Written by Rosanna Terry

With Depop and charity shopping becoming increasingly popular by the day, the ability to reduce our engagement with fast fashion companies is becoming more accessible and the topic of fast fashion and sustainability is increasingly being discussed. When the first lockdown began, although I had plenty of University work, I was bored out of my mind and needed something else to do. I have been running a Depop shop since 2017 and so fast fashion is a topic I’ve done a lot of research into. However, I wanted to find out more about the inner workings of the industry. How did it begin? How did it come to be what it is today? And what can we do to dismantle the industry? I decided to utilise my lockdown time by researching the history of fast fashion and in this article, I will be giving you a condensed version of what I learnt.

The Industrial Revolution saw the start of the mass production of clothing due to rapidly developing technologies such as the sewing machine, cotton gin and the roller spinner machine. These all contributed to the ability to mass-produce clothes and subsequently, there was an increased demand for ready-to-wear clothing. Prior to this, second hand clothing shops known as ‘Slop Shops’, allowed people to buy pre-made clothing, putting them off from making their own clothes thus contributing to an increasing demand for pre-made clothing in the UK. The invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin allowed for raw cotton to be efficiently manufactured at low prices. To keep up with demand, more labourers were required which ‘led to a massive expansion in the slave trade route, doubling the number of slaves’. Slavery is a commonality throughout the development of the fashion industry and has been an issue that has continued to affect innocent people in the present day. In the 1880s, the popularity of ready-to-wear clothing drove the Victorian garment industry, which forced women and children to work brutally long hours with little pay.

The introduction of VOGUE to the UK in 1916 meant that fashion knowledge and trends from across the globe could be more easily shared, advancing fashion trends more rapidly than ever before. This development was partially halted due to the commencement of the Second World War, which saw the rationing of materials and the subsequent need for more simple and standardised designs. Due to a lack of materials, prices for clothing began to grow and a make-do-and-mend mentality was at the forefront of everyone’s lives. The Utility Scheme was also introduced in 1941, which allowed prices to be controlled by producing a small range of clothes made from quality materials. This ensured that prices remained low, but quality could be ensured. In 1942, The Board of Trade and London’s fashion group was set up, which brought together some of London’s best fashion designers in an attempt to maintain Britain’s fashionable reputation. These designers were commissioned to create a range of different garments that were required to align with the utility regulations that also appealed to the public. This collaboration was vastly successful and utility clothing continued to be made in Britain until 1952.

However, once rationing was no longer required, the fashion industry boomed and the utilisation of banned luxury materials became more popular. Fashion trends quickly moved on from simple and standardised designs and throughout this time, and into the 1980s, a more fashion-oriented approach was adopted. Before the 1980s, the fashion calendar consisted of 4 seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, which made the planning and prediction of the types of trends that would occur in each of the seasons easier. Manufacturers began to add more seasons to the traditional fashion calendar, as this allowed for the expansion of their product range and thus an increase in sales. Today, the fashion calendar consists of 52 micro-seasons, which means new fashion trends come out every week. To keep up with demand of forever changing fashions, by the 1990s, the UK was outsourcing labour to parts of the Eastern world. By exporting labour to different areas across the globe, the fashion industry can get away with paying their workers’ low wages and making them work inhumane hours with zero consequences. This allows for costs to be kept low and demand to be met.

When Zara landed in New York in the ’90s, the term ‘fast fashion’ was coined in reference to the company and their ability to come up with a new idea and get it to the shelves in 15 days. The demand for this type of fashion has only gained traction since then and we are currently faced with companies such as Boohoo, Primark and H&M, who are responsible for the exploitation of innocent people and contribute to the annual production of 1 million tonnes of textile waste in the UK. When bad things happen close to home, people sit up and listen, and so, for a lot of people, the knowledge that Boohoo were paying their garment workers in Leicester as little as £3.50 in horrific working conditions set in the realisation that this issue is more relevant that once assumed. The consequences of unethical practices regarding fast fashion have continued to grow from this point and we are now faced with a catastrophic issue that needs resolving. With 40.3 million people trapped in modern slavery, and the textile industry now being branded as the second largest polluter to oil, we need to take steps to start reducing the effects of this brutal and devastating industry. And it starts with you.

Picture this: you’ve just had a long day at work, and you know that the only thing that will make you feel better is a glass of wine and some good old retail therapy. So, you get home, hang up your bag and coat, grab a drink and sit on your sofa, surrounded by thick blankets and pillows. You open your laptop and the work you finished today is glaring at you, reassuring your retail therapy needs. You head to Boohoo and start adding various ‘essentials’ to your basket. That jumper you’ve had your eye on for a while and is a slightly different shade of pink to another one you have in your wardrobe is on sale. Add to basket. There’s a crop top for only £3. How could you say no? This goes on and on until finally, it’s time to pay. You apply some discounts to get the best price and check out. You’ll only have to wait one day because there was a free next day delivery option.

We’ve all been here. And it’s okay to admit that. I know for a fact that I’ve been there too. But thinking more smartly when shopping for clothes is a great way to start tackling fast fashion. Next time you’re looking through your basket, think S.L.O.W: Do you have something SIMILAR to the item? Is it good quality/will it LAST? Is it just for one OCCASION? Does it work with your WARDROBE? Thinking in this way when your shopping will allow you to be more conscious determine whether you really need the item. When you see some clothes you really love, look on Depop, Vinted, and eBay first before making a purchase at places like Zara or ASOS. Alternatively, shopping at charity shops allows you to find more unique vintage pieces whilst also supporting charity. By purchasing less from fast fashion companies, manufacturers will be forced to stop making as much as demand decreases. However, we also need to be using our voices to speak out against the injustices that millions of people experience within the garment and textile industry. Signing petitions, sharing on social media, teaching others about the situation are some of the many ways that we can show support and trigger change.

The waste produced by fast fashion practices is yet another problem that the garment industry poses. The industry is estimated to use around 1.5 trillion litres of water annually and is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions every year. According to The True Coast, the world consumes around 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year and this has subsequently resulted in one million tonnes of textile waste being produced in the UK annually. Thinking S.L.O.W, signing petitions and speaking out about these devastating statistics are all ways in which change can be made. I recently created a Government petition which calls for a 1p tax on garments to be introduced in an attempt to produce the necessary funds to implement better sorting and collection of clothing. The Environmental Audit Committee brought this idea to Parliament in 2019, however it was rejected as the Government believes that this isn’t an issue that needs to be faced now. The UK has committed itself to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which includes becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The increasing waste produced by the fast fashion industry is an issue that needs to be tackled now for this goal to be met.

We have the ability to do something about this. Simple changes in your life can allow for the improvement of so many people’s lives and can contribute to the protection of our planet for future generations. Companies supply demand, so let’s reduce this demand! Let’s demand a sustainable and fair future where modern slavery doesn’t exist and companies are held responsible for the environmental effects that they produce. The fast fashion industry began with Zara and should end with you.


In the run up to FUZE’s show in late spring, Haste will be collaborating with the creative collective to bring you stories on fashion, art, music and so much more from the creative industry. Head over to our Instagram for updates on Haste X FUZE updates, and FUZE’s page for updates on their upcoming show!