Planned Obsolescence in Fashion: Why Your Clothes 'Expire'

Giada Nizzoli

Planned Obsolescence in Fashion: Why Your Clothes 'Expire'

Yes, your clothes have an expiry date! 

Unlike with eggs and yoghurt, you won’t find it written in clear digits, but it’s all due to planned obsolescence in fashion.

More precisely, this is actually what fuels fast fashion as an industry.

What exactly is planned obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence consists of designing, manufacturing, and marketing items so that they’re discarded after a short period of time.

It’s not actually that new a concept. 

It was invented by marketing pioneer Justus George Frederick in 1928, but it’s definitely gotten out of hand over the past couple of decades, especially when it comes to clothing.

Clothes with fast fashion planned obsolescence

2 types of planned obsolescence in fashion

There are two main ways in which this industry has been pushing you to buy clothes you don’t need.

Physical obsolescence

Fast fashion clothes are literally designed to fall apart after a few wearings!

For example, they're usually made with low-quality materials like incredibly thin polyester fabric.  

Psychological obsolescence

This industry relies on ephemeral trends. From marketing to social media influencers promoting hauls, we’re brainwashed into feeling dissatisfied with clothes that are still in perfectly good condition.

To put it into perspective, ultra fast fashion brands upload thousands of new garments every single week. 

The terrible consequences of planned obsolescence in fashion

Young consumer relying on clothes with planned obsolescence

What does fast fashion planned obsolescence lead to?

  • Clothes went from being seen as a durable investment to disposable items. For example, we can still find some impeccable 80s clothes in vintage stores. It used to be normal to pass them down to children or younger siblings. Now? We’re lucky if some of our fast fashion items make it to the following year! Not only that: we’re made to think that fixing them isn’t worth the effort or the cost
  • We’re trapped in an unhealthy cycle of having to buy new clothes regularly to receive a dopamine hit

How to fight fast fashion planned obsolescence 

Example of sustainable clohtes designed without planned obsolescence in fashion

If you just thought ‘enough is enough’, well done, you! 

Here are a few tips to help you ditch this harmful mindset:

  • Stop following brands and influencers that reinforce psychological obsolescence in fashion through hauls or by always showing up with different outfits. Instead, replace them with content creators who promote sustainable fashion choices
  • Start investing in quality over quantity: look for fairtrade brands that produce their clothes ethically and design them so they’ll last you for years. You can find hundreds of them on Project Cece (just use our filters to narrow down your search!)
  • Fall in love with your clothes! Think of them as durable investments, learn to remix them to create different outfits, and stick to your own style instead of following ever-changing trends
  • Take care of your clothes to help them last even longer. If something goes wrong, fix them instead of binning them

Planned obsolescence in fashion keeps us trapped in a vicious cycle that has dreadful consequences for the environment.

Let’s break free from it, and go back to seeing clothes as the durable items they should be!

If you’ve found this helpful, start receiving our tips and inspiration to make even more ethical fashion choices.

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