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What is Fast Fashion?

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Most people have never heard this term yet it has come to define affordable fashion today. Large retailers such as H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and Topshop have adopted the model- a process of quickly and inexpensively designing and manufacturing clothing to mimic the style of runway trends. This model has created affordable fashion for the mass consumer, providing her with the means to take part in the exclusive world of elite runway fashion trends. As Fast Fashion has broadened the scope of who can experience these trends, it has also changed the concept of what fashion means today and how it is produced.

Fast Fashion has changed the process by which designers and fashion houses create clothing and shortened the cycle of production. Previously, fashion houses relied on a nine month process of design, production and manufacturing. Fast Fashion brands have reduced this production time to three to four weeks, allowing them to create four to six collections a season. Fashion is no longer dictated by an elite minority; instead, these brands rely on the buying behavior of their consumers, who inadvertently shape the collections.

The Spanish brand Zara embodies the Fast Fashion concept of  rapidly producing inexpensive but runway-conscious clothes. Zara produces clothing weekly, in small quantities, with styles changing rapidly according to the buying habits of Zara customers and street and runway trends. In a given year Zara produces over 11,000 distinct items that either mimic or resemble designer pieces.

On the plus side, Fast Fashion has blurred the lines between those who can and cannot afford runway fashion, allowing the broader society to experiment and interact with changing trends. Yet it has also created a culture of disposability in which society aims to possess rather than cherish clothing.

Has Fast Fashion eliminated the meaning and art behind clothing? Or has society become even more homogenized as fashion has become more readily available? Only time will tell.

Now that you know about Fast Fashion, read page 104 of Harper’s Bazaar India from June 2013 to learn about Slow Fashion.

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Illustration: Manin Kinet in Harper’s Bazaar India June 2013

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