Before the 1920s, clothes were mended or recycled as rags if they were damaged. Clothes were also passed down or tailored to fit other family members rather than being thrown away. During the World War I, designers were urged to be minimalistic by the government, resulting in a 10% reduction in trash. Up till the1980s, clothing choices were based on the functionality— e.g. comfort, durability and versatile characteristics.
What is the current fashion culture?
Every year, 80 billion garments from virgin materials are produced globally. The global consumption of textiles is above 73 million tonnes and is predicted to grow 4% yearly. 30% of these textiles are recycled as industrial rags and another 25–30% are used as stuffing for upholstery, insulation, and the manufacture of paper products. The apparel market is valued at 3 trillion dollars and accounts for 2% of global GDP (gross domestic product).
The fashion industry can be subdivided into the various subindustries such as mens’ wear, womens’ wear or sports wear.
In the past, fashion had 2 seasons per year (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter). Now, fast fashion retailers (e.g. H&M, Zara, Forever 21) are churning out garments every 2-3 weeks—that makes 52 micro-seasons per year!
What is Fast Fashion?
These companies sell fashion that is cheap and rapid. These garments are produced in huge amounts in order to keep prices low and the brands are continuously churning out new trends to keep consumers hungry for more. Because the production cycle of the clothes are so short and the companies are mass producing, they do not necessarily prioritise quality. So, not only are trends cheap and rapidly-changing, they are also highly disposable. We could consider this as planned obsolescence, drawing a parallel to our technological devices which suspiciously breakdown every few years when the next gadget comes around. There is also the issue of perceived obsolescence when the clothes we deem as ‘out of trend’ suddenly lose their allure despite being in perfect wearable condition.
“Fashion, more than any other industry in the world, embraces obsolescence as a primary goal; fast fashion simply raises the stakes”
To add on to this, the internet has promoted the rise of online retailers that, due to their small size and abundant close connections, can rush to copy designs at a faster and cheaper rate than even the fast fashion brands. But unlike the fast fashion retailers that are ‘inspired’ by the runways, these online brands look to copying celebrity trends.