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HONORING EARTH DAY- The Rise of Fast Fashion: How Did We Get Here, and Where Do We Go?

image of planet and with text Planet vs. Fashion

In honor of Earth Day 2024, on April 22, we thought we might take a look at the rise of fast fashion and what we can do about it. As fashion students, designers, educators, retailers and as citizens of the world, we owe it to our planet!

 

The Rise of Fast Fashion

Neutral-colored clothing hangs on a store rack (Photo Credit: Pexels/Rachel Claire)

Neutral-colored clothing hangs on a store rack (Photo Credit: Pexels/Rachel Claire)

Did you know that over 100 billion new garments are manufactured globally each year?

Unsustainable practices, like overproduction and unethical manufacturing, have become commonplace in the world of fast fashion. Today, fast fashion is a prevalent part of our world, but it wasn’t always this way.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to stay this way, either. In this article, we’ll explore how fast fashion rose to prominence, the issues that came with it, and how we can make change to create a more sustainable future for fashion, where ethical and sustinable practices become the new norm.

The Origins and Expansion of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion companies prioritize rapid production methods to make inexpensive, low-quality clothing. They typically copy popular styles of other designers and make them at lower costs through mass production.

Before the Industrial Revolution, new clothing was mostly handmade by skilled workers, accessible primarily to the wealthy classes. With the rise of new technologies in the early 20th century, fashion production began to see big changes. Manufacturers found ways to lower costs through new machinery and outsourcing to low-paid workers.

Men pull racks of clothing through the Garment District, New York City, in 1955 (Photo credit: World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna)

Men pull racks of clothing through the Garment District, New York City, in 1955 (Photo credit: World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna)

In the mid-20th century, fashion companies shifted to global manufacturing, leveraging overseas production to pay workers lower wages. This sparked a new wave of clothing production, where clothes were made faster and at a lower cost.

By the 1990s, this trend was accelerating rapidly. One notable player is Spanish fashion brand Zara. Founder Amancio Ortega began his company by making lower-cost versions of already popular designer looks, which were created in small batches to get them into stores as fast as possible.

Rows of jackets hang in a Zara manufacturing facility (Photo credit: Business Insider/Mary Hanbury)Rows of jackets hang in a Zara manufacturing facility (Photo credit: Business Insider/Mary Hanbury)

In 1989, shortly after Zara expanded to New York, the New York Times referred to the company as “fast fashion,” thereby naming the movement.

In the years that followed, fast fashion would come to drastically change the industry: the clothing itself, the societal view of clothing, as well as the impact on the planet as a whole.

Environmental Issues and Social Impacts of Fast Fashion

As clothing prices changed, so did societal attitudes. The view of clothing changed from something to be cared for to something to be disposed of.

This leads to increased consumption and higher waste, which is especially problematic given the high environmental toll that fast fashion practices take: an estimated 2-8% of annual global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry alone.

Fast fashion also prioritizes the use of cheaper fabrics. While both natural and synthetic fabrics can be used sustainably,fast fashion companies opt for cheap and low-quality options. This often means non-organic cotton, which is referred to as the world’s dirtiest crop due to the high amounts of pesticides used, or cheaply made synthetics like polyester, which rely on high amounts of virgin fossil fuels and cause microplastic pollution.

Fast fashion is also harmful to garment workers. It’s estimated that only 2% of fashion workers worldwide are paid a livable salary, and many work in unsafe or unhealthy environments.

Transitioning Towards a More Sustainable Future

Though the current state of fast fashion may seem grim, as awareness begins to grow around these issues, times begin to change.

Advocacy groups like Fashion Revolution and Good On You bring light to these issues and highlight brands that produce clothing more ethically.

Woman holds a bag made from Econyl, a recycled textile (Photo credit: econyl.com)

Woman holds a bag made from Econyl, a recycled textile (Photo credit: econyl.com)

 

Innovative materials are having an impact as well. For example, Econyl and rPET (recycled polyester) are creating new fabrics from post-consumer waste, like recycled fish nets and water bottles.

Yellow jacket by Danish brand Ganni made in collaboration with Polybion from their bio-based textile, Celium. (Photo credit: Ganni/Polybion)

Yellow jacket by Danish brand Ganni made in collaboration with Polybion from their bio-based textile, Celium. (Photo credit: Ganni/Polybion)

Sustainable alternatives to leather and pleather are also on the rise. One example is Polybion, which is growing a plant-based leather alternative from fermented fruit waste.

As consumers, there are steps we can take to avoid fast fashion as well. From learning how to identify ethical companies to supporting small-scale designers, even a small step is a step in the direction of a more sustainable and ethical fashion future.

So, tell us, how will you choose to embrace sustainable fashion?

 

 

 

Fashion Unites Against Terrorism

A woman lights candles in honor of victims of the Hamas attacks during a vigil. The sign reads Out of Words. (Photo Credit: AP)

October 7th was a grim reminder for those of us who witnessed the terror and horror of 9/11 first hand and its impact, not only on New York City’s fashion industry, but the world at large. The recent attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas that involved rockets, drones, ground infiltrations and the taking of hostages, was an act of pure evil. Retaliation was swift and continues to result in pain and sorrow for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Depending on a country’s political interests, historical ties and moral values, they have responded to Hamas’ October attack on Israel – and Israel’s response –  in different ways. Some countries stand with Israel, some stand with Palestine, while some try to mediate or remain neutral. Most though are in agreement that a release of the hostages, a ceasefire and humanitarian aid to Gaza are critical. As we process the complexity of the situation with empathy, we are reminded how fashion, as a form of self-expression, has always tried to unite. Past runway shows are evidence of this and the perfect vehicle to support or condemn social issues, whether it be animal rights, gay rights, women’s rights, size inclusivity, political oppression or other causes. So, you can be sure that the upcoming Fall 2025 shows will feature a combination of condemnation and/or support for one side or the other, but most probably there will be a rallying cry for “give peace a chance”. Let’s all hope it works. We want to see a just and lasting agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that will bring an end to the occupation, and peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

The Global Fashion Industry Takes a Stand Against Terrorism

The fashion industry is a global enterprise and therefore a majority of fashion houses, rather than take sides, have taken a stand by denouncing terrorism and calling for an end to violence and hatred. Brands have expressed solidarity and support for the victims of the conflict, on both sides. For example, Stella McCartney posted a message on her Instagram saying: “My heart breaks for the people and families who are being senselessly killed and brutalised right now. This is terrorism. You do not need to be Israeli or Palestinian to see that this is wrong. I stand with those around the world who seek peace and justice for all.” She also shared a link to a petition by Avaaz, a global civic movement, that urges world leaders to intervene and stop the bloodshed.

British fashion designer Victoria Beckham also took to social media to share her thoughts on the situation at hand. Her statement read: “In this time of crisis, my thoughts are with the innocent victims of the recent unjust and barbaric attacks. These acts of brutal terrorism have left both Israeli and Palestinian civilians suffering. As human beings, we can’t help but be deeply affected by these harrowing acts. As a mother and as a woman, seeing the pain, suffering and loss of life on both sides is truly horrific. I stand with those around the world who seek an end to the violence and hatred. I stand for peace.”

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) issued its own statement, noting that it “stands with those determined to fight terrorism”. The organization added: “We mourn the loss of life and pray for the cycle of violence to end for a lasting peace.”

Zara store in Jerusalem. (Photo Credit: AFP)

One of the most immediate actions taken by some global fashion and beauty brands was to close their stores in Israel temporarily, to protect their employees and customers. For instance, Inditex, the owner of Zara, announced the closing of its 84 stores in Israel until further notice. Other brands that followed suit included H&M, Mango, Sephora, and L’Oréal. These brands have also expressed their hope for a swift end to the conflict and a return to normalcy.

American Eagle’s billboard in Times Square supporting Israel. (Photo Credit: American Eagle)

Other brands decided to take a stand with Israel. American Eagle made a bold statement of its own, replacing its flagship billboard in New York City’s Times Square with an image of the Israeli flag. A picture of the billboard was shared by the company’s chief marketing officer Craig Brommers in a post on LinkedIn.

One of many posts from Shoshanna Gruss. (Photo Credit: @Shoshanna via Instagram)

Shoshanna Gruss, the designer behind her contemporary namesake label Shoshanna, posted her support to Israel and condemned the brutal attacks. On October 12th, Shoshanna donated 100% of her online sales to Magen David Adom, Israel’s national medical emergency, disaster, ambulance and blood service. The designer also posted, “The silence from the fashion industry is deafening, We stand with Israel now & forever”.

Tory Burch, the executive chairman and chief creative officer of the eponymous brand, and Pierre-Yves Roussel, the brand’s CEO, addressed employees in an internal letter last week. “We condemn terrorism and hatred in all their forms. The heart-wrenching reports and brutal images of the terrorist attack in Israel last weekend have deeply affected us,” they wrote. The Tory Buch brand will support those affected through two organizations: the International Committee of the Red Cross, dedicated to humanitarian aid, and the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), an organization focused on promoting peace in the region. “We will make a personal donation of $100,000 and a $150,000 donation on behalf of the company. Additionally, Tory Burch LLC will match any employee donations to ALLMEP.”

Chanel’s executive chairman, Alain Wertheimer, and CEO Leena Nair shared an internal note that was circulated on social media last week. “We have all been horrified and deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. The war and resulting humanitarian crisis are a tragedy.” The internal note also stated that Chanel was donating $4 million to organizations engaged in providing humanitarian assistance.

A spokesperson for Capri Holdings Ltd., the parent company of Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, and Versace, said, “We are deeply saddened by the recent attacks in Israel. Capri Holdings is currently exploring various organizations to which we can contribute to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected.”

Hearst, the parent company of Harper’s Bazaar, pledged $300,000 to various organizations, including UNICEF, Save the Children, and Doctors Without Borders. These organizations are working on the ground to deliver essential supplies and services, such as food, water, medicine, shelter, and education, to the people in need.

Other fashion companies that have made donations include PVH Corp., the owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger; Tapestry Inc., the owner of Coach and Kate Spade; Ralph Lauren Corp.; Levi Strauss & Co.; Gap Inc.; and VF Corp., the owner of Vans and The North Face. These companies have also encouraged their employees and customers to join them in supporting these causes.

(Left to Right) Galia Lahav and Pnina Tornai both announced they are not showing their collections amid the harrowing attacks in Israel. (Photo Credits: Getty Images)

Some Israeli designers have been active in raising awareness and funds for their country. For example, Galia Lahav, a bridal and eveningwear designer, launched a campaign called #StandWithIsrael, and donated 10 percent of her online sales to Magen David Adom. Pnina Tornai, another bridal designer, also donated 10 percent of her sales to Magen David Adom, and posted a video on Instagram urging her followers to do the same. Both designers canceled their Bridal Fashion Week Runway Shows in New York as a sign of solidarity with their country. “Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts are with all those affected by this devastating conflict,” said Lahav. “We hope for a future where we can come together to celebrate the beauty and creativity that define our brand.”

Other Israeli designers who have also shown their support include Alon Livne, Nili Lotan, Ronen Chen, Dorit Bar Or, Maya Reik, Shani Zimmerman, Yael Sonia, Kobi Halperin, Nili Ben Simon, Shai Shalom, Maya Bash, Yael Cohen Arissohn. Some of them have shared their personal stories and experiences of living under rocket fire and sirens.

Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, speaks at the Fashion Trust Arabia Prize Gala in 2021. (Photo Credit: WWD)

A number of fashion-related events have been canceled or postponed throughout the Middle East. Vogue Arabia, Chopard, and Italian jeweler Pomellato have canceled upcoming events in the Middle East. We Design Beirut, a four-day design festival scheduled for late October in Lebanon, has been postponed for the safety of all participants.

The Fashion Trust of Arabia Awards 2023, which was originally planned for October 25 in Dubai, has also been postponed. “At FTA, our goal has always been to support the talents of designers in the MENA region,” the organization stated in a release. “However, given the current situation in the region, it would be ill-considered to continue with our event.”

designer Nirmeen Hourani

Nirmeen Hourani – the first female owner of a fashion house in Gaza (Photo credit: middleeasteye.com)

Lebanese designers Elie Saab, Tony Ward, Georges Hobeika, Zuhair Murad, Emirati-Palestinian designer Reema Al Banna, as well as Syrian couturier Rami Al Ali and French-Moroccan designer Charaf Tajer, all Arab designers who show their collections during Paris Fashion Week, are all highly regarded on the world stage. Instagram has been the vehicle for designers to show their support, solidarity or opposition to the Israel/Hamas conflict. Sadly, with the exception of @Reema Al Banna, none of these designers have taken a stand publicly against the atrocities of this war.

For Gazan designers, it has been much harder to make it onto the global fashion stage due to geo-political circumstances that began in 2006 with the terrorist group Hamas winning the parliamentary election and then the subsequent blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Nirmeen Hourani, the first female owner of a fashion house in Gaza, has had to overcome many challenges to make her dreams come true. According to MiddleEastEye.com, “her journey in fashion has not always been straightforward, mainly due to the 15-year-old Israeli blockade on Gaza and the fact that there are no fashion schools to attend.” 

 

This shirt / jacket / dress plays on the dishdasheh silhouette worn traditionally by men in the Middle East.

A shirt by Taita Leila based on the dishdasheh silhouette worn traditionally by men in the Middle East. (Photo credit: Taita Leila)

Taita Leila, a Palestinian brand inspired by the tradition of Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez, reinterprets the techniques “in a way that would make your grandmother proud”. According to their website: “Since last year’s uprising [2022], we have been having difficulty in reaching our audience via social media, and especially Instagram. We are tired of being shadowbanned simply because we’re Palestinian. What’s it like being shadowbanned?  Your exposure on a given social media platform is restricted and your direct followers infrequently see your posts. Even supermodel Bella Hadid has called out the platform for silencing her whenever she posts anything about Palestine, her stories drop by over 1 MILLION views! ”  Recently however, in response to the Israel/Hamas War, Taita Leila has raised over $1.8 million on Instagram to help ensure that hospitals and emergency responders have the supplies they need in Gaza.

Nol Collective works with family owned businesses, artisan workshops, and women’s cooperatives from villages in the hills of Jerusalam to Gaza, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, producing traditional Palestinian crafts such as tatreez (hand embroidery) and weaving touched by a history of political struggle and resistance. They too have been raising funds on their Instagram channel to help the innocent victims of the war.

Nol Collective (Photo credit: NolCollective.com)

Other Palestinian brands and determined to keep fashion alive as a form of cultural pride, self expression and resistance to oppression. Neel (which means generation in Arabic), is another multidisciplinary design house that specializes in old Palestinian embroidery with a 1970s aesthetic. “We preserve and repurpose so Palestine is never forgotten and passed on to generations that follow,” reads its bio on Instagram.

WISHING FOR PEACE

John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance poster

John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance

The fashion industry must continue to do its part to help the victims of this war. Whether it is by closing stores for safety, speaking out for peace, taking the time to understand the complexities of this conflict or by donating to charities, we must all work toward seeking a just and lasting agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. John Lennon said it best in 1969, “Give Peace a Chance”.

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- - Fashion Business, Trends

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