Fast Fashion Origin Story

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How to know if you want to keep reading?

  • You want to reflect on how we got to this over consumption fashion nightmare?

  • You are curious about terms like fashion, costume and garment.

Language Matters

I frequently use apparel, garments, fashion, and costume based on a mood but the use of these words matters and the context that they are used in.

Let’s start with Fashion (sounds like an innocent term that we all use enough, heck our organization is even named after fashion) the truth of it is, that this term is rooted in racism and elitism. The origin of fashion as we know it began in “Europe as a way for the elite to distinguish themselves from those that were lower than them on the social scale (History of Fashion: A Global Perspective, p.5)” Fashion in 1350 had to meet two requirements to be considered fashion

  1. it had to change and

  2. it had to have distinguished tailoring.

These requirements ensured that fashion from India, Asia, Africa and Central and Southern America were excluded because these cultures focus on changing textiles, colors, tattoos, scarring, hairstyle and piercings as well as the style of the clothing. Additionally, by including that the styles had to be changing is the root of our now bloated fashion industry that is leaving the earth depleted and near uninhabitable.

The early markets of fashion built on excess were developed when only 350 million people were on the planet (about as many as the U.S. now). There were more resources to clothe nobility in excess because most of us were poor. Even with a small class that was able to afford luxurious fashion and have their garments remembered it was still devastating plants and species that were used for their garments, the snail that created Tyrian purple was almost completely extinct because of the overuse by nobility. Then around 1760 the Industrial Revolution began and the rich realized that they could sell their lifestyle to us and we would work and make them even richer by coveting a lifestyle we would never have. Now the items sold are even cheaper, people more enslaved and nobilities teeth in us even tighter.

Fashion was defined to intentionally leave out cultural style from across the world , and knowing this makes the “un-intentional” act of cultural appropriation even more maddening. The lack of education and representation on cultural dress from a global perspective in fashion courses and bachelor’s programs could be a leading reason for its continued reappearance and never ending unapologetic apology from big brands.

In direct relation to fashion is the term Costume which today most of us reserve for when we dress up for a special occasion, but historically, since to be considered fashion had to meet the requirements above, dress outside of Europe was considered costume. Dress of non-elites was considered costume, because of this a lot of fashion history is relegated to costume history and again left out of the curriculum. There are still courses that discuss fashion from around the world, but these are relegated to costume courses, but currently there is a movement to rename these to fashion courses.

When to use apparel and garment?

These terms for fashion are a direct result of the modern fashion industry and fast-fashion production. These are usually being referred to by people in the industry talking about the apparel industry or garment production.

Where do we go from here?

As we work to decouple the relationship between industry and fashion we try to avoid these terms and instead focus on reclaiming fashion, the connection to low-impact fashion and slow fashion cycles.


An exploration in Slow Fashion and ensuring this movement is connected to its indigenous roots.


Fashion History a Global View by Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun