The concept of “fast fashion” is buzzing throughout the fashion industry. Retailers are changing their business models to take part in it, and consumers are breaking their loyalties to companies who don’t carry it. It’s undeniable that the speed to market approach results in retailers enjoying a higher profit margin because of the simple fact that they are capitalizing on fashion that their competitors either don’t carry or don’t have in stores yet. Fast Fashion is a topic that will continue to define the Fashion Industry over the next decade because it’s span spreads over a variety of areas within the fashion industry and will have a direct effect on the way consumer’s shop and react to trends in the future.
Although it’s a relatively new concept for many consumers, Fast Fashion has been around for years. In 1999 American Vogue Editor Anna Wintour sent a personal letter to all major international designers notifying them that photographs taken at their recent runway shows would be appearing on Style.com. This move was seen as a “demystification” of the fashion process and the catwalk then became a public arena. The Internet began to make it possible for the average consumer to gain access to runway shows that had previously been conducted behind closed doors. In the words of David Wolfe, one of the leading trend correspondents at The Donegar Group in New York, “The hunger for “instant gratification” on the part of some fashion-aware consumers led companies such as Zara and H&M to steamline their methods of production to rush copies and interpretations of runway items into their store faster than ever before”.
This meant that instead of waiting 4-6 months from concept to delivery, companies like H&M were able to rapidly react to runway trends and put new product into stores within 2-3 weeks.
It’s undeniable that fashion trends are peaking faster than ever before. The rise and fall of fashion trends comes and goes in the blink of an eye and even consumers attempting to keep up have a hard time keeping pace. Marketing firms depend on selling consumers on the idea of ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ via Limited Edition Collections and low quantity production runs of special items that encourage them to visit the stores more frequently. Fast Fashion creates excitement in a store and it separates one storefront from another as consumers stroll down the mall. Under the “fast fashion” model, product life cycles are much shorter, meaning that customers see a constant turnover of a store's clothing assortment. Retailers who carry fast fashion collect higher margin profits from the sale of their fast fashion merchandise because they are able to sell through it so rapidly that it skips the entire markdown process altogether. After the merchandise sells through the company then has more money to do it all over again. They key for retailers is the “speed to market” approach that comes through vertical integration throughout the supply chain in order to achieve greater flexibility to market changes. Companies are also addressing the speed to market approach by setting up design offices and distribution centers in the countries they are producing in. Developing counties like Bangladesh depend on the fast fashion business model to survive. In fact, nearly 80% of Bangladesh's foreign earnings are derived from the garment industry. Although it could be said that companies take advantage of cheap labor and production costs in countries like Bangladesh, it should also be said that the citizens of Bangladesh benefit from fast fashion by having stable employment through the creation of jobs in the industry.
Fast Fashion has been a great way for retailers to keep pace with their customers need for rapid self-editing. Consumers have always showcased their social commentary through their choice of personal dress by making style statements with pop culture t-shirts, fashion forward accessories or even a head to toe “look” styled after their favorite celebrity. Annamma Joy, a Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Institute of Textile and Clothing thinks that fast fashion sufficiently caters to the needs of postmodern consumers. “Fast fashion allows personal editing of not just the wardrobe but also personality,” says Joy, “In the US for example, consumers have “closet consultants” who help them throw away clothes that no longer reflect their lives”. Fast Fashion provides consumers with the freedom to be themselves through instant style editing while allowing businesses to cash in on the transformation.
The “speed to market” approach in the Fashion Industry doesn’t come without red flags from Environmentalists who can easily identify the concerns and issues regarding the sustainability of the fast fashion movement. Fast fashion is regarded by conservative consumers as “wasteful’ because rather than buying one high quality item to satisfy a wardrobe need, consumers are buying multiples that are lower quality and then throwing out old items just as quickly as they are bringing in new ones. In fact, many Consumers report that the fast fashion apparel they are purchasing is actually cheaper to buy than to wash because they would rather dry clean it than risk putting it through their own washing machines and compromising the garment integrity. This trend is a sharp contrast to the rest of the pop culture trends that exist today including the Green Movement and the concept of Sustainability.
Fast Fashion just might be one of the only things in the Fashion Industry that is here to stay. Consumers love instant gratification and companies will go to great lengths to provide it. Meanwhile, the Internet will continue to drive the fast fashion trend and solicit consumer interest in fashion hot off the runway, while the excitement of fresh new fashion will be a focal point in storefronts as they attempt to differentiate themselves from their competition. Fashion will continue to follow the evolution of consumers who are constantly changing, growing and editing not only their values and personalities but also their wardrobes.