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Evaluating Fast Fashion: Examining its Micro and the Macro Perspective
Authors: Shipra Gupta and James W. Gentry
Author Affiliations:
Shipra Gupta
Assistant Professor, University of Illinois Springfield, One University Plaza Springfield, Illinois
62703-5407, U.S., +1 (217) 206-7926, shipra.gupta@uis.edu. Dr. Gupta received her PhD from
University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her research interests include consumer behavior, retailing,
gender issues, and sustainability.
James Gentry
Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, CBA 322, P.O. Box 880492, Lincoln, Nebraska
68588-0492, U.S., +1 (402) 472-3278, jgentry@unl.edu. Dr. Gentry received his doctorate from
Indiana University, and his research interests include aging, family decision processes, and
gender issues.
Abstract - Fast fashion is a retail strategy where retailers adopt marketing approaches to respond
to the latest fashion trends by frequently updating products with short renewal cycles and turning
the inventory at a rapid rate. Along with short renewal cycles, fast fashion retailers stock limited
quantities of products per style and deliberately manipulate merchandise on the retail floor. They
are also known to adopt shorter, more flexible supply chains such as quick response, just-in-time,
and agile supply chains. Fast fashion retailers like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 in recent years have
taken the fashion industry by storm. This chapter provides an overview of the fast fashion industry,
examining both the micro and macro perspective of this fast rising phenomenon. At the micro
level, the chapter examines fast fashion and its effect on consumer, supply chain, and retail
environment. At a macro level, the chapter examines the influence of the throwaway culture on
environment and society as a whole.
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1. Introduction The Rise of Fast Fashion
Historically, the typical life cycle for a fashion brand has consisted of four stages including
introduction and adoption of style by fashion leaders, growth and increased public acceptance,
mass conformity, and finally the decline and obsolescence of the fashion. The fashion forecast
during this time was primarily dominated by fashion shows and trade shows. Traditional apparel
retailers used their capability to forecast consumer demand and fashion trends long before the
actual time of consumption (Bhardwaj and Fairhurst, 2010). In order to compete, fashion retailers
relied heavily on future trends instead of using real-time data to assess the needs and wants of the
consumers. Towards the end of the 1980s, the fashion industry became dominated by several large
retailers, intensifying market competition (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood, 2006). In order to survive,
fashion retailers changed from product-driven to buyer-driven distribution channels, developed
alliances with suppliers from different countries and placed greater emphasis on brand
management. The product driven strategies emphasized on forecast driven supply chains (i.e.,
relying on forecasted future trends instead of using real-time data to access consumers’ needs and
wants ) and low cost mass production of standardized styles that did not change frequently due to
design restrictions of the factories. Product driven strategies, prevalent until 1980’s, focused more
on consumer demands that were less sensitive toward style and fashion, and focused more on basic
apparel, for example, Levis 501 jeans and man’s white shirt.
On the other hand, buyer driven strategies focused more on satisfying consumers’ demand
for fashion clothing due to changing lifestyles. Started in 1990s, buyer driven strategies were
driven by outsourced manufacturing. Retailers following this strategy were focused on expanding
product ranges with updated products and faster responsiveness to the ‘newness’ of the fashion
trends. They tend to provide ‘refreshing’ products instead of only cost efficiencies for
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manufacturing. These strategic changes led to a rise in outsourced manufacturing, resulting in low
labor costs and other substantial cost savings. However, this model of product development was
protracted; it was typically 18 months before a product was actually sold on the retail floor
(Jackson, 2001). By this time, the fashion itself was waning. Outsourcing complicated supply chain
management due to challenges produced by geographic dispersion of supply chain partners,
inconsistency in delivery times, ineffective communication, forced mark downs, and decreased
profitability. For example, Marks & Spencer in 1998/1999 predicted grey as the color of the season
one full year in advance and, upon product failure, was not in the position to replace its stock with
alternatives, thus leading to major losses for the company due to the excess inventory that could
not be moved (Harle et al., 2002; BBC, 2008).
The fashion apparel industry evolved significantly in the late 1990’s. Industry expansion
and intense competition led to a decline in mass production, an increase in the number of fashion
seasons, and modified structural characteristics in the supply chain. Further, fashion shows and
catwalks became a public phenomenon, resulting in greater fashion awareness among consumers.
As fashion-conscious consumers were exposed to exclusive designs and styles inspired from
runways, they became far more fashion-savvy and demanding (Sydney, 2008). Socio-cultural
factors also created a faster pace of living. Consumer needs and wants were changing at a much
more rapid pace as women revised their wardrobes more often than in the past. Popular culture
also played an important role in shaping fashion trends and the rise of fast-fashion. Just as music,
film, television and other media were exerting greater influence on consumers, fashion trends were
also affected. The fashion industry was impacted by cultural expression on the street, in clubs, and
in other popular social settings. These socio-cultural phenomena led to the rise of fast fashion
where some high fashion retailers compressed their lead times to satisfy market demand by having
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the right product in the right place at the right time. Fast fashion is a retail strategy where retailers
adopt marketing approaches to respond to the latest fashion trends by frequently updating products
with short renewal cycles and turning the inventory at a rapid rate. Along with short renewal cycles,
fast fashion retailers stock limited quantities of products per style and deliberately manipulate
merchandise on the retail floor. They are also known to adopt shorter, more flexible supply chains
such as quick response, just-in-time, and agile supply chains.
Fast fashion originated in the United Kingdom. UK retailers such as New Look and George
were facing severe challenges by outsourcing of merchandise from the Far East (Hines and Bruce,
2001). The challenges faced by these retailers forced them to introduce practices such as just-in-
time (JIT), computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), and total quality management (TQM) in
manufacturing as well as placing more emphasis on shorter merchandise lines and quick response
in the market (Bruce et al., 2004). These changes led to increased success for these retailers and
the rise of the fast fashion industry. Today, successful fast fashion retailers like Zara, H&M, and
Forever 21 have taken the fashion industry by storm. In 2012, Zara, a Spanish-based fashion
retailer, sales increased by 18 percent. Some of the milestones of Zara’s growing empire include
1925 retail venues in 86 markets, online operations in 21 countries which included the launch of
an e-commerce platform across high-potential markets such as China, Russia, and Canada (Joy et
al., 2012). Table 1 compares some key characteristics of fast fashion that have made these brands
successful and further compares them to the characteristics of a conventional retailer.
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Table 1. Characteristics of Fast Fashion Retailer vs. Conventional Retailer
Fast Fashion
Conventional
Develop designs in-house
Develop a mix of designer and in-house
brands
Most manufacturers own products
Most manufacturers outsource
manufacturing
Centralized distribution
Regional distribution
Coordinate shipping 24-48 hours
Longer lead times
Small batch production
Large batch production
New products twice per week
6 collections per year
Vary prices by location by country
Standardized pricing
Communication upward from stores = Pull
System
Communication from corporate = Push
System
Avoid markdowns on leftovers
Heavy markdowns throughout season, with
40-50% off
Maintain high profit margins
Lower profit margins than anticipated
Customer identifies brand with store
Just one of many brands
Very little advertising
Heavy advertising
Few or no sales on internet
Heavy use of internet for sales
Source: Mihm (2010)
2. Overview of fast fashion industry- The micro perspective
Fast fashion is often referred to as “McFashion,” because of the speed with which
gratification is provided. With fast fashion, new styles swiftly supersede the old, thus constantly
defining the desires and notions of self. Consumers come browsing the fast fashion stores almost
every week looking for new styles. “Multiple selves in evolution” is central to the young
generation which these fast fashion brands are able to satisfy very successfully. Fast fashion
consumers are typically between 15 and 29 years of age. These young consumers have
significant disposable income (or, alternatively, the availability of credit) that allows them to buy
fast fashion frequently. Fast-fashion marketers target this segment by offering the latest designs
and the immediate gratification of the continually evolving temporary identities (Bauman, 2005;
Martin and Bush, 2000). Temporary identity is a postmodern phenomenon where the individual
cannot keep his/her identity’s shape or stay on course for long. The identity keeps changing with
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the fast paced lifestyle. In the context of fashion, with new styles superseding the old ones, there
is a constant change in one’s notion of self thus leading to a temporary identity.
2.1. Fast fashion and the supply chain
Fast fashion retailers reproduce designs from catwalk to stores in the short run to capture
current trends in the market. Unlike conventional brands, they are extremely malleable. For
example, fast fashion brands often dye their garments after they are constructed thus allowing
them to produce the bestselling colors quickly as compared to their conventional competitors.
These retailers are often associated with disposable fashion because they are able to deliver
designer products to a mass market at a relatively low price, though the garments often do not
survive more than a limited number of wearings. One of the important characteristics of these
fast-fashion retailers is that they are known to adopt an agile supply chain (Christopher et al.,
2004) to their business model that enhance their responsiveness to changing market trends.
While traditional fashion buyers utilized a fixed calendar of trade fairs, fashion shows,
fabric and other events, organized around a two-season approach, the agile supply chain as
adopted by fast fashion retailers allows for as many as 20 seasons per year. Fast fashion,
accordingly, can respond very quickly to emerging trends and changing demands of fashion
consumers. Agile supply chains, unlike conventional supply chains, are shorter and demand-
driven. Further, agile supply chains are information-based, as opposed to inventory-based
(Christopher, 2000). These key distinctions of an agile supply chain help fast fashion retailers to
compete successfully in a fashion market which is considered very volatile and difficult to
predict. Agile supply chain is also known to have the following characteristics (Harrison et al.,
1999):
market sensitive closely connected to end-user trends
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virtual reliant upon shared information across all supply chain partners
network-based gaining flexibility through utilization of the strengths of specialist
players
process aligned possessing a high degree of process interconnectivity between the
network members
2.2. Fast fashion and the retail environment
The retail environment encompasses a number of physical elements - fascia, overall store
design, window display, layout, fixtures and fittings, decorations, and signage - that encompass
both tangible and intangible attributes (McGoldrick, 2002; Varley and Raffiq, 2004). All these
attributes contribute to the overall in-store communication of the product or the retailer in the
process of enhancing consumer intentions to purchase. Fast-fashion has given a huge importance
to agile supply chains; however, their retail environment as noted by both researchers and
industry experts is still considered unresponsive and inflexible. On average, new merchandise is
delivered two to three times every week at fast fashion retail stores. Due to the high frequency of
deliveries and the volume of merchandise, store managers find it challenging to get the new fast
fashion merchandise onto the shop floor. Sales staff often have poor knowledge of the featured
garments and are puzzled when consumers come asking for styles that they have seen on TV or
magazine.
Further, window displays fail to reflect the fast fashion concept. Most fast fashion
retailers have a centralized structure which means there is little flexibility for stores to react to
the local changes in the consumer demand driven by fast fashion (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood,
2010). Window displays are considered a key mode of communicating fashion message to target
consumers and an initial point of contact; however, the constraints of a centralized structure
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hinder efficient communication of the fast fashion concept to the consumer. Window displays of
prominent fast fashion brands fail to be as responsive to local consumer demands as their supply
chains. Most stores simply do not have enough resources to update the window displays and
hence are unable to cope up with the unpredictable nature of fast fashion and tend to rely more
on the planned core fashion stories when displaying their windows. Thus, window displays and
store communications may fail to keep the same pace with which fast fashion is developed and
delivered.
However, irrespective of the different challenges faced by fast fashion brands on the
retail floor, they are quite successful in communicating a sense of urgency to their consumers
through signage and displays (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood, 2010). Signage like “get it before it
goes,” “featured in Grazia, or “as seen in Glamour” support the fast fashion concept and aids
the consumer in buying into the look by making it more accessible. Moreover, fast fashion stores
are known to create a sense of scarcity through their displays. There is a sense of tantalizing
exclusivity, since only a few items are on display even though stores are spacious (for example,
the average size of Zara store is 1000 square meters). Thus, in a typical fast fashion store,
customers can always find new products but they are available only in limited quantity and for
a limited time. A customer thinks, “this green shirt fits me but there is only one on the rack. If I
don’t buy it now, someone else will, and I will lose my chance” thus creating a notion of “buy it
today else it will be gone tomorrow.” By strategically using signage and displays, fast fashion
retailers are able to create a sense of urgency, immediacy, and exclusivity all representative of
the fast fashion concept.
3. Overview of the fast fashion industry - The macro perspective
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Fast fashion retailers, by introducing new merchandise almost weekly and deliberately
manipulating the supply of merchandise, treat fashion like food that spoils quickly or as has been
said in the popular press, “fast fashion retailers treat fashion as produce.” The relatively low
prices and the manipulated scarcity of items make these “must have” goods among young,
predominantly female consumers, despite the fact that fast fashion garments are expected to be
worn fewer than ten times (Birtwhistle and Moore, 2007). Any industry based on a throwaway
culture is bound to generate environmental and social concerns. For example, fast fashion
develops synthetic fibers which use hazardous chemicals that endanger both employees and the
environment. Further, fast fashion brands like Forever 21 are known to pay workers less than
minimum wage, with no benefits or overtime pay in its Los Angeles factory, where it produces
40% of its merchandise (Lynch, 2009). The below sections highlight how production,
maintenance, and disposal of fast fashion have created environmental and social concerns.
3.1. Production
Textile production requires high resource levels. For example, cotton, found in most
clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world, using approximately 25% of the
world’s insecticides. The five percent of cotton-bearing land in India uses 55% of all pesticides
in India. The average cotton t-shirt requires 1/3 pound of pesticide (Kennedy, 2016).
Problems associated with textile production have been noted for some time. For example,
water usage by the textile mills industry in the US is estimated to have been about 135 billion
gallons (O Ecotextiles, 2010). While this was only about 1% of industrial water usage at the
time, most of it occurred in four states in the Southeast where the textile industry was
concentrated. Given the decline in the US textile industry and improved efficiency in water use
(for example, Australia, which has the most efficient cotton industry in the world, has doubled its
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water efficiency usage in the last 25 years), it can be expected that textile-related water usage in
the US has decreased over the period of time. However, water usage by the textile industry has
no doubt increased in the developing world. For example, textile factories in in the developing
world use 1.5 billion cubic meters of fresh water each year (Pensupa et al., 2017).
Synthetic fibers are developed within factories and do not require water to grow the
textile, but the production processes endanger workers and the environment through the use of
hazardous chemicals (Lynch, 2009). All textiles create environmental issues during their
production process, but the issues are exacerbated when synthetic fibers are involved. Almost all
dyes, specialty chemicals, and finishing chemicals are applied to textiles in water baths. The
various fabric preparation processes (desizing, scouring, bleaching, and mercerizing) use water
and most processes are followed by a thorough washing to remove the chemicals before the next
step. Eventually the water used is returned to the ecosystem, usually without any attempt to
remove the chemicals used the milling processes. Groundwater is polluted and the health of
those who use water downstream are put at increased risk due to the dyestuff, solubalisers and
dispersants, leveling agents, soaping and dyeing agents, finishing chemicals, cationic and
nonionic softeners, and a few other assorted chemicals in the effluent (O Ecotextiles, 2010).
3.2. Maintenance
Clothes once bought, need also to be maintained; for example, they require dry cleaning
or tumble drying. Dry cleaning involves the use of the toxic chemical known as perc, which has
been linked to reproductive problems, including miscarriage and male infertility, as well as
disorders of the central nervous system (MacEachern, 2008, pp. 241). Tumble drying of clothing
accounts for 60% of the use phase energy. It is estimated (Fletcher, 2008, pp. 81) that eliminating
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tumble drying and ironing, in combination with a lower washing temperature, would lead to
about a 50% energy reduction related to the product.
3.3. Disposal
The US is a throw-away society, and much of what is disposed of is clothing. The
planned obsolescence nature of fast fashion further encourages this throw-away culture. Hawley
(2006) reported that Americans discard an estimated 68 pounds of clothing a year, with about 1/7
of that being recycled or reused. Most textiles ending up in landfills could have been recycled.
Recycling means that the clothing will receive increased use, and will not do damage while
underground. However, fast fashion mostly uses synthetic materials that do not decompose.
Also, clothes made from natural materials like wool decompose but produce methane, thus
contributing to the global warming.
Many consumers also give their clothing to charity stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army,
and Oxfam. These stores are able to sort the donations and sell about half of the items they
receive at their recycling sites, with the remainder sold to textile dealers and brokers (rag dealers)
after baling it. The global recycling industry consists of approximately 3000 businesses that are
able to divert over 1.25 million tons of post-consumer textile waste annually (Kennedy, 2016).
Sorted garments are compressed into bales of 50 kg, whereas unsorted secondhand clothes can
be compressed into bales of 500 to 1000 kg. The better graded used clothing is exported to
Central America and the lower graded clothing is shipped to Africa and Asia. On the other hand,
most of the recycled clothing from Europe goes to Russia or Eastern Europe. The world’s largest
importers of used clothing are sub-Saharan countries, receiving over 25% of global secondhand
exports. And the volume consists disproportionately of used women’s clothing (at least seven
times of that of men’s). Thus, in street markets in Tanzania, men’s clothing costs four to five
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times as much as women’s. A possible byproduct of these imported cheap clothes is the harm
being done to emerging textile industries in developing countries from the cheap competition.
Recognizing the importance of reducing the volume of textile waste sent to landfills,
many brands including fast fashion brands have created different programs to raise awareness of
textile recycling. For example, Marks & Spencer created a partnership with Oxfam, where for
every bag of unwanted Marks & Spencer clothing donated to charity, the consumer receives a
£ 5 voucher redeemable against purchases at Marks & Spencer over £ 35 (Marks and Spencer,
2008). Fast fashion brands are also creating public awareness about textile/clothing recovery.
For example, H&M has started a famous awareness campaign “garment collecting program,
where they ask consumers to bring their old clothing to the local H&M stores which can be
further used for various purposes. Some of the purposes include reselling, cleaning rags for the
oil or manufacturing companies, selling to ‘flocking’ firms, where items are shredded for fillers
in car insulation, roofing felts, and furniture padding or converting materials like linen, cotton,
and viscose into paper pulps. Besides constructive actions taken by brands, these issues have
become an important focus for governments worldwide. For example, in the UK the government
has implemented effective regional waste strategies. Traditionally, the UK relied on landfills for
waste disposal, which created various environmental concerns. As a result, a Landfill Tax was
legislated (Keynote, 2007). The government has also started various programs to educate
consumers how to minimize their household waste (Waste Aware Scotland, 2007).
These practices have been successful in not only creating mass awareness but also in
facilitating efficient waste management. Consumers are becoming well aware of the various
unethical issues associated with fast fashion brands (Ertekin and Atik, 2015). They have started
demanding more information about sourcing and manufacturing, thus making fast fashion
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companies’ conscious of their unethical behaviors. Due to these awareness campaigns, some
consumers are focusing more on quality and wearing styles rather than purchasing low quality
current fashions every week. ‘Slow fashion’ instead of fast fashion is becoming the new concept
where consumers focus on buying high quality styles that can be worn over various seasons.
Given the ubiquitous desire for an attractive appearance, the aesthetics and cheap prices
offered by the fast fashion industry may keep the industry viable despite its associated serious
environmental and social concerns. This chapter intends to provide an understanding of the fast
fashion industry by examining both the micro and the macro perspectives. At a micro level, fast
fashion by introducing new merchandise almost weekly give consumers freedom to express
themselves. However, when examining fast fashion at the macro level, both industry and
consumers need to understand that if fashion consumption keeps increasing, the impacts on the
social and ecological environments will pose a threat to the quality of life of future generations.
Thus, for fast fashion to succeed in the long term, there is a necessity to develop and market
sustainable alternatives.
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... This shows on various aspects of life, such as the economic, environmental, and psychological aspect. From an economic and environmental aspect perspective, a fast-paced lifestyle can result in consumerism behavior [3], which can cause the accumulation of waste from disposable items that may eventually pollute the environment. From a human psychological perspective, a fast-paced lifestyle that is carried out for a long time can trigger chronic stress [2]. ...
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The phrase “fast fashion” refers to low-cost clothing collections that mimic current luxury fashion trends. Fast fashion helps sate deeply held desires among young consumers in the industrialized world for luxury fashion, even as it embodies unsustainability. Trends run their course with lightning speed, with today’s latest styles swiftly trumping yesterday’s, which have already been consigned to the trash bin. This article addresses the inherent dissonance among fast fashion consumers, who often share a concern for environmental issues even as they indulge in consumer patterns antithetical to ecological best practices. Seemingly adept at compartmentalism, and free of conflicted guilt, such consumers see no contradiction in their Janus-faced desires. Can luxury fashion, with ostensibly an emphasis on authenticity, and its concomitant respect for artisans and the environment, foster values of both quality and sustainability? Since individual identity continually evolves, and requires a materially referential re-imagining of self to do so, we hypothesize that actual rather than faux luxury brands can, ironically, unite the ideals of fashion with those of environmental sustainability.
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The following research offers a theoretical model for understanding sourcing decisions made by apparel retailers. The concept of fast fashion is explored by applying the model to Zara and Kohl's. Factors influencing sourcing decisions are noted, and financial results of the retailers are compared. Finally, ideas for future research using the model are offered.
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The textiles and apparel industry has been neglected in terms of supply chain management research. Recently, the industry has undergone a great deal of change, particularly with global sourcing and high levels of price competition. In addition, textiles and clothing has market characteristics, such as short product lifecycle, high volatility, low predictability, and a high level of impulse purchase, making such issues as quick response of paramount importance. This article discusses characteristics of the textiles and apparel industry and identifies the perspectives of lean, agile and leagility (a combination of these) within existing supply chain literature, which have been proffered as solutions to achieving quick response and reduced lead times. Through case studies of textile and apparel companies, different approaches to supply chain management are illustrated.
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Recycling textiles is a process that affects many entities. It avoids the punitive costs of landfill, provides employment, helps charity, and moves clothing to areas of the world where it is needed. This study uses systems theory as a theoretical framework. The purpose of this study is to present a conceptual model and a schematic of the textile recycling process for postconsumer apparel and textile waste. The conceptual model presents the categories of sort classifications and suggests that an inverse relationship exists between the volume of goods and the value of goods. The schematic presents the wide variety of textile recycling markets that are available for the sorted goods. This research is based on nearly 5 years of qualitative data collection.
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Demand for standard products has fragmented in markets as diverse as fast foods, sunglasses, breakfast cereals and banking, where niches are smaller and constantly changing. In fact, the niches are the market (Pine, 1993). The concept of mass customisation assumes that such trends will continue well into the next century, and that the challenge is for greater product variety to be achieved at prices comparable to those of the mass producers (Gilmore and Pine, 1997). This is unlikely to be achieved without a fuller understanding of the logistics tradeoffs that are implied. The purpose of the research design presented in this paper is to investigate these tradeoffs by studying the issues involved at organisational level.
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