How Flash Sales Play Into The Fast Fashion Mentality

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 years ago | Features

Image: movie still from Clueless. Image source.

Last week was Black Friday, which many people consider the official start of the holiday season, AKA the spending season. The retail event follows Thanksgiving — which is an American holiday — but despite this fact, Black Friday has now spread to many other nations around the world. Even in Australia, local retailers are increasingly eager to offer their ‘global’ customer a ridiculous bargain (or five). Because this is unfortunately the society in which we live — a society driven by mass consumerism, regardless of the true costs.

Not only is Black Friday resplendent with deals-a-dozen though, but the weekend it precedes is also bookended by Cyber Monday — an online-only version of much the same thing: bargain hunting. And it’s this hunt for the bottom dollar that has become a scarily pervasive part of our current shopping climate. A culture in which people believe that a t-shirt can and should cost $10 and, worse still, are content to remain blissfully unaware of the human beings paying the real price for these expectations. What many people don’t understand, though, is that this mindset is one created and constantly fuelled by the fast fashion cycle.

We have known for years that fast fashion thrives on a ruthless race to the bottom — but are we able to recognise the link between this system and our own approach to discounted shopping? Of course, it is undeniably easy to be seduced by the sales, not least of all because we have been conditioned to view this as attractive. And what’s more, we have been conditioned to believe that we deserve a bargain — even though Forbes says that we now purchase 400% more clothing today than we did 20 years ago. Not because we need 400% more clothing now, but simply because we can. A fact that’s underscored in Sandy Black’s book The Sustainable Fashion Handbook, which explains that today’s average party top is worn just 1.7 times before it is thrown away.

Just because we can buy cheap clothing, does not mean that we should. Which doesn’t mean that you need be limited to buying exclusively expensive, ethical clothing. But does mean that we should all try to reduce the amount of clothing we buy overall. Ultimately, if each of us purchased what we really needinstead of every nice thing we see on sale, then we could make a major difference to the social and environmental health of the planet overall. With a little creative styling, one great party top can be far more chic (and last a whole lot longer) than a cheap and trendy version you’ll only wear once.

Over the years, ‘black’ has come to be recognised as one of the most elegant hues in fashion — traditionally favoured by Parisians and New Yorkers. It is considered ‘slimming’ and universally flattering. And perhaps this is why it is doubly easy to be lured in by ‘Black Friday’ flash sales offered by our favourite designer stores, or even those that claim to have ethics at their core. But before we fall victim to the slashed prices, it is important to consider why we have come to value this model so much in the first place. And whether we actually wanted that garment in the first place. If the answer is yes, then go for it. But if not, you might consider thinking twice.

I doubt I am alone in saying that I have often purchased something on sale, only to realise that it’s not very ‘me’. Which is something I would describe as a ‘rush of blood to the head’ moment. Because in that split second after receiving a flash sale blast and realising that you simply have to own that dress, I for one, am certainly not thinking straight. And this is where impulsive shopping thrives most — especially since a lot of sales also come with the condition of no returns. Which means it’s a system that tends to leave us with piles of unwanted garments lying dormant in our wardrobes.

It is for this reason that we chose not to participate in Black Friday this year. Because we believe that you should buy something if you really love it, need it, or will get loads of wear out of it. Not because it has been radically reduced. It is also for this reason that Patagonia — which usually rejects Black Friday altogether — decided to open its doors on the day this year, but only for the sake of donating 100% of its global Black Friday proceeds to grassroots organisations working to “protect our air, water and soil for future generations.”

When you think about flash sales as inherently linked to the fast fashion system, days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday suddenly seem a lot less chic. More often than not, these retail events aren’t an attempt to help us find that perfect dress of our dreams — one that we will keep for years to come. But designed specifically to trick us into buying still more stuff that we simply don’t need. And somewhat ironically, the true origins of Black Friday actually reflects this darker motive more closely than one might think. Despite what most retailers would have you believe, Black Friday originally emerged as a reference to social chaos — specifically that which took place in 1950s Philadelphia, the day after Thanksgiving and the day before the city’s annual football game. And with that in mind, it becomes increasingly clear that chaos is still very much what flash sales (and fast fashion more generally) are all about.

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