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I first came across the subject of “fast fashion” a year and a bit ago, when I stumbled across a documentary on Netflix that helped unpack this growing trend. It was then that I got fascinated by it and began to read a lot on it and has since given me a different perspective on the retail industry, brands, celebrity endorsements, consumer buying patterns and most importantly on the workforce that produce these items. Over the last year, I have attempted to watch it really closely and see what there is to learn from it, the various laws at play, and how I as conscious fashion consumer can align myself and my buying behaviors with brands that are socially conscious while giving us the best that fashion has to offer.


With the increase in global fashion brands venturing into South Africa, “fast fashion” has fast become a reality in our world, and has, by its very nature, placed the clothing and textile industry under immense pressure to meet short turnaround times and increased demand. The arrival of major global fashion brands such as, H&M, Cotton On, Forever21, Zara and the growth of Mr Price, Superbalist and Spree locally, has seen a huge spike in celebrity and influencer endorsements which has been remarkable for local talent, including celebrities, bloggers etc. This shift has also created a greater demand for fast fashion, which directly speaks to a consumer that appreciates a “new look” that can be worn for the moment, and views the merchandise as a temporary treasure; not something you will keep forever.

Blogger Lulama Wolf for H&M

This need for “quick turnaround fashion” in consumers is placing constant pressure on retailers to keep churning out the latest trends seen on backs of their favourite local and international celebrities, as well as on the catwalks of Milan, SA Fashion Week, etc. at discounted prices, but at triple, and sometimes four times the speed.

Woolworths Style By SA Collection as seen at SA Fashion Week

Gathering statistics on fast fashion is difficult because of the large quantity of illegally traded clothing worldwide, but an estimated 25% to 30% of locally sold clothing, is manufactured domestically. The retail industry is, of course, completely centered on supply and demand, but until recently, not much care was given to the how of making these piles of clothes, but more so to the how fast this growing demand can be turned around.

The more ‘conscious consumer’ is making it clear to brands that regardless of the celebrity endorsing the brand and product, they would rather look for alternatives instead of having the trendy clothes on their backs made by someone suffering overseas and being paid pennies, if anything at all.

Vivian Knows Best

This concern around “conscious retailing” is fully explored in the documentary, “The True Cost”, which pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider looking past the celebrity faces and understanding who really pays the price for our clothing? The documentary was created by a team of producers and creative executives including Andrew Morgan, who captures really well, the sentiment around this growing “fast fashion” industry. Andrew and the team take a deep dive into countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, and featuring interviews with the world’s leading influencers including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth and Vandana Shiva. The True Cost is an unprecedented project that invites us on an eye opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes and some of the brands we love so much.

Similar to the international scene, the local manufacturing industry is under such immense pressure from the fast fashion industry, leading to retailers sourcing almost a third of their clothing from local suppliers to respond to trends as they happen.

Woolworths Style By SA Runway Show

As this new ‘disruption’ begins transforming manufacturing and economies globally, retailers need to embrace new forms of manufacturing. Technologies such as 3D printing are becoming the next phenomena, and brands that are leading the change are those that can get fashion fastest off the factory lines and quickest onto the backs of the faves we love to envy on the gram.

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The role that fast fashion has to play in this consumer centric future is huge, and only brands and manufacturers that adapt to this, will secure a place in the future.



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