The Fast Fall of Fast Fashion

Reflections on the docuseries: “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,”
and the man who coined the concept of “fast fashion”

by Natalie Bencivenga


September 8, 2022

Les Wexner wasn’t a name I was familiar with until very recently (thank you, Hulu). I watched the docuseries: “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” which focused on the rise and fall of the iconic lingerie brand. What struck me as most disturbing was the story behind the story involving billionaire CEO, Les Wexner. It was this man who coined the concept of “fast fashion.” He was one of the very first to start moving fashion productions overseas in the 1980s, creating a continual stream of new, cheaply made clothing by underpaid and undervalued people while exploiting child labor. It got me wondering … if it weren't for the ‘80s “greed is good” mentality, would we still be in this position, staring down the barrel of an impending climate crisis? 

And sure, some people could say, “Well, we can’t go back,” but I believe that if we don’t learn from our past we are doomed to repeat it. Did you know that in 1960, people bought 25 pieces of clothing a year, and 95% of those garments were made in the USA? They also spent more on their items, with 10% of the average American household income going to clothes. This all changed in the 1970s and ‘80s with the rise of industrial fashion and while we purchase upwards of 70 clothing items per year, we spend just 3.5% of our annual income on those items. Fast fashion may be cheap up front, but the long-term impacts are expensive to both our health and the health of the planet. 

While many brands are starting to ‘think’ about their carbon footprint and their global impact, things aren’t improving fast enough. Fast fashion is responsible for 17 million tons of garment waste per year, massive amounts of CO2 pollution and marine pollution, in part due to synthetic fabrics that slough off microplastics into our water, food, and air. Factor in the human rights violations perpetrated by the industry and it is no wonder people want change – and fast. 

But what does that change look like? I’ve written various articles on slow fashion, sustainable fashion choices, and how the individual can make an impact. While all of those things are well and good, it is important to recognize our collective power. Use your wallet to determine which retailers you support, and also use your voice and your vote to help make larger sweeping changes at a policy level. Yes, fashion is and always has been political, but now more than ever, voting for those in support of cleaner, greener initiatives may be the very thing that saves us from ourselves.


Natalie Bencivenga is a regular columnist with The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter