Understanding the Emergence of Fast Fashion: A Brief Look at the Apparel Industry 1980s-present

 

As a company we are guided by our mission to provide ethically manufactured clothing. As part of our mission we hope to educate others on current manufacturing practices at home and abroad in order to foster greater transparency that we hope will empower consumers to make better choices.

Below we have provided a brief account of the apparel industry from the 1980s - present to highlight how fast fashion emerged during this time. 

 


1980

Production cycles are predictable and usually divided into two seasonal collections. Designers maintain relationships with suppliers and manufacturers due to the high level of preparation required for launching collections. Manufacturing, for the most part, remains regional.

 


1990

The clothing industry becomes more fashion oriented: new trends emerge at a faster rate and brand recognition becomes increasingly more important. Production slowly begins to move offshore where manufacturing costs are lower. Slowly, we see the emergence of clothing that is sold in developed countries but is manufactured in developing countries.

 


2000

 In 2005 the Multifibre Agreement (MFA) is phased out, which ends the quota system that had governed trade since 1974, exposing industries to global competition. Developing countries are no longer restricted to the amount of yarn and fabric that they can export to developed countries. The textile industry moves even more towards faster and more flexible production practices.

The economic recession of 2008 makes locally owned, small and medium-sized firms financially vulnerable as consumer demand decreases significantly. The clothing market becomes even more competitive and unstable internationally. To mitigate financial losses, manufacturers forgo fair compensation of employees and wages altogether.

The clothing industry is no longer just divided between where garments are produced and sold, but another subdivision emerges between value and high-end brands, the former of which rely on cheap supplies and labor to compete in an oversaturated market.

 


2016

 Production currently moves at an incredibly rapid pace. Manufacturers are responsible for producing large quantities for large retailers and brands, and as a result, subcontracting has emerged [read here: The Myth of the Ethical Shopper] which makes the oversight of worker conditions incredibly difficult. High levels of competition in the fashion industry perpetuate the existing problems as retailers hope to keep up with emerging trends that are constantly changing.

 


Solutions

We purchase an incredible amount of clothing per year due to how affordable it has become. However, as ethical brands continue to reiterate, clothing has become anything but cheap. Low methods of production often mean the exploitation of workers abroad and high levels of waste and contamination in already vulnerable communities. 

Buy from companies that offer transparency. 
Support companies that manufacture (all) of their products in America.
Understand a company’s supply chain.
Most importantly, buy better products and make fewer purchases.   

  

 

Source: "Wages and Working Hours in the Textiles, Clothing, Leather, and Footwear Industries" 
Published by the International Labour Organization, 2014
Find the full report here