Fast Fashion’s Overproduction Is Killing The Planet

by: Well Made Clothes Staff | 3 weeks ago | Features

Image: a Greenpeace “Trash Queen” photographed outside an H&M store. Image source

Fast fashion retailers like H&M, Zara and Asos don’t just have a greenwashing problem, they also have an overproduction problem. In fact, Business of Fashion has called the cost of dead inventory “retail’s dirty little secret” — because the reality is that unsold units can go on to handicap retailers. Undervalued and expensive to house, these garments are estimated to cost the US retail industry as much as $50 billion dollars a year. And, given that this already represents a great expense for brands, it’s unlikely that many of them are genuinely concerned about the added cost of responsibly recycling their dead stock either.

Which is why H&M copped flak last year for destroying $4.3 billion worth of unworn clothing. And why fast fashion’s overproduction problem is now strangling the planet. “To ensure a certain level of size flexibility, retailers often slightly overbuy,” BoF explains. “Most brands should maintain some level of markdown inventory to appeal to the bargain shopper and to generate a certain level of foot traffic.” But in the context of major fast fashion brands, this “slight overbuy” is actually more like a gross cycle of rampant overproduction.

Put simply, the fast fashion business model is one based upon a fast trend cycle and an even faster production turnaround. So breakneck are these production deadlines that two reports released last year by international labour rights group Global Labor Justice found that female garment workers were being abused for failing to meet production targets set by fast fashion companies. 

Add to this the significant environmental deficit of having to dump all unsold or readily discarded clothing into landfill and it becomes clear that the planet can’t continue to sustain fast fashion’s overproduction for much longer. Yes, it is great to see big brands introducing ‘recycling initiatives’ and seeking to Make Fashion Circular. But the real hypocrisy comes about when those same brands refuse to address the unsustainability of their underlying business models.

Fast fashion can’t ever really be circular if it continues along this same trajectory. Because the simple fact is that circularity can’t negate over-production.

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