The fast fashion industry has massively blown up around the world in the past decade, however the industry can be traced back to the 1800’s.
In 2018, fast fashion made up 24% of all apparel sales in the UK were online and it is usually on websites like Boohoo, ASOS, Pretty Little Thing and In The Style as well as hundreds of other fast fashion websites. Today we see these clothes all over Instagram with influencers and TV shows like Love Island. Back when it first started, Instagram didn’t exist to advertise the clothes.
The high street first became a thing back in 1870 as markets started to turn into shops due to urbanisation in British cities. According to Bethan Alexander, a senior lecturer at London College of Fashion, that the industrialisation of the UK created new ways to manufacture different things that created a starting point for any future development, “one could argue that the UK was a pioneer of fast fashion because of the innovation seen within manufacturing methods back in the 1800s, with Arkwright’s spinning innovations, which shifted to garment making with the industrial revolution.”
Due to colonialism, Britain was importing all sorts of good, which was also a helping hand to the start-up of the British high street. Bethan Alexander also spoke about how after world war II ended “consumers became more receptive to the value of purchasing mass produced clothing. This coincided with the creation of many fast fashion retail companies, like H&M, Zara, Topshop, Primark and all focused on low priced, trendy clothing. Mass production and mass consumerism- as well as mass marketing communications- took off in the 1950s, which triggered a shift in manufacturing to off-shore factories, which were more competitive on price, to enable even lower prices.”
Globalisation has also contributed to this, and outsourcing manufacturing jobs to developing countries, all because the cost of labour is significantly cheaper in countries such as Bangladesh and China for example. In these countries’ workers are barely paid the minimum wage and work in horrific conditions where the factories are receiving bigger orders all the time to keep up with the huge demand in the west for fast fashion and keep it as cheap as the can.
Fast fashion is also known for their quick turnaround, as well as the low prices. When fast fashion has a quick turnaround, they can keep up with what is on trend and what influencers are wearing on Instagram. However, this has been going on since 1989 when the New York Times first came up with the term fast fashion, after Zara announced that it only takes them “15 days between a new idea and getting it into the stores.” After Zara opened their first UK store in 1998, they have “arguably been the game-changer retailer in fast fashion, not only on fashiom at an affordable price but on speed to market and scarcity, encouraging a ‘buy now or its gone’ consumer mentality towards fast fashion purchasing, where today one in three young customers consider garments worn once or twice to be old.”
Now we know how long the fast fashion industry has been around, it’s time to put the breaks on.