The High Cost of Fast Fashion

As we’ve been preparing to release our new line of modest dresses for Homecoming 2016, we’ve taken a look at some of the styles we sold over the years. While we have retired some dresses, we’ve kept the majority of our styles as long as they’ve retained their popularity. Because we create the majority of our modest prom and wedding dresses in house (as opposed to buying them from outside manufacturers) we have the luxury of keeping on styles longer than most retailers. As we gear up for releasing new styles and have retired some others, it’s gotten us thinking about how the world of fashion has changed in a relatively short period of time.

Red Modest Prom Dress with Sleeves

We’ve been selling our dress Aurora for two years now, and with its sustained popularity, we’re not planning on retiring the style anytime soon!

There’s no doubt that the world has sped up. In less than thirty years, we’ve gone from snail mail to pagers, to cellphones as big as a brick, to basic cellphones and finally to smart phones. With our smart phones, the world is literally at our fingertips. We can send emails, make international calls, live stream fashion shows in Paris, shop for that modest prom dress you’ve been dreaming about or a million other things. You can even catch imaginary creatures in Pokemon Go – just be careful and please look where you’re going!

One area of life that has definitely sped up is fashion. It happened subtly in the 90’s, but with the explosion of technology and social media, the increase in speed has been exponential.

What is “Fast Fashion?”

Now, you may be asking yourself, how can fashion “speed up?” Fair enough. Basically, the “speed” of fashion has to do with how quickly it takes for a new style to catch on or  how quickly it takes for something to become passe. Centuries ago, these changes could take years, if not decades, because people and styles moved more slowly from place to place. As transportation improved, so did the speed of fashion. By the turn of the 20th century, fashion faux pas like wearing last year’s style (gasp!) came into being.

Fast forward to the mid 20th century and fashion, namely haute couture or “high fashion” had come to rotate around two fashion “seasons”: Fall and Spring. By the mid 1990’s, many fashion houses, like Chanel, started introducing “Cruise Collections” which came out during the winter months. At this point in the history of fashion, it was common to have to wait 6-8 weeks to be able to buy what was displayed on the runway, and that was just part of the way life and fashion was, and nobody particularly thought twice about it.

Chanel Purse

Chanel is best known for it’s perfume No.5, but also sells purses, clothing and accessories

From the late 1990’s on, fashion houses started adding on new seasons of fashion. Winter and Summer were obvious. Then came pre-Spring and pre-Fall and a host of “mini seasons.”  Fairly quickly, fashion’s calendar had gone from being two seasons, Spring and Fall, to an endless parade of fashion cycles, now known as “fast fashion.” In fast fashion, a large part of the aim was to get the newest of the new fashions to the consumer as quickly as possible. Fashion houses like Burberry even started live streaming their runway shows and nowadays items featured on the runway are available almost instantaneously for purchase.

With fashion “speeding up” in these ways, it has put more strain on the chain of supply, because it has put more pressure on getting the product to the consumer as quickly as possible before the style is outdated. Additionally, “fast fashion” has become synonymous with disposable fashion. In fashion hubs like New York and Paris this trend is more pronounced, where the sin of wearing something unfashionable is comparatively more severe than elsewhere.

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

With fashion changing more quickly, previous fashions becoming disposable and greater strain put on the supply of production from manufacturer to buyer there have been numerous negative effects. Although there are many causalities of fast fashion, there are two that are particularly devastating: the exploitation of garment workers, especially in places like Bangladesh, and the huge amount of wearable clothing that has ended up in landfills as they are no longer considered “fashionable.” If you’d like more information, the documentary “The True Cost” does a wonderful job of explaining the devastating trend of fast fashion in greater detail (and it’s currently available on Netflix!).

Landfill with discarded clothing

One of many landfills filled with discarded clothing

In the meantime, we as a company are doing our bit to slow fashion down. We will keep selling popular styles as long as they are in demand, not because there’s an artificial shelf life put on them by the outside world. There are so many big problems facing the world today, from terrorism to large scale industrial pollution, but we believe that if we all do our own part, that’s more than a good start towards real progress.