What Is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends. The collections are often based on styles presented at Fashion Week runway shows or worn by celebrities. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase the hot new look or the next big thing at an affordable price.
Fast fashion became common because of cheaper, speedier manufacturing and shipping methods, an increase in consumers’ appetite for up-to-the-minute styles, and the increase in consumer purchasing power—especially among young people—to indulge these instant gratification desires. Because of all this, fast fashion is challenging the established clothing labels’ tradition of introducing new collections and lines on an orderly, seasonal clickbet88 bola basis. In fact, it’s not uncommon for fast-fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times in one week to stay on trend.
- Fast fashion describes low-priced but stylish clothing that moves quickly from design to retail stores to meet trends, with new collections being introduced continuously.
- Innovations in supply chain management among retailers make fast fashion possible.
- Zara and H&M are two giants in the fast fashion field. Others include UNIQLO, GAP, and Topshop.
- Fast fashion’s benefits are affordable prices and instant gratification for consumers, more profits for companies, and the democratization of stylish clothing.
- On the downside, fast fashion is also associated with pollution, waste, the promulgation of a “disposable” mentality, low wages, and unsafe workplaces.
Understanding Fast Fashion
Shopping for clothing was once considered an event. Consumers would save up to buy new clothes at certain times of the year. The style-conscious would get a preview of the styles to come via fashion shows that displayed new collections and clothing lines several months in advance of their appearance in stores.
But that began to change in the late 1990s, as shopping became a form of entertainment and discretionary spending on clothing increased. Enter fast fashion—cheap, trendy knock-off garments, mass-produced at low cost, that allowed consumers to feel as though they were wearing the same styles that “walked the runway” or were sported by a sexy entertainer.
Fast fashion is made possible by innovations in supply chain management (SCM) among fashion retailers. Its goal is to quickly produce cost-efficient articles of clothing in response to (or anticipation of) fast-shifting consumer demands. The assumption is that consumers want high fashion at a low cost. While the garments are often carelessly made, they’re not intended to be worn for years or even multiple times.
Fast fashion follows the concept of category management, linking the manufacturer with the consumer in a mutually beneficial relationship. The speed at which fast fashion happens requires this kind of collaboration, as the need to refine and accelerate supply chain processes is paramount.
The size of the fast fashion market in 2021. It’s projected to reach $39.84 billion in 2025.1
Fast Fashion Leaders
Major players in the fast-fashion market include Zara, H&M Group, UNIQLO, GAP, Forever 21, Topshop, Esprit, Primark, Fashion Nova, and New Look. Many companies are both retailers and manufacturers, though they often outsource the actual production of clothing.
In addition, traditional mass-market department stores such as Macy’s, JCPenney, and Kohl’s in the U.S. have all taken a page from the fast-fashion book. For their in-house and proprietary brands, they’ve shortened design and production times to better compete in the market.
Here’s a closer look at some of the leaders in fast fashion.
Spanish retail chain Zara, the flagship brand of textile giant Inditex, is all but synonymous with fast fashion, serving as an exemplar of how to cut the time between design, production, and delivery. Zara’s designers can sketch a garment—the company sells men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing—and have the finished piece appear on store racks in as little as four weeks. It can modify existing items in as little as two weeks.
Its secret to this rapid turnover is its ownership of a relatively short supply chain. Over half its factories are closely located to its corporate headquarters in A Coruña, Spain—including countries like Portugal, Turkey, and Morocco.
Its fast turnaround time aids another key Zara strategy: to stuff the stores with more goods, offering the consumer an unparalleled amount of choice. It produces 11,000-plus pieces annually, vs. an industry average of 2,000 to 4,000 pieces.2
Zara’s annual net sales (including those of Zara Home) were €19.6 billion in 2021.3 As of mid-2022, it has 1,947 stores across the globe, as well as a strong online operation.4
Founded in 1947, Sweden-based H&M Group (short for Hennes & Mauritz ) is one of the oldest fast-fashion companies. As of 2022, H&M Group operates in 74 countries with over 4,000 stores under its various brands, which, along with H&M, include the slightly more upscale COS and the youth-oriented Monki.5
H&M Group functions like a department store, selling not only clothing for men, women, and children but also cosmetics and home furnishings. It is more strictly a retailer: It does not own any factories but instead relies on about 600 independent suppliers for its garments. However, these suppliers are overseen by 16 H&M production offices, using state-of-the-art IT systems to track inventory and communicate with corporate HQ. The factories are based all around Europe, Asia, and Africa.6
Part of H&M’s strategy has also been not to offer just knockoffs but original creations via its much-ballyhooed designer collaborations with elite labels like Alexander Wang and Giambattista Vali. In early 2021, for example, it launched a collection designed by Simone Rocha.
H&M’s annual net sales in 2021 came to SEK 199 billion (about $18.9 billion).7
The traditional clothing-industry model operates seasonally, with the fall fashion week displaying styles for the upcoming spring/summer and the spring fashion week showcasing looks for the following fall/winter. There are also often pre-fall and pre-spring or resort collections too. In contrast to these four seasons, fast-fashion labels produce about 52 “micro-seasons” a year—or one new “collection” a week of clothes meant to be worn immediately instead of months later.8
Advantages and Disadvantages of Fast Fashion
The Advantages of Fast Fashion
- Profitable for manufacturers and retailers: The constant introduction of new products encourages customers to frequent stores more often, which means they end up making more purchases. The retailer does not replenish its stock—instead, it replaces items that sell out with new items. Accordingly, consumers know to purchase an item they like when they see it, no matter the price because it’s not likely to be available for long. And because the clothing is cheap (and cheaply made), it’s easy to get people back into stores or online to make fresh purchases.
- Quick to consumers: As for advantages for the consumer, fast fashion has enabled people to get the clothes they want when they want them. Also, it’s made clothing more affordable—and not just any clothing, but innovative, imaginative, stylish clothing.
- Makes clothes affordable: Even those of modest means can constantly buy smart new clothes, indulge in fun or impractical items, and wear something different every day.
- Democratizes fashion: No longer is the latest look, being “well-dressed,” or having a large wardrobe the province of the rich and famous. Everyone can look good.
The Disadvantages of Fast Fashion
- Cheap materials and poor workmanship: Because the clothing is made overseas, fast fashion is also seen as contributing to a decline in the U.S. garment industry, where labor laws and workplace regulations are stronger, and wages are better. If a consumer buys multiple fast fashion garments, cheap as they are, it eventually costs them more than buying a few pricier ones that last longer.
- Encourages a “throw-away” consumer mentality: That’s why it’s also called disposable fashion. Many fast fashionistas in their teens and early twenties—the age group the industry targets—admit they only wear their purchases once or twice.9
- Bad for the environment: Critics contend that fast fashion contributes to pollution, waste, and planned obsolescence due to its cheap materials and manufacturing methods. The poorly made garments don’t age well, but they can’t be recycled because they’re predominantly (over 60%) made of synthetics. So when they’re discarded, they mold in landfills for years.10
- Associated with exploitative, abusive labor practices: Manufacturers are generally based in developing countries—and some have been none too stringent in overseeing their subcontractors nor transparent about their supply chain. That’s led to critics charging that fast fashion is built on bad working conditions, poor pay, and other abusive, exploitative practices.
- Intellectual property theft: Some designers allege that their designs have been illegally duplicated and mass-produced by fast fashion companies.