In my youth as a part-time job i worked in retail as most kids do to increase those bank funds. I remember always getting excited by the new delivery of designs for what was to be the “next season” and it was always exactly that, new designs for new seasons which weren’t very frequent. Yet when i told my mum she felt it was a lot faster than she ever remembered.
Fast-forward to the present day and you have some fast fashion brands producing new clothing collections as often as every two weeks. That’s a lot of clothing!
Gone are the days of hand-sewn garments, clearly the way we create and consume fashion has changed dramatically over the last 50 years.
In the 60’s and 70’s, most clothing was still made by hand or on a small scale. Designers would create a few prototypes of each garment and then have them produced in small batches by skilled seamstresses. The ultimate slow-fashion experience, although time-consuming and labour-intensive, it allowed for a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that is hard to find in today’s fast-paced fashion industry.
So what changed? How did we go from one extreme to the other?
Well, as with most things as technology advanced and global trade expanded, the way we produced clothing began to change. The introduction of computer-aided design (CAD) software made it easier for designers to create and manipulate patterns, while advances in textile manufacturing allowed for the mass production of fabrics at a fraction of the cost.
As a result, clothing production shifted from a craft-based industry to a more industrial one. As manufacturing changed so did consumers and their demand for wanting more kept (and keeps) growing. The next obvious solution was for brands and retailers to meet these demands by relying on factories in developing countries to produce their garments, where sadly labour was cheaper and production could be scaled up to meet the demands of the global market.
While this new model of production allowed for faster turnaround times and lower prices, it also has its downsides. Many factories in developing countries operate under poor working conditions and pay low wages to their workers. Just look at the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 and movements such as ‘Fashion Revolution’ and you’ll see the problem that the people who make our clothes face.
Additionally, as if people ethics weren’t enough, mass production has led to an overproduction of garments and a growing trend of fast fashion, where clothes are produced quickly and cheaply to keep up with the latest trends, only to be discarded a few months later or even after just one wear.
Today, mindful consumers and environmental groups are calling for change forcing the the fashion industry to shift towards more sustainable and ethical production methods. Many brands are now using more sustainable fabrics and some are working with fair trade factories to ensure that their workers are treated fairly. Although you could argue that some of these promises are nothing more than green washing, it is at least, a step in the right direction. As long as consumers keep calling out for change the fashion industry is going to have to start listening. Perhaps we won’t quite go back to manufacturing 50 years ago, but we may yet see a huge shift in more responsible and sustainable fashion models.