Fast fashion & rapid fashion – at which cost do they come?
While most fast fashion retailers simply copy styles from the runways, Zara takes another step and actually monitors its customers to determine the next clothing line for each store. Due to a centralized system, shop employees collect customer data on shopping behavior and feed it back to the hub in Galicia, Spain. This allows fast adaptation to new trends. Zara does not even need to rely on fabric suppliers as the company produces basic fabric and dyes it in the “trendy” color in-house. More importantly, Zara has perfected the practice of fast distribution. Once clothing items are finished, they are ironed, checked and wrapped, including price tag, and then shipped to its destination. This process from design, manufacture and delivery takes on average 15 days. The inventory optimization system is the pillar of this strength. As inventory often means death, Zara keeps its stocks small, which also increases exclusivity of their products. Customers are more likely to buy an item now due to limited stock and the ever-changing collections in-store.
Those types of fast fashion retailers have mastered the high fashion market. But now, new players have entered this market and they are doing things even faster and cheaper. Misguided is one of them, and as its founder and CEO, Nitin Passi, explains: “I like to say we’re the quickest […]. If [the high street] are fast fashion, we’re rapid fashion.” What they do differently is that they copy the looks of celebrities rather than looking at international runways. Another example is Boohoo.com, whose founders began selling their items to stores, and over time, started to sell directly to the consumer via an online shop, as it was more profitable. New items are usually available within a few days. How are they able to do that? Like many of those rapid fashion companies, they are actually located in the UK where they have been previously involved in the local fabric manufacturing industry. The proximity to the factories enables to create limited amounts of samples that can be extended, if the product “takes off”. Data collection and analysis on online shopping behavior is becoming even more important in this model. Additionally, stock issues are avoided since they are not serving any physical stores. They can replenish without having to ship the merchandise to the next store. Information technology has enabled this development and provided better and faster practices. However, it should not be forgotten, how some abuse these newly gained abilities.
With the trend of fashion going increasingly faster and cheaper, there are many implications, which I personally find rather disturbing. There are environmental factors as most of these garments are made of synthetic fabric, which is not easily recyclable. This model encourages consumers to buy more in quantity, change their wardrobes more often, and wear clothes for a much shorter time. Consequently, there is an intense production of cotton and other fabrics ending up as large amounts of waste (of which some is difficult to dispose sustainably). Moreover, the low prices of the fast or rapid fashion retailers often imply sweatshop practices where workers are treated unethically. And, this is actually destroying more than we are gaining from it.