Transcript: Cara’s history of fast fashion timeline

1690: The pre-industrial thrift shop.

In Britain and North America, the popularisation of ready-made clothing began with ‘slop shops’. These were second-hand clothing stores that supplied ready-to-wear clothes to the lower and working classes who did not have the income to get their garments custom tailored. The word ‘slops’ was originally used to describe the ready-made clothing worn by sailors.


Linden A R (2016) An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry [undergraduate’s dissertation], Bard College, accessed 26 October 2022.


1760 to 1840: The western world has its first industrial revolution.

During this period, the sewing machine was invented, as well as other textile machinery such as the spinning jenny, the power loom, and the flying shuttle. These helped speed up the garment production process and made mass production possible. The rise of factory production and urbanisation modernised clothing manufacturing and created a consumer class to benefit from it. Now, the masses could access good quality clothing at affordable prices.


Linden A R (2016) An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry [undergraduate’s dissertation], Bard College, accessed 26 October 2022.


1936: In the United States, the ‘PBS’ emerges.

By World War II, factories had begun adopting the ‘progressive bundle system’ (PBS). The progressive bundle system is a type of assembly line where each worker is responsible for one part of the process of putting together a garment. The worker would receive a ‘bundle’ of the same garment parts (such as the collar), then pass them along to another worker when they were finished to add the next part. The PBS shifted the production of garments toward large manufacturers, as they could supply large amounts of stock at lower prices.


Linden A R (2016) An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry [undergraduate’s dissertation], Bard College, accessed 26 October 2022.

Stone N I (1938) Productivity of Labor in the Cotton-Garment Industry, Department of Labor, United States Government, accessed 2 November 2022.


1989: The formal birth of outsourcing.

The idea of ‘outsourcing’ was only formally introduced in 1989. This means companies started hiring third parties to create goods that were normally produced within the company by its own staff. Most large American clothing retailers had, by the mid-80s, already been outsourcing manufacturing to developing countries in order to increase profitability. It was the beginning of the supply chain as we know it today. Companies could look to developing countries as a source of cheap labour, tax breaks, and more lenient labour laws and regulations.


Linden A R (2016) An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry [undergraduate’s dissertation], Bard College, accessed 26 October 2022.

Mullin R (1996) ‘Managing the Outsourced Enterprise’, Journal of Business Strategy, 17(4):28-36, doi:10.1108/eb039792


1989: Zara opens its first New York store.

In an article about the opening of the store, a journalist for the New York Times coined the term ‘fast fashion’ to describe Zara’s quick turnover of products. The term was inspired by a quote from Juan Lopez, then the head of Zara’s US operations: “the stock in the store changes every three weeks. The latest trend is what we’re after. It takes 15 days between a new idea and getting it into the stores.”


Schiro AM (31 December 1989) ‘Two New Stores That Cruise Fashion’s Fast Lane’, The New York Times, accessed 25 October 2022, Factiva database.


1994: The emergence of online shopping.

In 1994, the first retail purchase was made on the Internet. Since then, fashion has transitioned onto an online platform, which has allowed fast fashion to flourish. New brands emerged that exist exclusively online, such as Shein and ASOS, and quickly began to dominate the fast fashion industry, and continue to grow in popularity today.


Lewis, P H (12 August 1994) ‘Attention Shoppers: Internet Is Open’, The New York Times, accessed 3 November 2022, Factiva database.

Williams E (2022) ‘Appalling or Advantageous? Exploring the Impacts of Fast Fashion from Environmental, Social, and Economic Perspectives’, Journal for Global Business and Community, 13(1), doi:10.56020/001c.36873


2018: The establishment of the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion.

Made up of several United Nations organisations, the Alliance was established to help promote sustainability in fashion. The Alliance also advocates for the achievement of the UN’s 17 SDGs within a fashion context. Its objectives include promoting active collaboration, sharing knowledge, strengthening the relationship and collaboration between existing initiatives, and achieving outreach and advocacy to promote a sustainable fashion industry.


Meier L (2021) Synthesis Report on United Nations System-wide Initiatives related to Fashion, UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion website, accessed 2 November 2022.


2022: Fashion continues to cruise the fast lane.

Despite a growing awareness of the dangers of fast fashion, it’s still extremely popular. In the US, 88% of customers still prefer fast fashion retailers, and the accessibility of cheap, trendy clothing is hard to resist. Gen Z in particular continue to consume fast fashion – in a survey by Vogue Business of 105 Gen Zs, over half said they bought most of their clothing from fashion e-tailers. Of those e-tailer consumers, half said they would continue to shop at a retailer despite learning allegations of malpractice by the brand’s supplier in Leicester. Fast fashion brands are projected to create a $40 billion global market by 2025.


Knošková L’ and Garasová P (2019) ‘The Economic Impact of Consumer Purchases in Fast Fashion Stores’, Studia commercialia Bratislavensia, 12(41):58-70, doi:10.2478/stcb-2019-0006

Maguire L and Arnett G (10 July 2020) ‘Gen Z still loves fast fashion, but Boohoo investors are spooked’, Vogue Business, accessed 27 October 2022.


Transcript: Cara's history of fast fashion timeline Copyright © 2022 by RMIT University. All Rights Reserved.

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