Fast Fashion vs Sustainable Fashion: Key Differences

Did you know that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry? That’s right – the clothes that we wear have a detrimental impact on the environment. Take a simple cotton shirt for instance – it takes a whopping 2700 liters of water to produce it, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In this guide, we will dive into the differences between fast fashion vs sustainable fashion, and what these two models of clothing consumption entail. Without further ado, let’s dive into it.

fast fashion vs sustainable fashion - definition

How Do Fast Fashion vs Sustainable Fashion Differ?

Fast fashion harms the planet through textile waste, encourages consumerism, and fuels modern slavery. Sustainable fashion protects the earth using eco-friendly materials and ethical labor, providing a lower-impact and environmentally friendly alternative.

With its toxic, dirt cheap clothes, fast fashion strives to seduce us with trendy styles – with no regard for the well-being of the planet, its ecosystems, and consumers. The cheap thrills of Instagram-worthy outfits come at a high cost, encompassing environmental destruction, worker exploitation, and even health hazards.

In contrast, sustainable fashion upholds thoughtful principles and encompasses all the fascinating forms of conscious consumption, including resale, upcycling, small-scale craftsmanship, and capsule wardrobe curation. It may take more effort, however, it is the path of conscience, rather than convenience – which always pays off in the end.

With that said, let’s dissect the essence of fast fashion and its sustainable counterpart.

Beyond the Fast Fashion Facade: The What & How

We’ve all heard the term, “fast fashion”, being throw around, but what does it mean exactly? In a nutshell, fast fashion produces trendy yet cheap clothes that entices buyers worldwide. However, behind its alluring facade, lurks a myriad of environmental and ethical concerns.

Ultra-Fast Production of Clothes

What’s intriguing about fast fashion is how rapidly these clothes go from idea to shelf. Imagine browsing stores and stumbling upon the latest fashionable items that couldn’t have arrived faster. They instantly make their way into your wardrobe – removing the element of responsibility or mindfulness from the shopping experience.

This is all due to the unethical ultra-fast fashion model, which has redefined the boundaries of how quickly brands distribute their products. Data and technology drive every part of the process – brands monitor online customer behavior through algorithms, identifying the latest trending styles and colors in real-time.

The result? once a particular product gets enough traction, ultra-fast fashion brands immediately place orders with their suppliers, producing more of the winning designs. By relying on real-time data on what their customers will buy, they minimize unsold inventory and eliminate the guesswork in production.

As a result, ultra-fast fashion has become faster than ever, translating into more and more textile waste burdening the planet.

Encouraging Mindless Consumption

Most fashion fashion items may look stylish and budget-friendly, however, they come with a sacrifice. Fleeting discounts and influencer marketing hook consumers into the consumerism machine, where they scroll on online shopping apps for hours and hoard clothes they don’t even wear.

With fast fashion, you may find yourself needing to buy new clothes sooner, which isn’t good for the planet or your wallet. Plus, the items aren’t great in terms of quality, as they break down quickly, so that you’ll keep coming back to stores for more.

detect fast fashion vs sustainable fashion when shopping

How to Detect Fast Fashion When Shopping

Spotting fast fashion can be challenging, as it permeates not only mass market but also luxury sectors. This means that a higher price tag won’t guarantee ethicality of a garment. With that said, here are a few tips to recognize fast fashion when shopping – off- or online:

  • Check the fabric label – Fast fashion often uses fabrics such as nylon, polyester, spandex, acrylic, and other synthetic blends, which are non-biodegradable and detrimental to your health.
  • Feel the material – Fast fashion often uses thin, synthetic fabrics, rather than sturdier natural materials. See if the item feels cheaply made or lightweight.
  • Inspect the quality – Look closely at details like stitching. Are there loose threads or crooked seams? Shoddy construction signals fast production.
  • Research the brand – Google to find out about their supply chain and commitment to ethics. Lack of transparency around fair labor or sustainability could mean fast fashion.
  • Note the country of origin – Mass production in low-wage countries with poor regulation is common in fast fashion.
  • Consider the style – Is it a very trendy item that seems designed to sell out quickly? Fast fashion chases temporary trends.
  • Check new arrival frequency – Do they release new collections constantly? Fast fashion pumps out inventory rapidly.

Sustainable Fashion: An Antithesis of Fast Fashion

Forget fast fashion’s fleeting trends – sustainable fashion is on the rise with its enduring, ethical, and eco-friendly principles. This mindful movement strives to benefit both people and planet through fair labor practices, reduced environmental impact, and quality craftsmanship.

Here’s how sustainable fashion distinguishes itself from its fast counterpart:

Running On a Seasonless Calendar

For decades, designers dictated the steadfast fashion calendar. They planned seasonal collections years in advance, releasing them just four times annually. However, as the fast fashion frenzy hit fever pitch in the early 2000s, brands pioneered rapid-fire deliveries of clothes to refresh collections weekly, even daily.

According to Elizabeth L. Cline, fast fashion churns out 52 micro-seasons a year, making consumers feel unfashionable within weeks or days. This not only causes massive overstock and overconsumption but also traps shoppers into a constant cycle of novelty-seeking.

Luckily, sustainable labels reject the rapid turnover of trends, operating within a seasonless calendar. Their versatile approach puts an emphasis on enduring style – inspiring shoppers to wear the same items all year long. By this, they not only strive to counteract the industry’s malpractices but also reverse the hedonistic mindset of modern shoppers.

Moreover, rather than replicating runway looks, seasonless brands incorporate sustainable materials, such as organic cotton, wool, and silk into their timeless collections. Their classic silhouettes in shirts, dresses, and jeans, feature classic and trans-seasonal designs, which ultimately, deliver quality, style, and long-term fulfillment.

Embracing Clothing Rental

As evidenced by the growth in resale and clothing rental, more consumers are rejecting fast fashion’s disposable culture in favor of pre-owned and shared clothing. Brands are starting to acknowledge sustainability in their reporting as well, with 72% referencing sustainable development goals like responsible consumption and production.

This shift reveals an uplifting trend – people are increasingly recognizing how their fashion choices impact the planet. After all, sustainable fashion can provide variety without excess. You can simply rent a rotating wardrobe and enjoy ever-changing pieces, which can maximize the use of each item while minimizing waste.

fast fashion vs sustainable fashion - revolutionizing the industry

How to Spot a Sustainable Fashion Brand

If you wouldn’t want the fashion industry in your own country to exploit child labor or pollute the environment without oversight, then why support fast fashion brands that turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and ecological harm in their global supply chains?

When we buy from irresponsible companies just because their clothes are cheap, we are complicit in their unethical practices. Given that, voting with your dollar is the best way to support your values.

With that said, here’s how you can identify sustainable fashion when shopping:

  • Materials Matter – Sustainable fashion brands incorporate organic cotton, hemp, linen, and other non-toxic textiles into their products.
  • Check Certifications and Labels – Look for certifications like Fair Trade and GOTS that verify ethical and eco-friendly practices.
  • Research the Brand – Learn about their commitments to ethics and the environment. Transparent brands share detailed info on practices.
  • Limited Collections – Opt for brands releasing limited collections focused on versatility over trends.
  • Local and Small-Scale Production – Consider small-scale or locally produced clothes with smaller footprints.
  • Repair and Recycling Programs – Support brands with recycling or repair initiatives.

Fast Fashion vs Sustainable Fashion: Face-off

Now that we’ve explored the fundamentals of fast fashion and sustainable fashion, it’s time to put them head-to-head. In this showdown, we’ll get a straightforward look at what they have in common, where they excel, and where they have room for improvement.

Circularity (or lack thereof)

Nowadays, fast fashion brands refuse to launch their own recycling or upcycling programs that would let customers circulate their clothes in the system. Instead, they promote the buy-discard cycle, which releases 12.8 million tons of clothes to landfills in the U.S. every year.

In contrast, slow fashion brands use higher-quality materials and timeless styles, so their garments rarely need recycling. Yet, many still offer resale or buy-back programs to further sustainability. By this, they embrace circularity, allowing customers to resell or return used items, then recycle them into new designs.

In other words, sustainable labels have adopted a “closed loop” system, in which they recycle, restyle, and resell clothes back into production. What’s more, they produce clothes in small batches, often on a made-to-order basis, curating unique, rather than mass-produced styles.

Pro Tip: make use of alternative platforms that offer affordable, second-hand pieces, such as The Real Real, Vinted, Fwrd, or even Ebay, to keep clothes out of landfills.

Environmental Impact

Fast fashion devours natural resources, such as water and energy, voraciously, while spewing out textile waste. Statistics paint a chilling picture: fast fashion emits more CO2 than aviation and shipping combined, and this will only get worse over time. By 2030, its emissions will swell by a staggering 50% – unless we change the status quo.

Luckily, sustainable fashion emerges as a solution, as it’s designed to minimize the industry’s environmental impact. With the use of sustainable materials, energy-efficient production, and an effort to minimize waste, sustainable fashion aims to put the industry on the brakes and curb its ecological footprint.

Ethical Considerations

Fast fashion factories in some regions have been found employing child labor and imposing excessive overtime in poor conditions, as highlighted in the International Labour Organization data. Over 168 million children are estimated to be in child labor currently, with Asia-Pacific accounting for 62 million of those cases.

A 2016 report found 15% of audited fast fashion suppliers in South Asia had child labor in their facilities. Over 50% were not paying legal minimum wages, and 60% required illegal levels of overtime over 60 hours per week. Fast fashion brands sourcing from these unethical factories are complicit even if not directly responsible.

As a counterforce, sustainable fashion labels slow production, follow strong auditing procedures, and pay fair wages. Their local manufacturing sites also indicate that they reject labor exploitation, bringing factories closer to home, so that they can closely monitor labor conditions and ensure fair treatment of workers.

Quality and Longevity

Fast fashion is designed for short-term trends, often leading to frequent replacements, and may use lower-quality materials that wear out quickly. While it may have a lower initial cost, the frequent need for replacements can add up over time.

In contrast, sustainable fashion focuses on creating durable, timeless pieces that can last for years, making use of high-quality, sustainable materials designed for longevity. The higher upfront cost may push some people away at first, but its long-lasting quality can be cost-effective in the long run.

So, when evaluating fast fashion vs sustainable fashion, pay attention to the cost per wear (CPW) of each item. CPW is calculated by diving the price of the garment by the times you’ve worn it/are planning to wear it. This metric will help you realize that although fast fashion is cheap, it’s more expensive in the long run – that is, it has a higher CPW than high-quality items.

Consumer Awareness and Responsibility

One overlooked factor when it comes to the fashion industry is the principles it promotes among consumers. Fast fashion, for instance, imposes a sense of urgency and disposability on consumers. It encourages a “buy now, toss later” mentality, where clothing is only seen as a short-lived commodity. This approach not only leads to a large amount of waste  but also promotes a detachment from the true value of clothing.

On the other hand, sustainable fashion promotes more thoughtful consumer behaviors. It encourages individuals to invest in durable, high-quality clothing that stands the test of time. It fosters a sense of responsibility, making consumers consider the wider impact of their fashion choices, both on the planet and the people involved in the fashion industry.

Toxic Clothing Materials

Did you know that our skin, as the body’s largest organ, absorbs up to 64% of the toxins it comes into contact with? The 8000 man-made chemicals used in fast fashion, interacting with synthetic fabrics, create a poisonous combination that permeates our closets and harms health.

Toxic materials like polyester and nylon release compounds into the environment that inevitably reach our skin. Tests in 2021 revealed alarming lead, phthalate, and “forever chemical” levels in fast fashion clothes from AliExpress, Zaful and Shein – up to 20 times safety limits. Wearing such toxic apparel poses risks ranging from rashes to behavioral issues, as skin directly absorbs lead particles.

Yet, the industry disregards these concerns, shirking safety rules and obscuring its health and environmental damages. Therefore, in the battle between fast fashion vs sustainable fashion, your health is at stake.

As fast fashion churns out clothes in hidden factories, where workers and local communities also suffer the toxic impacts, make sure to safeguard your health and the well-being of the environment.

Fast Fashion Vs Sustainable Fashion: The Capsule Wardrobe Concept

Every modern faces a dilemma when making a purchase – whether to support fast fashion vs sustainable fashion. However, there’s a certain commitment that can free you from the dilemma forever. This commitment is capsule wardrobe curation, which is a minimalist yet functional way to combat overconsumption.

The concept behind sustainable capsule wardrobe is the following: investing in quality, long-lasting basics, made from natural materials. Each item should be easy to mix-and-match, so that you can construct multiple outfits with it. Timeless silhouettes and neutral palettes styling effortless. You can use statement accessories like bold jewelry to dress your outfits up or down – for day or night.

However, to take your capsule wardrobe to the next level, you can research every brand behind the garment, whether they adhere to fair labor practices, and promote sustainability.

In summary, a sustainable capsule wardrobe encompasses the following:

  • Combatting overconsumption – Forget the stigma around repeating outfits. Your wardrobe should cherish clothes as durable investments, rather than disposable trends.
  • Supporting slow fashion brands – Seek trustworthy certifications like Fair Wear, GOTS, and B Corp, buying from labels that reflect your ethics.
  • Investing in organic fabrics – Materials, such as organic cotton and linen, are not only long-lasting but also non-toxic.
  • Prioritizing quality – Assess garment quality through its weight, weave, and reaction to body heat.
  • Repairing, upcycling, and repurposing – Find creative ways to refresh your wardrobe without consuming more.
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