"Fast fashion" refers to clothing manufactured at warp speed and sold at a low price point. The rate of production is fast; the customer’s decision to purchase is fast; delivery is fast; and garments are worn fast, usually only a few times before being discarded. It is a model that is entirely unsustainable.
Companies in the fast fashion game (you know the big ones) sell very cheap clothes. And rather than releasing two or more collections at certain times each year, as was the standard in the fashion industry for generations, they constantly push out new cheap products, enabling them to keep apace of rapidly evolving consumer tastes.
The industry has faced frequent criticism for its environmental impact. There are some very real ecological costs associated with these bargain-basement price tags—and in recent years, Fast Fashion's environmental toll has only increased. According to the UK Environment Program, 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the clothing industry—more aviation and shipping combined. It's also responsible for a large portion of water pollution worldwide, and uses copious chemicals.
Of the clothes produced, approximately 20% are never purchased, and quickly find their way to landfills. (Famously, H&M found itself with £4.3 billion in unsold clothing back in 2018.) More garments than ever are made with synthetic fabrics that don't naturally decompose, compounding the waste problem.
Brands in the fast fashion space are also often caught exploiting workers, both internationally and domestically.
Fast fashion's low price points rely on even lower manufacturing costs. To keep margins as high as possible, brands outsource production to companies all over the world in search of cheap labor. This poorly regulated supply chain has created unacceptable working conditions for people around the globe. For many, the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, which killed 1,100 and injured many more, has become a symbol of how bad things have gotten.