(Very) Brief History of Fashion

A disclaimer: I am no historian, but I will do my best to recap important events that have brought the fashion industry to where it is today in a broad stroke.

Fashion has been a part of human culture for centuries. However, only recently has it adopted the model of fast-fashion and ready-made garments. Linked closely with slavery and the British industrial revolution, the modern model of ready-made garments began around the late 17th century with rudimentary second-hand shops.

Providing more supply to classes who could not afford tailoring their own clothes, these shops also built demand for choice, styles and ease. Much of the industry’s development can be tied to the cotton crop.

From (Linden, 2016)

Coupled with technological advances (cotton gin, power loom, sewing machine, etc.), slavery and increasing demand, the mid-1800s saw a boom in cotton trade, especially from the American south. Over 22% of Britain’s economy was cotton in 1831. Following this closely were factories and machine production in the late 1800s.

King cotton in the American south reduced the price of cotton further. Moving into the 1900s post-Civil War, the United States textile industry continued until World War II without drastic changes. Following the war, large retailers able to mass-produce cheap garments began to take over swaths of the market. Pursuing cost efficiencies, labor moved to regions with looser regulations providing an avenue for retailers to find cheap labor as global market connectivity increased.

Different markets, materials, and talent-sourcing are further reasons for supply chain relocation. Companies traded quality for speed-to-market and volume of trends, resulting in globally separated supply chains. As a consequence of this, we see the dominating fast fashion industry model today.

How do we bridge the gap between quality, cost and sustainable production?


Kang E.J. (2019) Dialectic of Fashion History in Modern Times. In: A Dialectical Journey through Fashion and Philosophy. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-0814-1_7

Linden, Annie Radner, “An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry” (2016). Senior Projects Fall 2016. 30. https://digitalcommons.bard.edu/senproj_f2016/30

McMaster, May et al. “Risk Management: Rethinking Fashion Supply Chain Management For Multinational Corporations In Light Of The COVID-19 Outbreak”. Journal Of Risk And Financial Management, vol 13, no. 8, 2020, p. 173. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/jrfm13080173.

Okonkwo U. (2007) What’s in a name? The history of luxury fashion branding. In: Luxury Fashion Branding. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-230-59088-5_3

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