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The Apparel Industry’s Evolution from Hardwear to Quickwear

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The garment business is one of the oldest and most important in the western world’s economic history. Unidentified bird bones have been discovered as early as 50,000 BC being used as sewing needles. Throughout history, humans have hand-woven various animal and vegetable fibers together to produce distinctive and long-lasting fabrics and clothes.

This concept of leisurely, hand-made fashion persisted until the Industrial Revolution, when the introduction of modern technology resulted in massive shifts in both the manufacturing and quantity of garments. Due to the huge quantity of labor necessary to make textiles and clothes, it was the first industry to be mechanized. 

Clothing manufacturers were able to significantly speed up the manufacturing process with the invention of sewing machines and cotton gins. This allowed fashion manufacturers to simplify patterns, improve price, and increase the frequency of design changes, resulting in mass production of apparel. Rather than serving a practical purpose, fashion has evolved into a commodity of self-expression.

As a result, in the late 1990s, “Fast Fashion” became the high-street norm when brands like Zara and H&M began making inexpensive replicas of outfits and trends seen on catwalks across the world and selling them in large quantities within a two-week turnaround.

The industry grew, and technology advanced to allow customers to order from their favorite brands with a single click from the comfort of their own homes. When internet shopping became popular, it changed people’s buying habits and consumption patterns, making fashion more accessible to everyone.

Despite a total population of 7.5 billion people, over 150 billion garments are created each year. Zara, a division of the Spanish conglomerate Inditex, generates roughly 65,000 designs per year. An average apparel manufacturer creates up to 5,000 items. While the Fast Fashion movement has definitely catered to people from all walks of life, the supply chain models that support the firms tell a different picture. 

Damages to the Environment

The garment business has become one of the most environmentally harmful industries with the introduction of Fast Fashion. According to Earth.org, it accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions each year, which is five times that of the aerospace industry. Textile production is expected to be responsible for 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s paper ‘A New Textiles Economy’ (2017). 


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