Yes, Fast Fashion Brands Are Relevant
It’s 2021, which means the ever-impending doom of the Fast Fashion industry will be abolished, right?
Wrong. During the beginning of COVID-19 itself, to our present day, online shopping has sky-rocketed. How? What’s happening?
Pre-pandemic, in some under-developed countries, the presence of online shopping hardly existed for lack of digital infrastructure. Moreover, COVID-19 rapidly provoked the need for countries to forcefully assimilate themselves into the industry's realities. For example, “Mexico, fewer than half of adults have bank accounts and less than 5% of retail sales occurred online before the pandemic”, according to Digital Commerce 360. Companies within Mexico have responded to this reality, and “grown their web-sales by 54%” since the outbreak of COVID-19, making-up years of time.
Additionally, the recent accessibility to buy-now-pay-later programs allocates individuals to progressively purchase the garment, unconsciously allowing for even further purchasing thereafter. One program, Klarna, allows installments, it’s as simple as solely entering your email to start the transaction. The thought process is simple. The marketing is brilliant. We want what we can’t have, no?
According to Klarna, “merchants using the tool in the US reported a 68 percent increase in average order value, a 44 percent increase in conversion compared to credit cards and 21 percent higher purchase frequency”. I put down a partial amount of cash, and little by little, I can afford this. But what happens when we think about this payment shift in a long-term sense?
“My friend told me she loves it (Klarna) because she can order the same dress in multiple sizes, or styles, try them on, and send back the rejects, eliminating the wait for refunds”, according to Financial Times. This mindset is emphasizing the acceptance of the discard culture we know today, and evoking it’s continuation full-throttle.
The ease of program’s like Klarna have become too easy for consumers to pass up. But, think about how tragic this reality is. We aren’t educated, we aren’t given the truth, and we aren’t knowledgeable about our own personal impact. How are we really affecting Fast Fashion’s growth?
Let’s define ‘Fast Fashion’ and understand its means and origins. The Cambridge Dictionary defines Fast Fashion as, “clothes that are made and sold cheaply, so that people can buy new clothes often”. That being said, this definition fairly blatantly lays down the line for our habits concerning Fast Fashion and purchasing.
When thinking of a definition itself, the ‘act’ of the coined word had to come before anyone could give it this said definition. Fast Fashion. “Clothes that are made and sold cheaply, so that people can buy new clothes often”. Which means, companies came across an idea, developed and acted on it, which led to acknowledgement from individuals, and the desire to purchase, and purchase, and purchase. Alas, ‘Fast Fashion’.
From the House of Common Environmental Audit Committee, “Clothing production is the third biggest manufacturing industry after the automotive and technology industries. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined”. Combined!
Within CO2 itself, think about the amount of times you fly per year. Then think about how many people are on that said plane. Then think about the amount of flights that are scheduled for that day alone. From Our World In Data, “In 2018, it’s estimated that global aviation – which includes both passenger and freight – emitted 1.04 billion tonnes of CO2”. Ok, 1.04 billion tonnes of CO2, how does this compare? From The World Bank, “The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50 percent by 2030”.
A fairly innocent act of a quick and cheap purchase, paved the way for a toxic and impactful habit. I sure could bet that in that initial moment, this undefined term of the act of fast shopping felt pretty neat, I mean, who wouldn’t want to both find something trendy and stylish, at an incredibly affordable price?
‘Buy new clothes often’ within the definition ferociously began acting as a dopamine boost, fueling the need for more. Like mad.
Let’s talk about Zara, and it’s origins. Zara’s founder, Amancio Ortega’s history prior to his formidable brand, tends to get lost in the association with our connotations. According to The Harvard Business School, “Ortega, during his youth, was an errand boy for a La Coruña shirtmaker in 1949. As he moved up through that company, he apparently developed a heightened awareness of how costs piled up through the apparel chain. In 1963, he founded Confecciones Goa”.
Eventually, Ortega’s interests spiked enough in the production of garments, that he developed a brand that would feed off the desire to better creation and retail of clothing -- alas, Zara was born in 1975. “By 1989, it opened its first store in New York, where it was intended to be a display window and in 1990, its first store in Paris. Between 1992 and 1997, it entered about one country per year”.
One of Zara’s thriving points of marketing tactics was the mere presentation of a small amount of each product, creating a sense of ‘scarcity’ to the consumer. The mindset of ‘buy now or it will be gone tomorrow’ initiated growth. The deliberacy of undersupply, as well as a quick turnover in a product being replaced with another, created a sense of panic, per se.
It’s incredible that we as humans are truly rooted in these similar ideals, as we go through generations. This ‘panic’ of needing pieces before they were gone, or essentially missing out on something, we now call ‘FOMO’ (The Fear of Missing Out). Some things never change, and Ortega knew this from the start of his business venture - this would stick.
Yet, what happened when Zara made mistakes with products? Not much at all. The amount of supply Zara possessed was never enough to cause significant damage to the brand. “Returns to the distribution center were either shipped to and sold at other Zara stores or disposed of through a small, separate chain of close-out stores near the distribution center. The target was to minimize the inventories that had to be sold at marked-down prices in Zara stores during the sales period that ended each season”.
The slowness of a product to sell would be brutal, therefore, it was removed, and ‘proper measures’ were put in place. Additionally, the ‘failure’ of certain listed garments have at times been solely created as a marketing tactic. Wild right? The desired failure of a garment.
Boohoo, a Fast Fashion brand, “told the UK’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee that its cheaper £5 dresses are a marketing tool to attract customers to visit the website and that these loss-leading items make up only 80 of over 6,700 dress styles on the site” according to Vogue Business. So in other words, attract consumers to the website with an extremely cheap incentive, and in transaction, luring individuals to spend more time on the website, leading to further purchasing. Just think about the corruption of this for a moment. A vicious cycle.
PrettyLittleThing, a Fast Fashion brand owned by Boohoo, sparked much talk / controversy this past November of 2020 during extreme Black Friday sales. And when I say extreme, I mean ludicrous. If you aren’t familiar with this story, I will briefly sum it up. PrettyLittleThing advertised sales of 99 percent off. Yes, 99 percent.
What does that look like? It’s buying a jersey shift dress for £0.08. It’s a ‘recycled’ bikini top for £0.08, and a bandeau crop top for £0.06. Let that sink in. Think about the process, foundation, and existence of the garment, and inherently, where it is going - in most instances, the landfill.
Personally, questions like, ‘who made this garment?’, ‘what are they being paid for something that is essentially sold as free?’, ‘is this free labor?’, ‘what is this garment made of?’, spiral through my brain.
Moreover, what may have been one of the worst elements of their site was the “New In Today” tab. I had never seen this before, and it really put what I’ve explained into perspective. Just today, 94 new items have been listed. Add the range of sizes and color options to that. We are talking about thousands of new garments listed in a single day.
Side note: as they claim pieces as ‘recycled’, we allow ourselves to deem it permissible. And we allow ourselves to feel better about what we’re purchasing, there’s some sort of alleviation within our brains. But what does the company actually mean when they plaster ‘recycled’ on their garments? What is their supply chain like? No answers to be found.
From PrettyLittleThing’s ‘recycled’ collection, “Recycled by PrettyLittleThing is formed using recycled yarn from plastic bottles and non-toxic fabric dyes and ink. We’re taking one small step to making the world a better place”, is the product description. Yet, no transparency within their website, nothing.
They could tell us their bodycon knit dress was ‘locally sourced from the purest water in the world’. Our human flaws? We might choose to believe them. We have absolutely no idea what goes on behind closed doors. There is nothing that requires brands to be held accountable for the claims they make.
Words such as ‘recycled’, ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’, have become some of the most detrimental and harmful words to exist within fashion culture. They have become romanticized to the point of complete corruption and irony. Why? The ease of slapping a word associated with purity, onto the brand’s ethos.
So today, 2021, the blossom of a year that still feels out of reach, who is shopping Fast Fashion? More than you’d think given the transparency environmental organizations have brought to light within the industry. Why is it difficult for us to evolve into more conscious means of shopping?
According to Vogue Business, “Gen Z are often cited as the most sustainably minded generation”. But, I’d like to wonder if this is because they are allotted an overstimulated version of reality within social media. I think part of this claim from Vogue, has an incredible amount to do with the vulnerability this generation has obtained.
I’m 25 years old, and I know for a fact, I didn’t grow up with the exposure to the internet / technical world as anyone growing up today has. We didn’t even own a desktop computer until 2008 - it took 12 minutes to turn on.
In the early 2000s, I didn’t have an outlet for contacting people from across the world, I didn’t have apps that could change the size of my eyes, and I didn’t have access to overstimulated consumption. I spent my time outside - drawing cities with chalk, climbing trees and scraping my knees, wondering if we were having pasta for the third time that week.
Obviously, every generation can claim the same towards the next, but Gen Z has something the rest of us never experienced during our youth - the internet itself.
Forbes notes that “62 percent of Generation Z, who will begin entering the workforce this year, prefer to buy from sustainable brands”. But I can’t help but wonder, is the heightened exposure to ‘sustainable’ shopping / brands only allowing for increased purchasing?
It almost feels like the knowledge that has been brought to the table regarding the industry and the detriments it encompasses, has allowed for a certain switch in mindset. Maybe one that isn’t as promising as we think. We want to shop ‘better’, right? Most of us are aware of the poor ethics regarding Fast Fashion, which means, brands are tailoring their mantras and ethics to the consumer. Alas, leading to more manufacturing, purchasing, and ultimately, more waste.
None of us would like to associate ourselves as part of the problem, but in the end, the lack of knowledge we have in the cycle of fashion itself hinders our overall perception of ‘ethical shopping’. We have the power to change the fashion industry, but we first need to know the definition of truth. We need to take off our £0.08 blinders.
Stay-tuned for follow-up Blogs regarding Fashion Greenwashing, Circular Fashion, Garment Workers, Thrifting / Recycling Programs, Micro-plastics, and the Global South Clothing Dump.