What are some characteristics of fast fashion

Fast fashion - definition, causes, statistics, consequences and possible solutions

As a blog on the topic of sustainable clothing, we regularly shed light on the many facets of a fair, environmentally conscious yet trendy wardrobe. Hopefully our contributions will have a small part in moving more people away from fast fashion and towards responsible purchasing decisions. But how problematic is fast fashion and what are the consequences of fast fashion for the world?

Definition of fast fashion

Fast fashion is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as:

"Clothes that are made and sold cheaply, so that people can buy new clothes often"

In other words: clothes that are made and sold cheaply so that the customer can buy new clothes more often. Surely you have already gained experience with this. A new bikini is bought before a vacation, a new dress is needed before a big party, even though there are already five in the closet. All of these decisions contribute to the frightening numbers of the fashion industry, which we have taken a very close look at for you.

History and causes of fast fashion

Fast, lavish fashion has its origins in the 1980s. At that time, the so-called quick response strategy emerged in many industries - including manufacturers of clothing. Due to the accelerated exchange of information and goods, the reaction time to changes in and on the market has been greatly reduced. Designers were able to react quickly to trends and meet the demand for certain styles, colors, patterns and the like in record time. Around the turn of the millennium, the highest possible speed had been reached. Manufacturers such as H&M, Zara and later Primark became synonymous with fast fashion. Twelve collections a year was suddenly no longer uncommon.

The reasons why companies rely on fast fashion are very simple: increased sales, customer loyalty and expansion! In combination with very cheap production of the goods in countries like Bangladesh - sometimes under the worst working conditions - the whole concept is designed to maximize profits. The end consumer buys more than is actually necessary due to the ever new selection and low prices. Fashion is becoming a commodity that can be exchanged several times a year.

Fast fashion in data and numbers

How fast is fast fashion really? While higher-priced designers and manufacturers still rely on two to four collections per year (spring / summer and autumn / winter), Zara & Co sometimes deliver new items of clothing to their stores around the world several times a month. The international management consultancy McKinsey & Company examined the purchasing behavior of customers in Western countries in 2016. Between 2000 and 2014 - exactly the period in which manufacturers were fully committed to fast fashion - the number of items of clothing bought rose by 60% per year. At the same time, the individual pieces are only worn half as long as they were 15 years ago. The same study found that Zara now brings 24 collections to market each year. At H&M there are still twelve. The emergence of fast fashion groups has meant that the average number of collections per year in Europe rose from just two in 2000 to five in 2011.

According to a study by Statista, the Inditex group made over 26 billion euros in sales in 2018, which makes it the absolute front-runner in the industry. Inditex includes Zara, Bershka and Pull & Bear, among others. The other places include H&M and C&A.

72 million items of clothing hang unworn in wardrobes in Austria

But these numbers only tell part of the story. The facts about how we as consumers deal with the fashion we buy are just as meaningful. A survey by Greenpeace from June 2019 came to the result that in Austria alone 72 million items of clothing hang completely unworn in wardrobes. When sorting out, half of these blouses, pants and skirts end up in the trash. The situation is similar in all other western countries. In the last few decades, clothing has become a disposable product thanks to cheap fast fashion.

The consequences of fast fashion

So what are the real consequences of rapid fashion production - besides enormous waste? Fast fashion has a negative impact on social, ecological and economic factors.

The collapse of a fashion factory in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013 tragically drew the world's attention to the working conditions of the fashion industry. 1,135 people were killed in the incident and more than 2,000 other people were injured. The building, which was already in danger of collapsing, was cleared by the police, but the employees were then forced by the operators to resume their work in the dangerous factory. The factory mainly produced clothing for the western market. After the events, the authorities closed 18 other textile factories, which were in similarly disastrous conditions. The demand for ever more, ever cheaper clothing leads to the exploitation of textile workers in developing countries. In addition to poor pay and security, this also includes the necessary occupational health and safety. In this context, however, it should be mentioned briefly that many higher-priced companies that do not fall under the term fast fashion also have their clothes manufactured in such factories. If you want to buy sustainably and fairly, it is important to look at each brand individually and to find out about the respective manufacturing conditions.

The fast fashion business also has serious effects on the environment, going far beyond the mere transport of goods from the factories to the branches. Every year the entire fashion industry causes over a billion tons of CO2, far more than all air traffic. Cheap clothing made of synthetic fibers pollutes the environment with microscopic elements (microplastics) that fall off with each wash and thus get into the water cycle. Clothing for sports and outdoors - such as rain jackets - are often made with toxic chemicals that ensure the water-repellent effect. Even the 100% cotton T-shirt causes an enormous water consumption of 15,000 liters per kilo. An extraordinary burden, especially in countries with periods of drought.

Solution approaches for more sustainability in fashion

With these facts, many consumers want to do something about it themselves. The motto here is to change your own shopping behavior and at the same time be careful with the clothes you already have. A number of manufacturers have developed an alternative to fast fashion under the term slow fashion. This type of fashion concentrates on only two seasons per year, uses materials that have been produced with the greatest care and that can be recycled, and ensures that the respective items of clothing are more durable. Labor and human rights in the manufacturing countries also have priority. At the same time, the design is timeless. Slow fashion blouses or trousers are not based on trends so that they can really be worn for many years to come. For these items of clothing you have to dig a little deeper into your pocket. The long service life makes up for this. A 60 euro sweater from a slow fashion brand is in almost all cases a significantly better investment than three 20 euro sweaters from the fast trade.

Sustainable fashion can also be realized without a large budget. Second hand shops are a great way to give someone else's discarded clothing a second life. Once you have the new, used outfit at home, washing it properly will extend the time until holes etc. appear in the fabric. Low washing temperatures, no use of the dryer and airing instead of washing when the clothes are not really dirty are some tricks for less consumption and less wear and tear.

Many modern garments are difficult to recycle. So-called upcycling was developed as an alternative. Clothes are broken down into their individual parts and put together to create new designs. The possibilities to borrow clothes for a short time are just as innovative. This is especially interesting when there is a special occasion: weddings, award ceremonies or the interview for the absolute dream job. We often buy clothes for these moments in life that will never be worn again afterwards. Borrowing bypasses this situation without having to forego a particular look.

On our blog you will find many more tips and ideas in the future that will make the change to a sustainable fashion consciousness easier for you.


There seems to be a slow but steady change in the fashion industry and the minds of consumers. In 2017, for example, the large textile supplier Gore Fabrics announced that it would gradually end the use of harmful chemicals in the manufacture of its clothing. More and more items of clothing also bear quality seals such as Fairtrade Cotton or the Green Button. In times of Fridays for Future and other climate and environmentally conscious movements, the era of fast fashion could perhaps come to an end. Each of us can set an example for this in our own wardrobe!

Book recommendation

If you want to deal with the topic further, we recommend an introduction to the topic, e.g. with the book Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion - and the Future of Clothes * by Dana Thomas.

What is your opinion on fast fashion? Are you already consciously running in clothes and other goods? Please leave us a comment.

*This page contains affiliate links. If you go to an online shop via one of our affiliate links and buy something, we will receive a commission for it. You will not suffer any disadvantage.


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NK team