Should “fast fashion” be redefined?

The term “fast fashion” is so frequently used nowadays that it seems to have lost its meaning. What once referred to a model of production is now used to differentiate between good brands and bad brands. Meanwhile, nearly every brand is producing at a quicker pace than the once-standard fashion calendar. How should we be classifying brands now? What does the term “fast fashion” really mean? What is considered “normal fashion” or “slow fashion”? How are brands like Fashion Nova and Boohoo, giving fast fashion a bad reputation? And, should H&M or Chanel be associated with that reputation?

“Fast fashion” has a broad definition.

The term has become so popular that, at some point, its exact meaning was forgotten. Fast fashion does not just refer to cheap, disposable clothing, and it is not made exclusively in sweatshops. Rather fast fashion is a term used to define a model of production. The Sustainable Fashion Glossary from Condé Nast and the London College of Fashion provides a more specific definition: “a model of fashion production and consumption that relies on fast turnaround of styles and products.” In other words, fast fashion refers to clothes produced more frequently than the industry standard for clothing releases. In the past, fashion houses typically released two collections a year, one for fall/winter and another for spring/summer. But, over time, those fashion houses started releasing more collections — Chanel currently releases six collections per year. Chanel is not thought of as a fast fashion brand, though. Typically brands such as H&M, Zara, Fashion Nova, and PrettyLittleThing fall into that classification. It makes sense, H&M can turn a product from design to finished item in as little as two weeks and the brand releases 16 collections per year. It is clearly a fast fashion brand. But the term could also encompass Chanel as the luxury brand is continuing to produce more clothes than other designers at the same level, many of whom signed a pledge this year to slow down production and release fewer collections.

Generally, conscious consumers hate fast fashion brands.

A quicker rate of production has been linked to a host of environmental and social issues including global warming, an abundance of waste, and human rights violations. It’s understandable that consumers who care about the planet would dislike brands that follow the fast fashion model. But, the hatred has become uncontrolled among some consumers. One issue is that the anger is not directed at sustainable brands that release clothes more than twice a year; it is specifically directed at brands that produce cheap clothing like five-dollar t-shirts. That has led to fast fashion becoming synonymous with cheap rather than just describing a production method.

As new brands pop up, fashion is getting cheaper and faster, making some wonder if these new brands are worse than previous fast fashion giants.

Some consumers hate fast fashion brands because retailers like Boohoo Group and Fashion Nova give the fast fashion model a bad reputation. This year Boohoo Group faced multiple accusations of forcing garment workers to continue working in unsafe conditions, possibly leading to an increase of COVID-19 in the Leicester area. Meanwhile, Fashion Nova is constantly accused of stealing designs from various designers and brands. Fashion Nova and Boohoo Group brands, including Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing, receive celebrity and influencer endorsements and have grown dramatically over the past decade, eclipsing H&M and Zara in speed and consumer likability. As The Fashion Law reported in 2018, “A slew of new retailers are killing the fast fashion status quo” and killing fast fashion’s reputation in the process.


The proof that the term “fast fashion” needs to be redefined is in the rankings. The respected ranking site, Good On You, scored Chanel at a 2/5, H&M at a 3/5 — yes, that’s right, H&M is considered more sustainable than Chanel —, and Fashion Nova at a 1/5. Chanel and Fashion Nova have similar impacts on people and the planet, yet one is considered “fast fashion” and the other is considered “luxury”. Then there is H&M, which is frequently grouped together with Fashion Nova as a much-despised fast fashion brand. How is it possible that the brands with the best and worst sustainability score are lumped together, and the brand with the second to worst sustainability score is given a nice-sounding title? It’s because the fast fashion model has become synonymous with environmental and social problems thanks in large part to the newest arrivals to the category: Fashion Nova, Misguided, Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, and more.

Now, don’t think this is a defense of H&M. The Scadanavian mega-retailer still produces a mega amount of clothes, definitely making it a fast fashion brand. But, H&M was also the first big name in the industry to undertake circularity projects over a decade ago, and in recent years it has invested millions in new technologies to make recycling more widely available for all brands and retailers. In light of that information, maybe it’s time to create subcategories from the term fast fashion. Maybe we should be classifying Fashion Nova as an “unsustainable” brand, and H&M as a “mass-market” brand, and Chanel as an “expensive” brand. Giving brands more clear and specific labels can change our view of them, ensuring that we are assigning appropriate feelings with the way brands operate.