What Does Fast Fashion Mean & How To Find Slower Clothing Brands Like City Threads

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Fast fashion is a term we hear more often these days, but what does it actually mean? And also – how do you know when a clothing brand is fast or slow fashion?

How did fast fashion begin in the first place?

  • For a little history, fast fashion evolved from clothing brands offering cheaper clothing options, hitting the U.S. market in the 1990s. A large influence on this was NAFTA , or the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened up the door for more U.S.-based clothing brands to manufacture outside of the United States (specifically in Mexico). Moving clothing production overseas allowed fashion brands to access cheaper labor prices, and in turn, instigated the beginning of the fast fashion clothing industry being built around brands offering low-priced garments. (Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline)

The most important key to understanding fast fashion is written in its name – FAST. It’s a business model that is built around speed, and making as much product as possible in as little time as possible. It entirely resists slow and sustainable ideals and thrives on overproduction, overconsumption, and waste – which often negatively impacts both people and our environment.

So is sustainable fashion the opposite of fast fashion?

  • It’s not that simple. To us, being a sustainable fashion brand is an impossible feat. We align ourselves with other fashion brands out there who are resisting identifying as a sustainable fashion brand and are centering a slow approach. Why? Because if you are making products, you are going to be creating an impact on people and the environment. 

Even when a brand integrates more sustainable-minded initiatives and business approaches that lean slow, it’s impossible to be entirely sustainable when you’re making a clothing product. At City Threads, we like to talk about the ways we are trying to bring more responsible and slow approaches into our supply chain, while acknowledging the limits for any clothing company to become a “sustainable fashion brand”.

Can made in America clothing be fast fashion?

  • While a lot of the origins of fast fashion began with clothing production moving outside of the United States, it’s important to understand that fashion that is made in America can also be considered fast fashion. It just depends on the circumstances, the clothing brand’s business model, and the way the fashion styles are being manufactured. Both fast and slow fashion can be manufactured in the U.S.A.

If you’re a little confused about fast fashion, we’re here to help. As a shopper, how do you know whether a brand is fast fashion or not, so you can support more slow fashion brands? It can definitely be tricky, but here are some elements to watch out for –

  1. Low Costs.
    When you understand how many components are needed to make a garment, it makes it very difficult to believe that a t-shirt could ever cost $3. From the fabric to the dyeing to cutting and sewing and distribution, there are many hidden costs in the behind-the-scenes of clothing manufacturing. When you find clothing that is offered for prices this low, it can be a red flag that it is not ethical for the humans or environment impacted throughout the supply chain, and a good opportunity to ask more questions from the brand before buying.

  2. Low Quality Clothes.
    Fast fashion is built on the idea of quantity over quality. It very much opposes the ideas of slow fashion. Many fast fashion styles are constructed with cheap fabrics and sewn so quickly that they may easily fall apart. Many people today talk about how they wore something once and after washing it, it was already falling apart. That’s a good indicator that clothing was made with a fast fashion mindset, centering waste instead of the impact on the environment.

  3. Aligns Clothing With Disposability. 
    Fast fashion brands have taught us to align the idea of disposability with our clothing. This has largely influenced the relationships we have with our clothes today, and is something we should all work to resist. We have been trained through our culture to disconnect from our garments and think of them as something that is disposable. When clothes wear out, just buy new ones – right? This is something we avoid at City Threads, as we believe in making quality garments that can be handed down to other family members or friends, and we believe in caring for our clothes, to help extend their lives.

  4. Materials From Fossil Fuels.
    The majority of fast fashion consists of synthetic materials – which are derived from fossil fuels and negatively impact our environment. “Synthetic fiber production uses the equivalent amount of oil per year as the entirety of Spain, and polyester production alone produces the equivalent emissions of 180 coal-fired power stations annually.” (Fossil Fuel Fashion) As a brand that has focused on using natural fibers like cotton since the beginning, we believe searching for alternatives to polyester or synthetic materials is a great way to start in your search for non-fast-fashion-styles.

  5. Focused On Trends, Not Evergreen Styles.
    Fast fashion brands tend to focus on trends and styles that are *in* one day and *out* the next. Trendy clothing is innately built with the idea that it will be used once or twice and then tossed aside. Fast fashion brands typically don’t promote the idea that rewearing your clothes is cool. On the other hand, slower fashion brands like City Threads celebrate outfit repeating and support finding ways to rewear your styles in as many ways as possible. 

LA Fashion District

Understanding the complexities of today’s fashion industry is overwhelming. We want to remind you that it’s a process to move away from supporting fast fashion brands, and you can take it one decision at a time. 

We like to focus on finding ways to celebrate local and slower fashion brands like City Threads, who believe in making evergreen quality styles that last, can become hand-me-downs, and can stay in that circle as long as possible.

Written by: City Threads Cofounders Shayna Samuels & Joe Willis, and Kestrel Jenkins, responsibility consultant & host of the Conscious Chatter podcast.