The Economic Implications of Fast Fashion for the Developed and Developing World

Fast fashion thrives on consumers’ demands for quantity over quality: for the stylish over the long-lasting.

Fast fashion thrives on consumers’ demands for quantity over quality: for the stylish over the long-lasting. With the explosion of digital technologies and the prevalence of globalization, mass fashion makes its way to markets, posing an alternative to “unique” ways of expressing oneself and paving the way to trend mechanisms and commonality among consumers. “Individuals strive to differentiate themselves through fashion choices, [and] fashion is [now] a means of participating in a group movement.”[1] This phenomenon is called flocking.

Economic hierarchies, social-climbing trajectories, and social media influence advanced trends and the demand for items currently popular among civilians. These dictate what is purchased. Whereas before digitalization “fashion … [was] a multi-disciplinary field concerned with a broad range of topics related to fashion from gender, sexuality, and body perception,” now it is based on “ consumer behavior, creative process, cultural history, and business.”[2] Fast fashion primarily influences the economic sector, increasing economic growth, though there are other implications it has as well. However, although fast fashion may have some humanitarian and environmental concerns, the overall economic implications can be summarized as positive because fast fashion improves economic growth in both developed and developing countries, as well as creates business partnerships for future alliances.

There are negative and positive consequences of fast fashion. Critics, particularly economists, may believe that fast fashion requires many natural resources, and therefore, as raw material prices fluctuate, so does the price for each garment. This can potentially cause higher consumer prices. However, this notion has been challenged by other industry insiders: they state that “since fast fashion sells clothes for lower prices, trendy clothes are more accessible.”[3] Though this may mean that the clothes are more easily attainable for people of all socioeconomic brackets, fast fashion has the potential for overconsumption and “irrational” decisions made by consumers.

However, there are also some positive economic implications to fast fashion as well. “In order to keep prices low for the consumer, clothing manufacturers strive to keep their production costs low”[4] and they do this by outsourcing to developing countries. This increases globalization and leads to more international markets. The United States, in a way, is helping both the countries to which it outsources, as well as itself, by opening new markets, building business partnerships, and creating alliances that will help them in diplomacy.

Fast fashion also paved the way to intricate, responsive supply chains. There is an increase in demand from customers, and this leads to the development of specialized procurement and distribution operations and production. Therefore, complex information and transportation infrastructure was created. Fast fashion helped increase the demand and complexity of how our businesses work today. Firms such as Zara have moved supplier firms to partially industrialized countries. “As a number of supplier firms in countries such as Morocco, India, and Turkey have gained the competence to manufacture intricately worked high-quality garments with the required flexibility and speed, Zara has turned to sourcing from these countries.”[5] However, this only works when there is an increased demand for a particular firm’s clothing, and therefore, an increase in the number of stores around the world. Through this process, businesspeople globally combine, achieving cultural exchanges, leading to a more diverse world.

Nevertheless, there are other perspectives to consider, mainly fast fashion’s humanitarian and environmental concerns. Fast fashion is a cyclical process, consisting of “seasons.” In order to keep consumers happy, however, firms have to “purchase new stock on a weekly basis in order to replenish the store’s merchandise.”[6] This creates a threat to the replenishment of Earth’s natural resources, as consumers’ demands only grow. Fast fashion is an environmental threat. With the emergence of synthetic fiber, clothes could washed and dried quickly. However, this led to a degradation of natural resources, as synthetic fibers are oil-derived. Fashionable items often use very low-quality, synthetic materials that require oil and natural gasses to produce. Fast fashion production, therefore, emits fossil fuels and carbon that harm the atmosphere and reverses society’s aims to curtail climate change. However, many fast fashion companies work to alleviate these detrimental environmental effects by either using “recycled materials and organically grown cotton” (like Patagonia),[7] or allowing exchanges of old gear for store credit. This, nonetheless, is still a long way to go to a “clean” world.

               Additionally, fast fashion uses forced, cheap labor in developing countries to have a low per-unit cost. This labor, however, is exploited and paid measly. By paying less for production, companies pay less per unit of production. This increases their profit margins because they spend less on producing a garment. However, paying less for labor also poses the risk of dirty working conditions and long working hours. Companies do not make laborer protection their priority, this way, companies ensure that they make a profit. Global sustainability and humanitarian rights are degraded. Nevertheless, child labor has been less prevalent in these developing countries, as economic growth allows for more-or-less safer jobs.

Other critics of fast fashion believe that individuality is destroyed when every clothing garment is essentially similar or identical. Teenagers, who are avid customers of brands such as Zara and H&M, find themselves at a crossroads: should they purchase clothes to look like their friends or famous celebrities? Or should they continue aspiring to be an individual? In many cases, more “unique” pieces of clothing are more expensive, as fast fashion was created for accessibility and to lower consumer prices.

However, it is important to note that an “abundance [of clothes] means that children have winter hats and burn victims have bandages … the global nature of fast fashion fosters economic integration and understanding …[and there is a] merging of cultures as designers draw inspiration from different traditions and consumers embrace trends from around the world. Fast fashion has the potential to democratize new trends and ideas, making them accessible to a broader demographic.”

               Ultimately, fast fashion has its strengths and weaknesses. Particularly in the economic sphere, fast fashion allows for lower per-unit costs and globalization, which can improve the living circumstances of the country’s civilians to which production was outsourced. Moreover, fast fashion can ameliorate economic growth and diplomatic relations. However, fast fashion can have implications in the environmental and humanitarian facets of today’s world, by creating inequality, inhumane working conditions, and fossil fuel emissions. In the short term, fast fashion helps our current society by supplying clothes to meet our every demand. In the long run, however, companies should consider the consequences of fast fashion vis-a-vis other perspectives on this topic.

[1] Hemphill, C. Scott, and Jeannie Suk. “The Law, Culture, and Economics of Fashion.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 61, no. 5, 2009, pp. 1147–99. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Jan. 2024.

[2] Mackinney-Valentin, Maria. “Trend Mechanisms in Contemporary Fashion.” Design Issues, vol. 29, no. 1, 2013, pp. 67–78. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Jan. 2024.

[3] Derisi, Stephanie. Modern Language Studies, vol. 46, no. 1, 2016, pp. 87–89. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Jan. 2024.

[4] Anguelov, Nikolay. The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry, 2015,

[5] Tokatli, Nebahat. “Global Sourcing: Insights from the Global Clothing Industry—the Case of Zara, a Fast Fashion Retailer.” Journal of Economic Geography, vol. 8, no. 1, 2008, pp. 21–38. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Jan. 2024.

[6] Cassandra Elrod. “The Domino Effect: How Inadequate Intellectual Property Rights in the Fashion Industry Affect Global Sustainability.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, 2017, pp. 575–96. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Jan. 2024.

[7] Buchanan, Joy. “Fast Fashion, Global Trade, and Sustainable Abundance.” Cato.Org, 28 Nov. 2023,

Emma Crasnitchi
Emma Crasnitchi
Emma Crasnitchi is a senior at Langley High School in Virginia interested in Economics, International Development, and Foreign Policy. She has been published in the Journal of Student Research High School Edition, International Policy Digest, Modern Diplomacy, and the Curieux International Academic Journal.