Industrialisation has allowed clothing has become cheaper over the years. Technology has sped up the manufacturing and production of textiles. Operations have been streamlined while costs have been falling. As a result, consumers are more inclined to shop more, and retailers have to produce more to meet the increasing demand. The apparel industry is booming thanks to the accelerated processes.
Fast fashion refers to this accelerated production cycle of fashion and consumption. The purpose of clothes were initially purely functional. They were meant to keep people warm and dry. However, that was during early civilisation. Clothes eventually evolved from being a mere practical asset to being an indicator of social status. While traditionally fashion had only two seasons to accommodate seasonal changes in weather, fast fashion now churns out up to 52 micro-seasons a year. Fashion brands are pressured to manufacture clothes as quickly and cheaply as possible in order to meet consumer demand. Essentially, the main draw of fast fashion is the production of low-cost, rapidly produced apparel collections that emulates high-cost luxury fashion trends. This creates a vicious cycle as consumer culture is being reshaped by this high-speed cycle. Shoppers are encouraged to shop frequently in order to keep up with current trends. The old trends become obsolete very fast and consumers do not think twice to simply dispose of their now-unfashionable clothes. Such behaviour has resulted in the emergence of a ‘throwaway’ culture of fashion consumption. As opposed to keeping and re-wearing apparel, consumers are encouraged to discard clothes that are considered out of fashion in favour of purchasing newly released styles.
In many well-developed countries, shopping has become an enjoyable past-time. Apparel sales have increased drastically over the years and show no signs of stopping. Shoppers do respond very well to the low prices and diversity of trends. They buy more and more, in hopes of keeping up with current trends. Consequently, the number of garments produced has been steadily increasing. According to McKinsey, the number of garments produced even exceeded 100 billion back in 2014. The amount of waste produced has paralleled this trend. The United States alone has produced nearly 10.5 million tonnes of textile waste that ended up in landfills. Who knows how much waste all the developed countries in the world would accumulate?
Fast fashion even has consequences in Singapore, our tiny island home. Shopping seems to be the national pastime in Singapore, which does not bode well for the landfills here. Many shoppers do not see a link between their shopping habits and clothing waste, continuing to shop mindlessly. As a result, large amounts of clothes are bought and discarded through disposal or donations. This pattern is particularly glaring during the Chinese New Year season as Singaporean Chinese engage in the traditional act of spring cleaning to get rid of unused and unwanted belongings. Singapore cannot cope with the sheer amount of clothes consumed. Eco-friendly and well-meaning Singaporeans may hope to repurpose their old clothes by donating them to the needy. Unfortunately, even donation centres like The Salvation Army wind up being overwhelmed by the amount of donations and are only able to put up a small fraction of clothes for sale. Singaporeans are simply consuming and throwing away too much.