The last few years have witnessed significant changes in the fashion industry. Powered by digital disruption, we’ve seen how augmented reality, second screening and personalisation have created powerful ripples that have changed the sector almost beyond recognition. However, nothing has been more powerful than the rise of fast fashion. In this article, we look at what fast fashion is and how it’s changed the fashion retail sector forever – both online and on the high street.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast Fashion refers to the trend of catwalk styles moving to the high street at incredibly fast speeds. These garments are produced and sold cheaply, and they’re only in stores for a short period of time – the old trend being removed so it can make way for the new trend. The process began in the 1990s, but it’s been accelerated by the rise of the internet, which has made the latest trends available to us at the swipe of a touchscreen or click of a mouse.
Fast Fashion has attracted plenty of criticism, but its convenience for the consumer has resulted in increased revenue for brands. Focusing on Zara, Forbes notes: “There are fewer markdowns in Zara stores since the merchandise arrives “just in time” with a speed that creates demand and assures quick turnover. The company will not replenish, but rather replaces sold out styles with new looks. The consumer knows to purchase an item they like as soon as they see it because they will not see it again. This approach means Zara’s profits soar due to lower markdowns resulting in strong gross margins.”
How has Fast Fashion Impacted the High Street?
It’s worth looking into Zara in a little more depth because the company acts as a great case study for modern day fashion retail businesses. Despite its relatively limited 67-store UK roster, Zara posted sales of £494.8m (£49.1m pre-tax profits) in 2015 and more recently its parent company, Inditex, reported that full-year net profits had increased by 10%. It’s all down to fast fashion, with Zara bringing in the latest trends quickly, efficiently and to maximum profit.
“The business model [Inditex uses] delivers best practice and competitive advantages at multiple levels,” financial analyst business Liberum is quoted as saying in The Telegraph. “A focus on rapid delivery of current global fashion trends underpins demand so that markdowns are kept to a minimum while central distribution ensures operational control and supports multi-channel expansion.”
Zara’s immense success has meant that fast fashion is now the go-to approach for other high street fashion retailers. The likes of H&M, Uniqlo, Forever 21, Next, New Look and Topshop have all adopted the philosophy in recent years, and found some measure of success too. Indeed, such is the prominence of fast fashion that it’s hard to think of a major high street clothing store that hasn’t adopted it. When we visit a high street shop, it’s our expectation that the shelves will be filled with the very latest trends at affordable prices.
Will Fast Fashion Slow Down?
Fast fashion has reshaped the high street into something more like an online store: speed, convenience and relevance are key. However, one man’s quick and convenient is another’s cheap and nasty, and some are already keen to ring Fast Fashion’s death knell. With borrowing trends on the rise across multiple industries, fashion has followed suit, and the concept of closet sharing has caught on. In many ways, it could be the next phase of fast fashion, allowing people to ensure they’re never seen in the same outfit twice without actually having to pay for a new one. Just find someone to borrow from, choose a garment of theirs you like, and rent it out. Quick, convenient and cheap, it poses a threat to High Street fast fashion in the future.
Of course, the biggest threat is the internet, and a range of fast fashion sites have emerged that are dedicated entirely to speed and convenience. Asos and Boohoo in particular have found success, with both companies boosting their profits significantly. Their entirely digital approach has been cited for this success: customers are able to see an item they like online (via, for example, social media), search for it, and then buy. With the link between a social post and searches becoming even stronger, the significance of digital for fast fashion will only increase. Take a look at the research below…
Missguided is another key online fast fashion retailer, and despite its success, it’s refusing to rest on its laurels. Speaking to The Guardian, founder and CEO Nitin Passi explained that he’s looking to make fast fashion go even faster. “I like to say we’re the quickest,” Passi says. “If [the high street] are fast fashion, we’re rapid fashion. We update our site once a day with new stock, but in my eyes we should be updating it every hour. If a trend comes, we need to have it on our site in under a week.”
Such speed is easier online than on the high street, where outlets aren’t centralised and overheads limit financial resource. What’s more, to be fast, a retailer needs to be agile, and an online retailer is much better placed for that than one on the high street. “It is old rag trade reinvented, and that is in no way pejorative,” says Lorna Hall, head of market intelligence at fashion forecasting service WGSN. “It’s the second and third generation of the rag trade who have really grasped the digital, seen an opportunity and run with it.”
Fast fashion has revolutionised the way High Street clothing companies do business, but despite their success, these businesses can’t rest on their laurels. The continued evolution of digital technologies and eCommerce means that fast fashion is only getting faster, and companies looking to take advantage of the trend need more than just speed – they need agility as well. Those that continue to adapt will continue to succeed; those that don’t will end up on the laundry pile alongside yesterday’s trends.
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