You may have never thought there could be something worse than fast fashion. Then, humanity reached new lows and came up with ultra-fast fashion.
In its core, ultra-fast fashion takes fast fashion and makes it even worse. This means faster production, more plastic, more overconsumption, more waste, more unethical labor practices. In certain situations – it means addiction.
Ultra-fast fashion retailers offer T-shirts for USD 5 and dresses for as little as USD 8. They add new products every day and usually target a specific demographic group – young people under 25 as they have less cash to spend.
The value of the global ultra-fast fashion market reached USD 17 billion in 2020. At the same time, the global ethical fashion market reached a value of USD 6.93 billion in 2021, nearly three times less than the ultra-fast fashion market alone.
The story of the ultra-fast fashion trend
The ultra-fast fashion trend started in TikTok relatively recently in 2020. You have heard the word “haul”, right? In the context of shopping, it means “all the things someone buys on an occasion when they go shopping”. This term became popular on YouTube in the 2010s and is currently invading Gen Z’s favorite online space – TikTok.
Hashtags like #haul, #haulshein, #sheinhaul, #shoppinghaul have billions of views. Billions! Watch some of videos with these tags. You will see big boxes, lots of plastic and lots of clothes that will go straight to the landfill right after the next box comes in.
Cheap fashion can be addictive and social media helps promote this addiction. Some of these videos we see are actually ads. However, since most users can relate to the content they see, they do not even understand they are watching commercials.
But what is the impact of ultra-fast fashion?
First of all, think about the materials used. Ultra-fast fashion products usually contain virgin plastics blended with other materials such as cotton or wool. These fabrics will shed microfibers into the ocean and into the air for years to come. But it is not only the products. The packaging is exactly the same. Plastic, plastic, plastic.
What about the people involved in the production process? Do you know who made these clothes? Do you know their wages and working conditions. Let me guess – NO! I don’t as well, and this is what bothers me the most.
According to a 2021 research from NGO Public, workers for a retailer selling ultra-fast fashion were putting in 75 hour weeks while receiving only one day off per month. Usually, a working week can comprise a maximum of 40 hours. Counties also have caps on overtime. In China, for instance, it is 36 hours per month. Yes, per month not per week.
At the same time, workers are usually paid per product produced. Putting things in perspective, if they are willing to work two jobs in one, they can make relatively good money in a month. However, in addition to being unfair, their wages often vary from month to month.
But what else? Ultra-fast fashion retailers manipulate young people. They use technology to foster fashion overconsumption and in some cases this could lead to addictions. We, humans, tend to like being part of a community. But should it really be the #haul or #outfitoftheday community?
Ultra-fast fashion and technology
Beijing-based writer and analyst of Chinese technology, Matthew Brennan, describes ultra-fast fashion as “real-time” retail. Such companies constantly monitor and analyse customer preferences and they use this information to create designs as fast as possible, usually within just a few days.
Here comes the question, can we use technology for something ethical? Why do we use it to destroy and profit from people’s addiction to overconsumption? Actually, the same technology used by ultra-fast fashion retailers can be employed for products on demand and products that are customisable. Remember – quality not quantity!
Once Steve Jobs said:
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”
Let’s not lose faith in people!