What: Fast fashion is the manufacturing of designs and trends seen on catwalks at the fastest rate possible so that the mainstream consumer can have access to the latest styles at a lower price. Fast fashion has been compared to fast food, it is easy, cheap and addictive- but not necessarily good for you. Fast fashion is often disposable because of the low quality of the garments and the fast pace change of trends.
Where: Examples of retailers who use this philosophy of providing trends cheaply and as quickly as possible are H&M, Zara and Primark.
How: Zara limits the supply of their clothing to create the illusion in the costumers mind that if she doesn’t purchase the product immediately there won’t be another opportunity. Zara has a very unique supply chain that allows it to design, produce and deliver a garment in as little as 15 days. Zara constantly produces and replaces designs in its stores. If a garment sales are not successful it is pulled from the stores after one week and production is ceased, and replaced by a new garment. This draws costumers to keep coming back to Zara as there is always fresh items on stock and to purchase the product immediately in case it won’t be there in the future. Zara also has design teams that take “inspiration” from catwalks as well as researchers based all over the world observing current styles in the streets, and from the trends research creates “imitations”.
Here is an example of Zara’s Spring/Summer 12 collection that was inspired by Phillip Lim. (Phillip Lim is on the left and Zara’s collection is on the right)
Technically Zara’s approach of imitating fashion is not illegal. As there are enough changes in the designs, they are not made line by line, they are able to keep doing this. Zara has been in a number of law suits but has always been able to pay off the fees as the profits of this strategy outweigh the consequences. Daniel Piette, fashion director of Louis Vuitton, described Zara as “possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world”. Even though their business approach may be legal it is still controversial from an ethical stand point.
Zara is able to focus on speed and scale by cutting out all costs from advertisement. Primark, another fast fashion retailer has the same approach and invests money on store layout and visual merchandising. Research shows that seventy five percent of consumer’s decisions are made in front of the fixture within three seconds. Unlike Zara whose prices are just a touch above average, Primark offers trends at rock bottom prices encouraging mass consumerism.
Because of the low prices, one doesn’t need to consider if these are items one actually needs, it simply won’t have much affect on your bank account. Prices are so low because of the low quality, these products are not intended for long time use, and as such are discarded with no hesitation. The term “Primark Effect” has derived from this concept and means millions of tonnes of clothes are sent to the landfill every year.
As a conclusion how ethical is fast fashion? Fast fashion is not original design and brings up issues of plagiarism. It also has a huge environmental impact from production to when it is discarded. Not to mention one begins to question how these clothes can be produced so cheaply, as many factories use child labour. And what does it say about our society as a whole, being addicted to these retailers?