Ultra-fast fashion is taking over – and using every trick in the book to get us hooked | Zainab Mahmoud


HBig high street brands such as H&M and Zara have been accelerating the pace of fast fashion for years, but the 4,414 new styles H&M added to its US website this year aren’t even the worst – step into ultra fashion -fast.

Chinese fashion retail website Shein was recently valued at $100 billion and added nearly 315,000 styles to its website this year alone. At the time of writing, Shein UK has 4,029 items in the under £5 section, with several crop tops and miniskirts priced at an alarming £1.99.

Fashion, especially cheap fashion, is addictive. That’s why super-fast fashion brands like Shein continue to expand the range of styles on offer, while social media ads and customer-generated content like “commuting videos” ensure that fashion addicts never forget their drugs. Some of these videos are sponsored by brands, but the friendly, chatty style helps viewers forget that they’re actually watching commercials. Wealthy YouTubers disguised as average shoppers are normalizing the idea of ​​ordering bags full of clothes every week.

My friend Toni Murphy, a 25-year-old content creator from London, was previously addicted to Shein. She began to overconsume fast fashion when her scholarship and loan gave her access to more money than ever before. Skeptical of Shein’s low prices, she initially shunned him, but eventually relented.[My addiction] sort of just started during the pandemic. And that was because I was getting these ads about it,” Murphy explains. Several times a day, she would come across Shein ads on Instagram and on websites using cookies promoting items she had previously Googled or added to her wishlist – they were unavoidable.

Despite receiving some items that were not as described or photographed, the price and range of styles kept her hooked. “What kept me coming back was the fact that it was cheap,” she says. “They were targeting me with certain things that they knew would tempt me.”

Georgia Willard, a 23-year-old student and former fast fashion addict, tells me that her teenage social bubble in Australia fueled her addiction. “You felt like you had to have a different outfit every time you went out to prove to people that you could dress right and look the part. I ended up buying outfits almost every weekend. ends.

Willard was inspired to quit her fast fashion habit when she learned about the environmental and human impacts of the fashion industry in a school textile class. Along with learning the harsh reality of the fashion industry from the documentary The True Cost, which she watched at school, she also realized she couldn’t stick to her habit and afford a big trip she had planned in the UK. Since then, the growth of cheaper, super-fast fashion brands such as Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and Shein, whose annual revenue has grown from $2 billion in 2018 to $15.7 billion in 2021 , has made the buy, wear, throw and repeat cycle all the more difficult to escape.

Murphy now feeds her fashion addiction with second-hand apps such as Depop and Vinted instead, but her friend, who is a student ambassador for Shein, has £2,000 in her overdraft. For many, it seems that impulse and consumerism are more powerful than the desire for a world in which female garment workers can work in a safe environment, let alone live happy and full lives – some factory workers providing Shein reported working more than 75 hours a week. In one of them, the workers had one day off per month. (After a report on working conditions at those factories, Shein said he had a strict code of conduct for suppliers and would investigate.)

Ultra-fast fashion is also not good news for the planet. At this rate, by 2050 the fashion industry could use almost a quarter of the global carbon budget. Around 60% of Gen Zers say they have changed their personal spending habits and behaviors to reduce their environmental impact, but they also appear to be driving the growth of super-fast fashion; the gap between attitudes and behaviors is huge.

Leaving fast fashion altogether is a tall order for young people still seeking to express themselves and manage their finances in the face of years of austerity, rising college fees and the ubiquity of unattainable beauty standards. It’s up to those of us who have the time, energy and experience to hold corporations to account.

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