Good sides of fast fashion industry
Fast fashion brands like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M have transformed clothing manufacturing practices completely. While the 3- or 6-month product cycle is still the case for some players today, the lead-time for orders in fast fashion is much shorter.
Fast-fashion brands can fill their racks with new stock at bargain prices in just a couple of weeks across hundreds and thousands of retail outlets worldwide. Much controversy has been aroused around this billion-dollar industry. So, is there anything positive about fast fashion?
The argument over fast fashion
As fast fashion brands are about ‘nothing but fashion’, this business model has been accused of intellectual property rights violations against established fashion designers. As of going to press, Forever 21 was still involved in 50 copyright lawsuits for allegedly copying the works of Anna Sui, Gwen Stefani, and a smaller company called Trovata.
The environmental effects and social responsibility issues are debatable as these garments are often produced in shabby working conditions in developing countries, with many labor issues ignored. In 2013, Swedish fast-fashion brand H&M was allegedly charged with using cotton harvesters in Uzbekistan as child and adult forced labor.
On the brighter side: fast fashion’s contribution to employment and ethical sourcing
According to IBIS World’s latest report on global apparel manufacturing, companies from developed countries are taking advantage of cheap labor in emerging markets in Asia, particularly in North and Central Asia, due to the financial benefits afforded by products sold at markdown prices. This helps stimulate the fashion-manufacturing industry in these in emerging markets, such as the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and other regions like Vietnam, Burma, and Indonesia.
At the same time, the demand for products brings opportunities to the local job markets where the factories operate. According to a survey conducted by the International Labour Organization entitled “Skills shortages and skills gaps in the Cambodian labour market: Evidence from employer skills needs survey”, between 2010 and 2012 there was a 16.9% increase in employment in garments, apparel and footwear, and a 12.6% increase in employment in rubber and plastics.
There is also growing pressure on fast-fashion giants from NGOs and consumers to be more eco-friendly and inject CSR elements into their operations and production. Challenged with environmental issues, H&M made a bold commitment to 100% use of organic cotton in all their ranges by 2020, to complement its existing ethical sourcing practices.
It is clear that fast-fashion supporters and opponents will not easily find common ground over all these disputes, and the pros of fast fashion do not fully outweigh the cons. As consumers become more and more socially aware, a greener path is probably the future for the fast-fashion giants.