The undoubted pioneer of the fast fashion concept is Spanish clothing retailer Zara, with its 4,780 stores in 77 countries and a formula for success that relies on the regular creation and rapid replenishment of small batches of new goods.
And it’s a blueprint that has been emulated by numerous other retailers including Mango,H&M, Topshop, Primark and Uniqlo, who have wasted no time in tapping into younger consumers’ ever- shorter attention spans, and lifestyle changes like mobile communications, the internet, and social networks.
The growth of fast retailing “seems to be phenomenal,” Arvind Singhal, CEO of Indian consultancy Technopak told delegates at last week’s IAF World Apparel Convention in Hong Kong. Even during the recession Zara owner Fast Retailing booked revenues up 29% from 2008-09, followed by Primark (up 24%) and H&M (up 19%) – figures that would be “spectacular, even at the best of times.”
However, for Dr Marc Schumacher, director of retail, franchise and international marketing for German casual wear company Tom Tailor, “fast fashion is not to do with cheap products but with market demand.”
He told International Apparel Federation (IAF) delegates: “I believe the core competence of a company is marketing, and fast fashion is a demand from the market. Fast fashion means taking a decision later and responding more quickly.
Threat to quality and creativity
Shorter lead times and more deliveries “are doing a lot of damage to the design profession,” believes Michael Tien, chairman of workwear retailer G2000. “Designers don’t have the time any more to be really creative. Fast fashion needs them to be very quick at ‘adapt, copy and paste,’ not design as an art form. So it’s not good for originality.”
He also agrees that fast fashion is forcing the whole industry to change the way it operates, and that even luxury brands have been forced to follow suit with new ideas and more deliveries.