Fashion History Lesson: The Origins of Fast Fashion

Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Welcome to our new column, Fashion History Lesson, in which we dive deep into the origin and evolution of the fashion industry’s most influential and omnipresent businesses, icons, products and more. 

Love it or hate it, fast fashion has completely changed how consumers make purchases, but have you ever wondered how it all began?

The concept of fast fashion is widely regarded as being a fairly new concept that originated from brands like Zara being able to sell trends at record speed for affordable prices, but “fast fashion” is really just a term given to a constantly evolving production system that has been gaining momentum since the 1800s. Read on to find out more about the good, the bad and the lesser-known parts of fast fashion’s history. 

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The 1800s

Before the 1800s, most people relied on raising sheep to get wool to spin yarn to weave cloth to…. Well, you get the picture. The cycle of fashion finally picked up speed during the Industrial Revolution, which introduced new textile machines, factories and ready-made clothing, or clothing that is made in bulk in a range of sizes rather than being made to order. First patented in 1846, the sewing machine contributed to an extremely rapid fall in the price of clothing and an enormous increase in the scale of clothing manufacturing. [1]

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