As we discuss regularly, fast fashion as an industry is booming. High-street brands such as Boohoo, H&M, ASOS and Zara have led the way in fast fashion, delivering thousands of new garments and styles for consumers to buy quickly and cheaply. But something even faster has been developed – ultra-fast fashion. This article discusses the rise, influence and, ultimately, the sustainability impact of ultra-fast fashion.

What is ultra-fast fashion?

Ultra-fast fashion is fast fashion (cheap, quick turnaround collections) with a digital focus.

Ultra-fast fashion brands utilise digital retail and a different approach to supply chains, allowing brands to produce new collections that respond to consumer demand as fast as possible. This demand is generated by social media influence (particularly amongst Gen Z on platforms such as TikTok) and algorithms and uses supply chains differently than traditional fashion manufacturing.

The most prominent example of this is the Chinese fashion website Shein. On average, Shein adds over 30,000 new items to their website yearly, with thousands of items under £5. Through an aggressive business model, Shein responds to consumer demand fast. First, they test small amounts of a range, seeing how customers will respond, then ordering more if it’s a hit. This fast turnaround and replenishment model is backed up by 6,000 Chinese factories and suppliers and is a quicker new approach to delivering cheap, fast fashion to consumers- who already can’t resist.

Social media hauls have boosted the popularity of Shein, an easy-to-use interface, fast delivery and consumers’ addiction to that new dopamine hit of a new, cheap top that will likely only be worn once. After all, if it costs £3.99, does it matter?

Consequences of ultra-fast fashion

Over the past 15 years, clothing production has doubled while the time consumers wear clothes has fallen by 40%. This change has led to the rise of ultra-fast fashion- increasingly cheap garments with high-speed turnaround times to meet consumer demand.

Ultra-fast fashion has grown explosively, but the consequences for sustainability can not be ignored. After oil, fashion is currently the world’s second most polluting industry. And without significant change, the fashion industry will use 25% of the global carbon budget by 2050. In addition to environmental impacts, there are concerns over supply chain transparency, labour issues in production and the potential for manipulating consumer behaviour with carefully created algorithms on social media.

Long-term impacts of the ultra-fast fashion model

As with fast fashion, the ultra-fast model has significant negative impacts that can’t be ignored. There will be substantial sustainability consequences without decisive, immediate action across supply chains and manufacturing.

As well as more robust industry standards and expectations, consumer behaviour change is also vital. Currently, there is a considerable attitude-behaviour gap in the consumer addiction to fast fashion – and until this changes, real change will likely be difficult. Moreover, in the race to produce the cheapest fashion item as fast as possible, it’s difficult to know how sustainability will ever be achieved.

Textile Consult operates worldwide, consulting on a variety of management, training and sustainability issues within the textile industry. Contact us today to find out how we’ll work with you to find effective, sustainable solutions for your company.