Fast Fashion in Global Trade: An IPEEL Perspective

Fast fashion is defined by its low-quality, low-priced clothing that is often replaced, leading to overconsumption and harming the environment.

The global fashion industry has witnessed a significant shift in recent decades, with the rise  of  “fast  fashion”,  a business  model  that  emphasizes  rapid production, distribution, and clothing consumption (Joy et al., 2015). Even when luxury fashion is not sustainable, fast fashion enables young customers in the industrialized world to fulfil a powerful yearning for premium fashion items. Trends change quickly; last year’s styles are surpassed rapidly by the newest ones, which are promptly put away (Joy et al., 2015). This rapid production cycle of fast fashion is driven by consumer demand for trendy yet affordable clothes, which has massive impacts on international trade, and it touches upon the issues of the global trade system, labour conditions, and  consumer culture. This shift has implications for the International Political Economy of Everyday Life (IPEEL), and using the IPEEL approach, this essay will show the multifaceted impacts of this fashion industry.

Overview of Fast Fashion

Fast  fashion  is  defined  by its low-quality, low-priced clothing that is often replaced, leading to overconsumption and harming the environment (Singh, 2023). Fast fashion brands are able to bring new collections to stores in a matter of weeks rather than months as this business model relies on short turnaround times. The concept of fast fashion is optimized by clothing brands such as Zara and H&M that have benefited from this trend by releasing new collections almost every week to satisfy young customers’ need for ongoing trends and instant satisfaction (Gazzola et al., 2020) (Joy et al., 2015).

Economically, fast fashion plays a significant role in the global economic sector. The fast fashion industry, which was estimated to be worth $1.7 trillion in 2023 (McKinsey & Company, 2023)  continues  to  grow  rapidly  as  more  consumers  embrace  the  use  of  affordable  yet fashionable  clothing  pieces.  Fast  fashion  generates  substantial  profits  for  big  brands  and generates millions of employment globally, especially in developing countries where production costs are cheaper. However, trade-offs are associated with this employment, such as low pay and unfavorable working circumstances, which this essay will address in more detail.

The IPEEL Approach to Understanding Fast Fashion

The International Political Economy in Everyday Life (IPEEL) perspective emphasizes global economic phenomena through daily activities and their socio-economic effects, providing a framework for comprehending the intricate interplay of political, social, and economic aspects that  underlie  the  fast  fashion  industry  and  how  personal  consumption  choices  affect  those aspects. At its core, IPEEL primarily focuses on how everyday activities such as buying clothes are affected by and can contribute to the dynamics of global trade. It draws attention to the part that individual customer decisions play in the fast fashion industry, where the need for fresh, fashionable, and reasonably priced apparel fuels production methods that frequently have detrimental  effects  on the environment and laborers. IPEEL reveals the unseen relationships between consumer behavior and the international supply chains that create fast fashion products by  looking  at  these  commonplace  actions.  Through  an analysis of consumer, producer, and regulatory  activities,  the  IPEEL  approach  demonstrates  how  global  supply  chains,  labor practices, and consumer culture frequently exploit workers in developing nations to support the fast fashion industry. Furthermore, the IPEEL perspective promotes more sustainable and equitable economic practices by highlighting the significance of legally binding interventions and group action to address the negative effects of fast fashion. Using this viewpoint, it is clear that systemic inequality and international economic policies have an impact on the fast fashion business in addition to reflecting consumer decisions (Kozlowski et al., 2019).

Fast Fashion and the Global Trade

The supply chains of fast fashion are a prime illustration of globalization. These supply chains cut across borders, sourcing raw materials in one area, manufacturing in another, and selling finished goods all over the world. For example, cotton, a material commonly used in fast fashion, can be grown in countries like India, which is one of the largest producers in the world (Tokatli, 2008). It is then shipped to countries such as Bangladesh and China, where it is woven into  fabric  and  spun  into  yarn.  These  procedures  benefit  from  lower  labor costs and more sophisticated production capacities in these regions. Once the fabrics are made, they are often sent to a different group of countries where the final step in garment assembly is completed. Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Cambodia have emerged as significant centers of the apparel industry due  to  their low  labor prices and strong infrastructure for garment manufacturing and then, shipped to Europe or North America for sale.(TOKATLI et al., 2018).

The  fast  fashion  business  model  relies  heavily  on this interconnected system, which allows manufacturers to reduce expenses and increase productivity while providing customers with fashionable, reasonably priced clothing at a rapid pace. Furthermore, the IPEEL perspective shows how global trade policies shape the fast fashion industry. For example, the Multi-Fiber Arrangement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has made it easier for textile and apparel manufacturers to relocate their supply chains. Moreover, trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have made it easier for materials and goods to flow, enabling companies to reduce production costs by moving their facilities to nations with lower labor costs (M. Taplin, 2014). These policies not only facilitate the import and export of raw materials and completed goods by industries but they also promote the establishment of manufacturing facilities in nations with advantageous trade agreements.

Some developing nations are now largely dependent on the production of fast fashion due to  this  interconnection.  For  instance,  the  garments  sector  provides  more  than  80%  of Bangladesh’s  export  revenue,  making  it  the  second-largest  garment  exporter  in  the  world (Ahmed, 2021). Consequently, the economic benefits of this interconnectedness of fast fashion are evident, especially for developing countries whose economies heavily depend on the export of clothing.

The Labor Conditions in the Fast Fashion Industry

The rapid pace of fast fashion production, driven by the relentless consumer demand for new,  affordable  clothing,  often  comes  at  the  expense  of  labor  conditions.  Factories  in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Cambodia, for example, are notorious for their appalling working conditions, which include unreasonably long work hours, pitifully low pay, and hazardous situations that put employees in grave danger. Workers in these factories are sometimes required to put in unreasonably long workdays, and their pay is usually significantly less than what is considered livable (Clean Clothes Campaign, n.d.). Furthermore, there are many times when these  factories’  safety  regulations  are insufficient, putting workers’ health and safety at risk. (Safety and Health at Work | International Labour Organization, 2024). The constant need for affordable, fashionable apparel increases worker exploitation by pressuring manufacturers to put efficiency and cost-cutting ahead of the welfare of their workforce (Nguyen, 2022).

Moreover, serious problems such as child labor and a lack of union representation are included in the fast fashion industry’s ethical concerns, which go beyond poor conditions at work. Little children are engaged in many phases of the garment production process, frequently in dangerous conditions for pitiful pay, which makes child labor an especially upsetting issue (Human Rights Watch, 2018). This practice not only robs children of their youth and education but also causes bodily and psychological harm to them. Furthermore, the lack of union representation makes workers even more vulnerable. As a result, the people who labor in these factories consequently face a daily reality that is marked by extreme financial hardship, physical strain, and a significant risk to their safety.

Viewing from the IPEEL perspective, there is a strong connection between these working conditions and both global economic institutions and consumer behavior, making them more than just local problems. The need for stylish, affordable apparel in developed countries pushes businesses  to  cut  production  costs,  which  frequently  results  in  worker  abuse in developing countries. Moreover, the IPEEL perspective underscores how global trade policies and company actions boost such conditions. Trade agreements and the global market’s competitiveness encourage brands to look for the lowest labor costs, therefore feeding the cycle of poor labor standards. The IPEEL viewpoint thus discusses how extensive governmental interventions at various  levels  are  necessary to address these labor concerns. Governments and international organizations need to impose stronger labor regulations, monitor compliance through frequent inspections, and penalize infractions. worker standards should be incorporated into trade policy to guarantee that nations engaged in international commerce uphold fundamental worker rights.

Consumer Culture in Fast Fashion

One of the main forces behind the fast fashion phenomenon is consumer behavior. By using aggressive marketing tactics and the promise of stylish, affordable clothing, the business takes  advantage  of  consumers’  desire  for  novelty and  affordability and encourages frequent purchases (Barnes & Lea-Greenwood, 2006). Fast fashion companies have fostered this culture by focusing their marketing efforts on low costs and ongoing novelty. Brands such as Zara and H&M  have  succeeded  in  fostering  a  consumer  behavior  that  finds  it  both inexpensive and attractive to buy new clothes regularly. This culture is driven by the mindset of being fashionable requires keeping up with the ongoing trends that lead to a cycle of continuous consumption. This disposable culture is a big change from earlier generations, who valued quality and longevity far more than following the newest fashions all the time. In the past, people tended to buy clothes as a long-term  investment,  choosing  sturdy  materials  that would hold up against years of use. Whereas in today’s generation, they value quantity over quality which highlights the consumer behavior in fast fashion. The striking contrast between these two ways of behavior emphasizes how consumer behavior and views toward clothes have drastically changed in recent decades, mostly as a result of the fast fashion industry’s constant marketing of disposable clothing and ever-changing trends. In addition, fast fashion companies nowadays employ strategic marketing techniques such as social media campaigns and time-limited sales to generate a sense of urgency and keep customers coming back for more.

From the IPEEL perspective, fast fashion consumer culture is intricately connected with larger socioeconomic and political settings, rather than being limited to personal preferences. IPEEL facilitates our comprehension of how economic policies, social norms, and marketing tactics  interact  to  influence  consumer  behavior.  For  example, fast fashion companies invest heavily in social media and advertising campaigns that increase consumers’ desire and sense of need. Many times, these advertisements appeal to psychological and social aspects, such as the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the connection between identity and new clothes with societal status (Joy et al., 2015). IPEEL shows how societal factors shape and preserve consumer culture by looking at these marketing strategies.


Fast fashion, while important economically, is a major challenge to global trade, labor conditions,  and  consumer  culture.  The  International  Political  Economy  in  Everyday  Life (IPEEL) perspective helps in gaining an understanding of the intricate connections between the dynamics  of  global  trade  and  the  decisions  made  by  consumers  daily.  By using an IPEEL approach,  businesses,  consumers,  and  governments  may  work  together  to  address  these problems. Encouraging ethical and sustainable consumerism can help to counteract the harmful effects of rapid fashion and promote a more equitable and ecologically responsible international commerce system.

Farah Muna Safa Taqiya
Farah Muna Safa Taqiya
I am Farah Muna Safa Taqiya, an undergraduate student of International Relations at Gadjah Mada University. I am passionate about studying international social-political issues and I enjoy expressing and sharing insights through my writings.