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Mass Customization and Fast Fashion

Sustainability and the fashion industry appear to be mutually exclusive. Add in Fast Fashion, and sustainability appears to be of little concern.

In particular, Fast Fashion rapidly designs, produces, and markets high volumes of garments that typically use low-quality materials.

As Fast Fashion has increased the number of fashion seasons from four – with an emphasis on a twice-yearly fashion week – to fifty-two seasons per year, the environmental impact has greatly increased.

It has even reached the point that laws are being enacted or proposed to increase the sustainability in this industry.

A variety of approaches are being tried. The OM in the News post entitled “Goodbye, Fast Fashion. Here Comes Circular Fashion!” looked at recycling old clothes, and turning them into new fabric. A previous post entitled “Does Using Plastics in Clothing Reduce Landfill?” examines the use of plastic bottles as a source of material for clothing. Additionally, a previous post entitled “Fast Fashion Turns to Fast Trash” examined the difficulty in trying reuse clothing, with much of it going to the landfill.

These approaches fit in with the Three R’s–Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle for reducing environmental impact.

However, one problem area not addressed by these solutions is the initial overproduction of clothing. In most cases, clothing is mass produced. Deciding on how many of the various sizes to produce can increase overproduction, with excess clothing ending up in the landfill.

The problem is multiplied for Fast Fashion.

One suggestion is to use mass customization to produce the clothing. Using this approach, the clothing would be tailored using mass customization techniques.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the Phys Org article, Mass customization can make fashion more sustainable if customers are willing to wait for it, by Holly Ober, February 1, 2022; The Guardian article, Can we enjoy fast fashion without destroying the planet?, by Lucy Siegle, February 25, 2022; the PopSugar article, Hanifa, Collina Strada, and 7 More Sustainable Fashion Brands to Know, by Sarah Wasilak, April 22, 2022; and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.

Discussion Questions:

1.  What advantages are offered by mass customization of clothing?

Guidance: From a sustainability perspective, the biggest advantage would be reducing the amount of waste from overproducing. Other advantages include a higher quality product that matches a tailored or bespoke article of clothing. Traditionally, with bespoke clothing a pattern is made for each customer, and the item is custom made. Bespoke clothing is typically more expensive, and of a higher quality.

2. What obstacles need to be overcome for mass customization of clothing?

Guidance: In the world of Fast Fashion with 52 seasons per year, time is of the essence. The process needs to be fast to get the garment to the customer. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be Fast Fashion. Many people believe that for fashion to be sustainable, it must slow down. Additionally, Fast Fashion typically produces inexpensive clothing that can be worn and discarded. Mass customization would need to keep the price low.

3. Can Fast Fashion ever be sustainable?

Guidance: The entire concept presents problems from a sustainability perspective. Certain aspects of the overall system can be made more sustainable, including use of recycled materials, green manufacturing processes, and recycling clothing at end of life.

However Fast Fashion has such a short life, it discourages extending the life of the product or moving items to a second-generation owner. Clothing is most likely to be worn once, and discarded. The very concept of Fast Fashion goes against sustainability.

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