Is Fast Fashion Unstoppable?

Stores that follow the retail model are rapidly multiplying, and the repercussions are projected to be serious.
May 29, 2015·
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

Remember the days when a visit to Topshop was a luxury one could experience only when traveling abroad? Or when H&M didn’t have an e-commerce component? As fast fashion grows, those memories become increasingly hazy. The retail model is exploding in ways our planet just isn’t prepared for, as explored in the fashion documentary The True Cost.

“Instead of two seasons a year we practically have 52 seasons a year, so we have something new coming in every week,” says Lucy Siegle, one of the film’s executive producers. “Fast fashion has created this so that it can essentially shift more product.”

To best exemplify how quickly these retailers are gaining traction, in May H&M opened a 63,000-square-foot location in Manhattan’s Herald Square, just blocks from two of the city’s other H&M locations. The chain doesn’t have plans to close either space now that the mammoth store has opened.

“We have good traffic,” said Daniel Kulle, H&M’s North American president, in an interview with MarketWatch. “We are gaining market share. [The stores] aren’t taking share from each other.”

H&M plans to add 60 more U.S. stores in 2015 alone.

RELATED: More Coverage on the True Cost of our Clothes

As The True Cost explains, with production being outsourced in greater numbers, clothing prices have hit incredible lows. Consumers are flocking to fast fashion, appearing to care less about the longevity of their clothes (consider the durability of a Forever 21 dress) and more about the deal.

While a shopper’s closet may be bursting at the seams with on-trend pieces, so are the planet’s landfills. The U.S. produces 11 million tons of textile waste annually, and much of it isn’t biodegradable, meaning it will be calling those landfills home for the next 200 years.

“The prices dropped; the way of making that product has completely, completely changed,” says Siegle. “We have to ask ourselves at some point, ‘Where does it end?’ ”

The True Cost will be available internationally on May 29.