The needs, desires, and intentions of consumers have led to the birth of 'inexpensive & chic' fast fashion, as lockdown remains for much of the nation, the isolation is severely affecting the fashion industry's design and manufacturing teams. In this global crisis, retailers across all sectors are forced to cut costs and shift priorities, but the most essential threat is to the fast fashion workers as COVID-19 has left them stranded without work.
The question is brought on the table by many famous fashion designers over the last few weeks that post lockdown would the fashion culture along with the industry be forced to come up with new lookout, slower pace, and affordable collections. Will, this crisis effectuate the psychology of fashion for consumers and the industry's obsession with speed and novelty leaving the fast fashion coming to an end?
'Fast fashion' has become a buzz lately, but what does it exactly mean?
Fast fashion is all about cheap but trendy clothing, that takes inspiration from the catwalks or celebrity fashion culture and transforms them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed. The term "fast fashion" is mostly used by fashion brands to portray inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores making the latest fashion trends. The arrival of fast fashion along with the result of the latest fashion trends is challenging the tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis. It's not anymore a big deal for the fast-fashion brands to showcase new designs multiple times in a single week to stay on-trend.
It is an apt approach to the creation, design and fashion business that emphasizes making the latest fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to the consumers.
The industrialization has dominated the textile industry at large, India was always celebrated for its craftsmanship in weaving and handloom but with time emerged changing technology and coming of power looms. The arrival of the power loom in the country led to mass production. The shift from hand weaving (handloom) to machine weaving led to higher production and enhancement of fast fashion in the country.
The consumer's willingness to purchase replicas and products of a lower standard created an opportunity in the market for fast-fashion brands. In an attempt to match consumer needs, the concept of ‘fast fashion’ was born. The concept became widely appreciated and famous in the early 2000s. The fashion brands looked forward to increasing monetary profit, so they began to focus on the key elements of the supply chain with an emphasis on increased manufacturing speed at a low price. The arrival of fast fashion changed the dynamics for the fashion industry with a quick response policy which resulted in increased forecast accuracy because of the shortened timeframe and the ability to generate a quick turnover of merchandise for major retailers.
The fast-fashion policy created clothing collections built around the latest fashion trends showcased at spring and autumn fashion shows, providing consumers with the latest high-end trendy clothing at affordable prices.
The fact is that the fashion industry alone emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Today we are widely aware of the things which cause environmental harm, but when it comes to our clothing, the impacts are less obvious.
As consumers worldwide want to stay updated with the latest fashion trends, the market is growing for cheap clothing and new trends are taking a toll on the environment. According to speculated data, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dried up water sources and polluted river water as the washing of some particular type of clothes release thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean. Following are some of the most significant impacts of fast fashion-
85% of clothing ends up in the dump each year, the fact is the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is dumped in a landfill every second.
Clothing production has almost doubled since 2000.
People only keep their clothes for half as long now.
Some fashion brands went from an average showcasing of 2 collections per year in 2000 to 5 in 2001.
The popular fashion brand Zara puts out 24 collections per year and H&M showcases between 12-16.
The fast fashion industry is the 2nd largest consumer of water worldwide.
Washing certain types of clothes release 5,00,000 tons of microfibres, which is equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles.
It's speculated that the share of the carbon emission could jump to 26% by 2050 if the fashion world continues its trajectory.
The industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution.
Now that people are taking the outbreak of COVID-19 as a warning that human civilization will experience ever more such events in the future as the world heats up. It has brought the fashion world into a dicey situation of whether fast fashion will be preferred by consumers or not.
Fast-fashion allows the consumers to accommodate the people's passion for fashion that too at an affordable price.
We’re living in a fast-paced fashion world, the concept of fast fashion allows affordable clothing.
The latest fashion trends are easily available among the masses, consumers don’t have to wait around for anything.
The fast-fashion concept is good for someone looking for affordable seasonal buying.
Affordability leads to financial accessibility.
It provides the option of several retailers to choose from both in-store and online.
The fast fashion industry and the frequent buying
The fast fashion industry leads to the exploitation of workers
Fast fashion is increasing textile waste.
The fast-fashion world is often pointed out for the exploitative working environment in the factories which are staffed mainly by women. Many of these fast fashion workers toil for little pay and have limited perks. There is active gender-based violence in Asian factories which supplies to various American apparel giants. Women make up for the vast majority of garment workers in fast fashion factories, 80-95% are women garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. But the management position is mainly male-dominated, and this results in a hierarchical power structure. This male-dominant management further leads to physical, mental, and sexual harm to women.
Along with this the constant cranking of new trends to consume by the fashion market drives production targets that can never be met by fast fashion factory workers and puts female workers at risk of severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Today as shipments have gotten canceled and factories shut down, the pandemic has caused chaos and suffering for millions of fast fashion factory workers worldwide. For the fast fashion industry workers, COVID-19 is nothing short of an existential threat.
The fast-fashion deadlines create a climate of harassment and violence in the factories for female workers. These allegations are recorded in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
The Guardian mentioned that H&M lists 235 Indian garment factories among its suppliers, in 2018, a Bangalore factory worker over wages and working conditions expressed how she was sexually harassed and beaten for not meeting production quotas.
According to Green America, at the Gap supplier factory in Indonesia, a woman expressed how she was mocked for not working faster and threatened with contract termination.
Even in the time of crisis the fast-fashion world hasn’t stopped putting profit and money over workers. In Sri Lanka, even when the country was declared at high-risk from COVID-19, approx 10,000 fast fashion industry workers were stranded in for two weeks.
With revenue being drastically effected at every level of the supply chain, a fast-fashion factory worker is being laid off, the reality of the coronavirus's impact on fast fashion is far from positive. The outbreak has led to the cancellation of numerous orders which many Western companies are refusing to pay for and this has left millions of factory workers mainly women without any wages. According to the latest fashion news mostly all Western buyers have refused to contribute to worker wages. The coronavirus has put the fashion culture in a new precarious place. The pandemic has led to a thousand of fast fashion factories in Bangladesh having $2.81 billion worth of work canceled, which has further left the factory workers in a miserable position, they won't even receive their $95 a month now
There is no alteration in the fact that the global spread of COVID-19 will hit the businesses of all sorts of fashion brands. The H&M and Inditex, owner of Zara are fast fashion's two giants. There altogether value of collection produced in China carries the greatest weight but the outbreak of COVID-19 forced factory closures all around the world, leaving fashion's supply chain in the country into disarray. China accounts for about 50% of the total value of products which H&M sells, the celebrated brand H&M often produces its higher cost garments in China, as factories in China have long developed skills at sewing more complex garments like jackets. Zara on the other hand sources 10% of its total value of goods from China, but with the highest rates of inventory turnover which can prove to be a liability during this crisis.
Zara is one of the fastest in turning a design into a finished product and keeps the fast fashion culture going, by streaming new collection into the stores. The brand relies on its supply chain to constantly feed its consumers. The situation has clarified one thing that the brands with high stock turnover are likely to be impacted sooner as for them the collection is manufactured in bulk, and now that the world is on lockdown the collection is either delayed or the production is less with no-sells. As there's still no vaccination for COVID-19, there are high chances that even after lockdown is over it can bounce back any moment, so this constant fear among people will force them to follow social distancing, no partying and get-togethers. This lack of events will ultimately lead to spending only on essentials which will be the downfall of luxury fashion. For fast fashion giants like H&M and Zara, this won't be a real issue because as soon as the lockdown is over, it's expected that people would keep the monetary factor in mind and opt for fast fashion instead of sustainable or luxury fashion at least for the coming 6 months until the economy starts rising again.
H&M and Zara won’t be much affected by this, it is the new smaller companies that won’t survive the pandemic.
By conventional calculations, it can be said that the fashion industry will continue trying to reduce its environmental impacts in the face of the coronavirus pandemic further creating a threat for the fast fashion industry. It may not be the end of fast fashion, in the future, it’s the big chains that survive. The demanding structure of fast fashion factories suggests that even if they shut down because brands stopped placing orders, they can quite quickly start up again and create designs as soon as a brand snaps their fingers. The moment, the lockdown will be over the brands are going to need a fresh slot of clothes hence they will make everyone work, in the urge to please consumers. By that time the factory workers would be desperate for work, and they’ll probably work for less.
In India, the suspension of the fast fashion industry has been initiated by the government, leaving nearly 6,00,000 factory workers affected in Bangalore alone. The management further asked the workers that they will need to compensate for this by doing overtime and working on Sundays. This unprecedented situation has created a problem for an army of garment workers who live hand-to-mouth, with a salary of INR 9,000- INR 10,000 per month. Brands must step up and be there for the workers they have been exploiting for so long.
The pandemic will severely hit the fast fashion industry, but recycling and upcycling are the two ways that can help the brands and retailers to sail through this situation. It is expected that the Autumn/winter will arrive early this year, as COVID-19 vanished an entire spring/summer season, but the fashion market will still stay slow with the consumer market going down by 30-35%. The coronavirus outbreak will demand a rethink in strategies across all corners of the fast fashion industry, but there is plenty of scope in the online sector to flourish as online sales will be in a strong position to respond to the current market realities.
The question is will fashion brands and retailers leave fast fashion to die for the mother earth to live, what do you think?
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