By Victoire Cointy, Communications Director
A couple of weeks ago, media mogul Kim Kardashian posted a photo of herself clad in a gold dress, with a caption asking fast fashion brands to “wait until [she wore the dress] in real life before [knocking] it off.” Less than three hours later, fast fashion brand Missguided posted a since-deleted post with a model wearing a copy of the dress, informing the mogul that she had “a few days” before the item dropped online. A post from Diet Prada, the internet’s favorite fashion whistleblower, was among the first to point out the connection between the two posts and to call attention to the speed of Missguided’s hasty turnaround.
This instant design theft is nothing new. Brands like Missguided, Fashion Nova and Pretty Little Thing — dubbed ultrafast fashion brands — have been operating like this for the past decade. With social media platforms as storefronts, an uncanny ability to offer celebrity looks for less and a constant stream of new products, their place in the overall fashion marketplace has grown by 20 percent in the last three years. In its year in review, Google reported that Fashion Nova was the most searched brand in the United States in 2018, leaving fashion mainstays like Louis Vuitton, Versace, Givenchy and Gucci in the dust. In the age of influencers and swipe-up links, the ultrafast fashion business model is king.
In the past few decades, the fashion industry has seen seasonality increase from the top down. The highest level initially released two standout seasons — fall/winter and spring/summer; it has now moved to include pre-fall and resort. Meanwhile, the retail sector and fast fashion space has moved into hyperdrive, with a weekly model where stock is replenished weekly with a new collection. This, effectively, has created 52 microseasons, bookmarked at one end by a flourish of new items hitting the shelves and on the other by the previous weeks’ remnants moving to the sale section.
It is estimated that, globally, about 80 billion new pieces of clothing are consumed a year, a staggering 400 percent increase from a mere two decades ago. These accelerated seasons are, for the most part, driven by social media, which confronts consumers with trends at a faster pace than ever before. In fact, for ultrafast fashion brands like Missguided, collections now come out on a daily basis, allowing for replicas of Kardashian clothing to appear online in less time than it takes for them to post it to their social media.
With these changes come a number of harms, both to the environment and to the livelihood to the people who produce the clothing we purchase in just a couple clicks. All one needs to do to see these impacts is look closely at garments’ labels. For example, Pretty Little Thing has entire section on its website dedicated to $8 dresses. Typically, retailers apply a 50 percent markup to clothing in order to make sufficient profit on the item. That leaves only $4 for Pretty Little Thing to purchase fabric and hardware, produce the garment, pay their labor and transport it to retail locations. This begs the question: how do brands keep those costs so low?
Across the board, most of the clothing from fast fashion brands — Pretty Little Thing’s dresses included — is made from polyester, a synthetic fiber derived from petroleum. With such a tie to the oil industry, it’s no surprise that the production of polyester has an undeniably large carbon footprint. In 2015 alone, more than 706 billion kilograms of CO2 were used to produce polyester textiles for the garment industry, which translates about 5.5 kilograms per t-shirt. Not only that, but the material isn’t biodegradable and takes about 200 years to decompose in landfill, emitting methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — as it does so. With the rapid trend turnaround promoted by microseasons, over 60 percent of clothing ends up in landfill in a single calendar year.
A majority of the clothing sold online by those same brands is produced by garment workers in third world countries, where labor laws offer them few protections. Despite working interminable days and producing billions of dollars worth of apparel, garment workers worldwide remain the lowest paid. Not only that, but the conditions in which they work are often abysmal. In 2013, Bangladesh saw one of the deadliest contemporary garment industry accidents happen on its soil when Rana Plaza, an eight-story apparel factory, crumbled to the ground. The injury toll rose to 2,500 and more than 1,100 were killed by the catastrophe. The companies operating the manufacturing complex later revealed that their clients included retail giants like Wal-Mart and Primark. Despite the gravity of the incident, both brands continue to operate and grow at alarming rates year over year, giving little thought to those who lost their lives keeping their businesses afloat.
Ultimately, although fast fashion allows consumers to mimic trends more quickly than ever before, it simply isn’t sustainable. With prices for items fixed so low, customers’ perceptions of fair pricing are distorted, urging them to overlook moral and ethical issues in their search for something new to wear. Little value is associated with the clothing, which in turn promotes a throwaway mentality and makes the item’s disposal painless, especially with new trends emerging at such a fast pace. Thus a vicious cycle in born, forcing companies to cut corners and consumers to accrue clothing they may not even end up wearing.
Kardashian has since decided to sue Missguided for trademark infringement and violation of her right of publicity. in California federal court. The case is Kimsaprincess, Inc.; and Kim Kardashian West v. Missguided USA (Finance) Inc., and Missguided Limited, 2:19-cv-01258 (C.D.Cal).