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Faster Fashion

The Piracy Paradox and Its Perils

Kal Raustiala, Chris Sprigman

The problem is cheap clothes with a short shelf life. It’s called fast fashion. Since World War II, what we wear has grown cheaper and cheaper while coming from further and further away. We ask about the scale of the carbon footprint and social cost, and how TikTok and Instagram have further fed that buying frenzy. The world’s favourite sport is not football. It is shopping.

For more than a century, the American fashion industry has bemoaned the ubiquity and ease with which clothing producers copy one another’s designs. Writing in 1916, one industry observer explained the problem: Despite “the expense of thousands of dollars to create a design intended to appeal to the American customer, copies appeared within forty-eight hours. The only recourse was multiplicity and rapidity of design at such frequent intervals that competitors would lag behind.” Copyists could not be defeated in the marketplace or in court. They could only be outraced.