As sustainability awareness gains traction in the U.S. consumers are beginning to shift their focus to the apparel industry, where many worry the impact of inexpensive fashion, or “Fast Fashion” is taking its toll on the environment, workers rights and labor safety.
Fast Fashion Brands
Brands like H&M, Forever 21, Zara and Mango pioneered the production of affordable clothing in rapid cycles, which today defines what we call “fast fashion”. The falling price of apparel enables buyers to purchase —and dispose of—more clothing, which can create excessive waste and drive the cost of labor down. As conscious consumerism grows, it appears that many of shoppers are interested in understanding the breadth of this problem.
Hitwise bundled search variations of the term “fast fashion” and found that 19% of the top fast fashion related searches were about the environment, ethics and sustainability. In fact, the fourth most searched variation of “fast fashion” is “fast fashion environmental impact.”
The True Cost Documentary Impact
Between 2015 and 2016, traffic to the fast fashion industry dropped in step with the release of True Cost, a documentary about the impact of the retail industry on the planet (and which called out brands like H&M and Zara directly). Although no single event can be attributed as the cause of the fast fashion industry’s decline, the release (and subsequent popularity) of this documentary signaled growing consumer consciousness surrounding the impact of apparel.
In reaction to growing environmental concern, several brands such as H&M announced take-back programs that collect used clothing to be recycled or re-sold. However, the success of these programs remains in question. The deaths of textile workers from factory fires and collapses have also led consumers to question whether the demand for cheap clothing is driving corner cutting in worker safety.
Ethics in Fashion
This ethical question remains unresolved for the fast fashion industry, and will likely lead to shifts in priorities for many fast fashion brands in the future. Environmental awareness, recycle and reuse programs and promoting worker safety are slowly but surely becoming a priority for consumers of apparel. For brands willing to innovate in their manufacturing procedures, transparency and sustainability initiatives, this could offer an opportunity to differentiate — and develop a loyal customer base.
Learn more about fast fashion brands which are innovating through these challenges, and those which are struggling (and are paying the price):
Methodology: search terms variations of the keyword “fast fashion” which were of statistically significant volume (above .25% volume, total of 85 variations)