I don’t blame them because they are trying to look their best every day, but they don’t have much money of their own at the same time.”
“There is an unsaid rule that when you click someone’s profile, they should not have repeated their outfit in the latest 9 pictures,” she adds. “I feel the pressure to not repeat my outfits but I try to not give in to the pressure because I have grown a thick skin towards negative comments by being in this industry for seven years now. You need to show your audience that you are repeating outfits and it is okay.”
With the new-age fashion media’s revolutionary attempt in showcasing behind-the-scenes of the fast fashion industry, an increasing number of consumers have begun educating themselves on the severe impact of these practices. With this, they have begun demanding brands to go greener and become transparent. Under this pressure, many fast fashion brands choose a route to greenwash consumers into thinking they are making a better choice by purchasing their new “green” garments. However, their practices are far from being fully ethical and sustainable.
It is evident that these brands function based on consumer demand. A brand whose foundation itself is to erode sustainability, cannot be fast and sustainable simultaneously. However, the demand for fast fashion clothing may vary as youngsters are shifting their consumer practices. We can hope fast fashion brands to make a few changes by improving the way they function, but it is doubtful that they will ever fully be transparent.
How Consumers Can Change
There are many alternatives in substitute of fast fashion clothing. They are neither heavy on your pocket nor are they bad for the workers or the environment.
- Mending instead of immediately throwing the garment away.
- Upcycling clothes on your own or with the help of your local tailor.
- Exchanging clothing or wearing hand-me-downs from whoever you are comfortable with.
- Buying second-handed clothing or thrifting.
- Creating DIY clothing from old fabrics or going for recycled clothing brands.
- Researching a sustainable fashion brand that you can trust, and saving up and investing buying in the same.
- Supporting a small business clothing.
- Styling garments in as many ways as possible to achieve different looks.
Thrifting & Slow Fashion
Some environment-friendly practices are gaining momentum. Shifting to thrifting a lot of clothing redirects clothing gong from landfills to increase their shelf life. Slow fashion is gaining much-needed recognition by helping people take a closer look at their wardrobes and normalizing rewearing. The recycled clothing industry believes there’s no such thing as trash as it results in something useful and unexpected.
Shreya Jain (@s.hrxya), Instagrammer, thrift store owner of Runwayracks and a former Fashion Journalist at ShilpaAhuja.com sat with us to share her thoughts. On asking what the main cause behind fast fashion is, Shreya responds, “The way we shop is an issue; people impulse buy clothes which fuel in our need for latest trends at pretty low prices.” On the brighter side, she believes, “Fast fashion brands shifting from their unsustainable and unethical practices might be a long process but it’s a process I think everyone wants them to achieve.”
Ishita Singhal is a Fashion Journalist Intern at ShilpaAhuja.com. She is pursuing a bachelor’s in Fashion Design with Luxury and Couture as her specialization and Textile Design as her minor from NIFT, Kolkata. She is a sustainable fashion enthusiast who practices a plant-based and zero-waste lifestyle. She was born and raised in different cities of India, making her a traveler since birth; she wants to continue living and learning with people and become a voice for the voiceless by sharing their stories. Along with this, she indulges in content writing for NGOs and international platforms in the area of Sustainable Development Goals. She enjoys phone photography, reading self-help and poetry books, visiting museums and art galleries, playing board games, and watching documentaries.