Fast fashion

Fast fashion is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends.[1] Fast fashion clothing collections are based on the most recent fashion trends presented at Fashion Week in both the spring and the autumn of every year.[2] Emphasis is on optimizing certain aspects of the supply chain for these trends to be designed and manufactured quickly and inexpensively to allow the mainstream consumer to buy current clothing styles at a lower price. This philosophy of quick manufacturing at an affordable price is used in large retailers such as H&M, Zara, Peacocks, Primark and Topshop. It particularly came to the fore during the vogue for "boho chic" in the mid-2000s.[3]

This has developed from a product-driven concept based on a manufacturing model referred to as "quick response" developed in the U.S. in the 1980s [4] and moved to a market-based model of "fast fashion" in the late 1990s and first part of the 21st century. Zara has been at the forefront of this fashion retail revolution and their brand has almost become synonymous with the term, but there were other retailers who worked with the concept before the label was applied, such as Benetton.[5][6] Fast fashion has also become associated with disposable fashion because it has delivered designer product to a mass market at relatively low prices.[7] The slow fashion movement has arisen in opposition to fast fashion, blaming it for pollution (both in the production of clothes and in the decay of synthetic fabrics), shoddy workmanship, and emphasizing very brief trends over classic style.[8] Fast fashion has also come under criticism for contributing to poor working conditions in developing countries.[9] The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, the deadliest garment-related accident in world history, played a critical role in bringing more attention to the safety impact of the fast fashion industry.[10]

A H&M store in Downtown Montreal



The primary objective of fast fashion is to quickly produce a product in a cost-efficient manner to respond to fast-changing consumer tastes in as near real time as possible. This efficiency is achieved through the retailers’ understanding of the target market's wants, which is a high fashion-looking garment at a price at the lower end of the clothing sector.[2] Primarily, the concept of category management has been used to align the retail buyer and the manufacturer in a more collaborative relationship.[11] Category management is defined as "the strategic management of product groups through trade partnerships, which aims to maximize sales and profits by satisfying customer needs".[11] This collaboration occurs as many companies’ resources are pooled to further develop more sophisticated and efficient supply chain models to increase the market's total profit. The fast fashion market utilizes this by uniting with foreign manufacturers to keep prices at a minimum.

Quick response method

Quick Response (QR) was developed to improve manufacturing processes in the textile industry with the aim of removing time from the production system.[12] The U.S. Apparel Manufacturing Association initiated the project in the early 1980s to address a competitive threat to its own textile manufactures from imported textiles in low labour cost countries.[13] During the project lead times in the manufacturing process were halved; the U.S. industry became more competitive for a time, and imports were lowered as a result.[14] The QR initiative was viewed by many as a protection mechanism for the American textile industry with the aim of improving manufacturing efficiencies.[15]

The concept of quick response (QR) is now used to support "fast fashion", creating new, fresh products while also drawing consumers back to the retail experience for consecutive visits.[16] Quick response also makes it possible for new technologies to increase production and efficiency, typified by the introduction of the complementary concept of Fast Fit.[16] The Spanish mega chain Zara, owned by Inditex, has become the global model for how to decrease the time between design and production. This production short cut enables Zara to manufacture over 30,000 units of product every year to nearly 1,600 stores in 58 countries.[17] New items are delivered twice a week to the stores, reducing the time between initial sale and replenishment. As a result, the shortened time period improves consumer's garment choices and product availability while significantly increasing the number of per customer visits per annum. In the case of Renner, a Brazilian chain, a new mini-collection is released every two months.[17] New technologies are constantly being pioneered to accelerate quick response. Recently, the continuous inkjet printing process was introduced from the combined effort of Dutch printing company Osiris, and the French inkjet specialist Imaje.[18] The process uses image editing software to convert screen printing into continuous digital printing. The digital printing continuously recirculates the unused ink back into the system instead of the stop start method used by the traditional screen printing method.[18] As a result, the recirculation results in a reduction of preparation time and a reduction in ink costs because of fewer waste products.


Marketing is the key driver of fast fashion. Marketing creates the desire for consumption of new designs as close as possible to the point of creation. This is achieved by promoting fashion consumption as something fast, low price and disposable.[19] The continuous release of new products essentially makes the garments a highly cost effective marketing tool that drives consumer visits, increases brand awareness, and results in higher rates of consumer purchases. Fast fashion companies have also enjoyed higher profit margins in that their markdown percentage is only 15% compared to competitors’ 30% plus. The fast fashion business model is based on reducing the time cycles from production to consumption such that consumers engage in more cycles in any time period. For example, the traditional fashion seasons followed the annual cycle of summer, autumn, winter and spring but in fast fashion cycles have compressed into shorter periods of 4–6 weeks and in some cases less than this. Marketers have thus created more buying seasons in the same time-space.[20] Two approaches are currently being used by companies as market strategies; the difference is the amount of financial capital spent on advertisements. While some companies invest in advertising, fast fashion mega firm Primark operates with no advertising. Primark instead invests in store layout, shopfit and visual merchandising to create an instant hook.[21] The instant hook creates an enjoyable shopping experience, resulting in the continuous return of customers. Research shows that seventy five percent of consumer's decisions are made in front of the fixture within three seconds.[11] The alternative spending of Primark also "allows the retailer to pass the benefits of a cost saving back to the consumer and maintain the company's price structure of producing garments at a lower cost".[11]


"Supermarket" market

The consumer in the fast fashion market thrives on constant change and the frequent availability of new products.[16] Fast fashion is considered to be a "supermarket" segment within the larger sense of the fashion market.[11] This term refers to fast fashion's nature to "race to make apparel an even smarter and quicker cash generator".[16] Three crucial differentiating model factors exist within fast fashion consumption: market timing, cost, and the buying cycle.[11] Timing's objective is to create the shortest production time possible. The quick turnover has increased the demand for the number of seasons presented in the stores. This demand also increases shipping and restocking time periods. Cost is still the consumer's primary buying decision. Costs are largely reduced by taking advantage of lower prices in markets in developing countries. In 2004 developing countries accounted for nearly seventy five percent of all clothing exports and the removal of several import quotas has allowed companies to take advantage of the even lower cost of resources.[16] The buying cycle is the final factor that affects the consumer. Traditionally, fashion buying cycles are based around long term forecasts that occur one year to six months before the season.[16] Yet, in the fast fashion market the quick response philosophy can result in higher forecast accuracy because the time period is significantly shortened. A higher sell-through for the goods produced is also a result of the shortened production period.

Supply chain, vendor relationships and internal relationships

Supply chain

Supply chains are central to the creation of fast fashion. Supply chain systems are designed to add value and reduce cost in the process of moving goods from design concept to retail stores and finally through to consumption.[22] Efficient supply chains are critical to delivering the retail customer promise of fast fashion. The selection of a merchandising vendor is a key part in the process. Inefficiency primarily occurs when suppliers can't respond quickly enough, and clothing ends up bottlenecked and in back stock.[17] Two kinds of supply chains exist, agile and lean. In an agile supply chain the principal characteristics include the sharing of information and technology.[16] The collaboration results in the reduction in the amount of stock in the megastores. A lean supply chain is characterized as the correct appropriation of the commodity for the product.[16] The combination of the two supply chains is called "leagile".

Vendor relationships

The companies in the fast fashion market also utilize a range of relationships with the suppliers. The product is first classified as "core" or "fashion".[16] Suppliers close to the market are used for products that are produced in the middle of a season, meaning trendy, "fashion" items. In comparison, long-distance suppliers are utilized for cheap, "core" items, sometimes referred to as "capsule" clothing, that are used in collections every season and have a stable forecast.

Internal relationships

Productive internal relationships within the fast fashion companies are as important as the company's relationships with external suppliers, especially when it comes to the company's buyers. Traditionally with a "supermarket" market the buying is divided into multi-functional departments. The buying team uses the bottom-up approach when trend information is involved, meaning the information is only shared with the company's fifteen top suppliers.[16] On the other hand, information about future aims, and strategies of production are shared downward within the buyer hierarchy so the team can consider lower cost production options.[16] The buyers also interact closely with merchandising and design departments of the company because of the buyer's focus on style and color. The buyer must also consult with the overall design team to understand the cohesion between trend forecasting and consumer's wants. The close relationships result in flexibility within the company and an accelerated response speed to the demands of the market.

Sustainable labour costing & efficiency dilemma in fast fashion

Published by University of Manchester, the Working Papers of "Capturing the Gains, global summit" brings together an international network of experts from North and South. The Working Paper 14 focuses on a specific feature of buying behaviour in the UK fashion retail industry: the negotiation of a manufacturing price (cut-make-trim, CMT, cost) with suppliers that does not separately itemize labour cost. This practice, tacitly supported by both buyers and suppliers, is examined against the backdrop of ongoing wage defaulting and import price deflation in the global apparel industry. For obvious reasons, the make-up of standard time using Predetermined Time standards (PTS), Predetermined motion time system (PMTS); is highly technical and ‘synthetic’. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), as of 1992 there were some 200 different PTS systems, offered by consultancies for adoption by manufacturing companies.[23] In apparel manufacture, three PTS (aka PMTS) consultancy firms specializing in methods-time measurement (MTM) appear to be operating in the sector– the US-based Modular Arrangement of Predetermined Time Standards (MODAPTS), the Sri Lankan-based Seweasy and the UK-headquartered GSD (Corporate) Ltd. All three forms of work measurement for arriving at a standard time should normally make provision for relaxation, contingency and special allowances.

Design lawsuits and legislation

Lawsuits & proposed legislation in the U.S.

Recently "Forever 21", one of the larger fast fashion retailers has been involved in several lawsuits over alleged violations of Intellectual Property rights.[24] The lawsuits contend that certain pieces of merchandise at the retailer can effectively be considered knockoffs of designs from Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui and Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Lovers line as well as many other well-known designers.[24] Forever 21 has not commented on the state of the litigation but initially said it was "taking steps to organize itself to prevent intellectual property violations".[24]

H.R. 5055

H.R. 5055, or Design Piracy Prohibition Act, was a bill proposed to protect the copyright of fashion designers in the United States.[25] The bill was introduced into the United States House of Representatives on March 30, 2006. Under the bill designers would submit fashion sketches and/or photos to the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of the products’ "publication". This publication includes everything from magazine advertisements to the garment's first public runway appearances.[26] The bill as a result, would protect the designs for three years after the initial publication. If infringement of copyright was to occur the infringer would be fined $250,000, or $5 per copy, whichever is a larger lump sum.[25] The bill was suspended after the House of Representatives session concluded in 2006, this resulted in H.R. 5055 being cleared from the agenda.

H.R. 2033

The Design Piracy Prohibition Act was reintroduced as H.R. 2033 during the first session of the 110th Congress on April 25, 2007.[27] It had goals similar to H.R. 5055, as the bill proposed to protect certain types of apparel design through copyright protection of fashion design. The bill would grant fashion designs a three-year term of protection, based on registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. The fines of copyright infringement would continue to be $250,000 total or $5 per copied merchandise.[27]

Environmental impact

According to Elizabeth Cline, author of Where Does Discarded Clothing Go?,[28] Americans are purchasing five times the amount of clothing than they did in 1980. Due to this rise in consumption, developed countries are producing more and more garments each season. The United States imports more than 1 billion garments annually from China alone[29] while the United Kingdom textile consumption surged by 37% from 2001 to 2005.[30] Both of these statistics are contributing factors to the pollution caused by the fast fashion. This continuous purchasing of new merchandise is resulting in more and more textiles being discarded yearly.

The average American household produces 70 pounds of textile waste every year.[31] When you compare that number to the entire country, there is roughly 10.5 million tons of textile waste being thrown away. For example, the residents of New York City discard around 193,000 tons of clothing and textiles, which equates to 6% of all the city’s garbage.[28] In comparison, the European Union generates a total of 5.8 million tons of textiles each year.[32] While Americans donate or recycle around 15% of their unwanted clothing, these numbers show that a large portion of textiles are ending up in landfills worldwide.[28] As a whole, the textile industry occupies roughly 5% of all landfill space.[31] The clothing that is discarded into landfills is often made from synthetic or inorganic materials which prevents these textiles from being able to degrade properly.[33] While it is clear that the accumulation of waste in the world’s landfills is causing negative effects on the environment, it is not the only environmental concern that the fast fashion industry creates.

Throughout all stages of textile production, the aquatic, terrestrial, and atmospheric ecosystems experience lasting environmental harm. One of these harmful effects is the release of greenhouse gases into the air, thus polluting these various ecosystems. A contributing factor to the atmospheric pollution derives from the byproduct of both global transportation and the utilization of heavy machinery, originating from carbon dioxide emission. Along with the release of hazardous gases, various pesticides and dyes are consistently being released into the aquatic environment in each community the fashion sector operates in.[34] The growing demand for quick fashion continuously adds effluent release from the textile factories, containing both dyes and caustic solutions.[35] As stated, fast fashion has caused a rise in environmental damage over the years.


Further information: Sustainable fashion

As a whole, the fast fashion sector of the fashion industry is polluting the planet at a continuous rate.[36] Due to the amount of pollution and waste caused by the fashion industry, advances in the realm of sustainability have been made possible. For-profit groups, like Viletex, and retailers, such as H&M, are working to decrease the industry’s environmental footprint.[28] Both companies have created programs that encourage recycling from the general public. These programs provide consumers with bins that allow them to dispose of their unwanted garments that will ultimately be transformed into insulation, carpet padding, as well as being used to produce other garments.[28]

While recycling is one way that the fashion industry is striving to change the environment, new technologies in fashion also present great potential in environmental turn around. These technologies offer new methods of using dyes, producing fibers, and reducing the use of natural resources. To decrease the consumption of traditional textiles, Anke Domaske has produced "QMilch," an eco-milk fiber, Virus has produced high-tech sportswear from recycled coffee beans, and Suzanne Lee has created vegetable leather from fermented tea.[37] Following new fiber types, many companies have created various ways to reduce the amount of dyes emitted into the world’s waterways as well as the level of water consumption. For example, AirDye saves between 7 and 75 gallons of water per pound of textiles produced while digital printing reduces water usage by 95 percent.[37]

While these methods have yet to fully hit the fast fashion sector, they offer alternatives that have the potential to positively influence the industry as a whole. The fast fashion sector thrives on a business model that pushes the environmental boundaries but with the advancements being made, the damage the industry causes can be better addressed. Through the understanding of the multifaceted sides of fashion’s environmental impact, the negative effects can begin to turn around.


The business model of fast fashion is based on consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear.[38] In order to fulfill consumer’s demand, fast fashion brands provide affordable prices and a wide range of clothing that reflects the latest trends. This ends up persuading consumers to buy more items which leads to the issue of overconsumption. Planned Obsolescence plays a key role in overconsumption. Based on the study of planned obsolescence in the Economist, Fashion is deeply committed to built-in obsolescence. Last year's skirts; for example, are designed to be replaced by this year's new models.[39] In this case, fashion goods are purchased even when the old ones are still wearable. The quick response model and new supply chain practices of fast fashion even accelerate the speed of it. In recent years, the fashion cycle has steadily decreased as fast fashion retailers sell clothing that is expected to be disposed of after being worn only a few times.[40] This dramatically shortens the consumers’ buying cycle. The quick changing stocks and low price of fashion goods encourage consumers to visit the store and make purchases more frequently. As a result, excessive stock and untrendy clothes tends to end up in landfills.

A recent article about fast fashion in Huffington Post pointed out that in order to make the fast moving trend affordable, fast-fashion merchandise is typically priced much lower than the competition, operating on a business model of low quality and high volume.[38] Low quality goods make overconsumption more severe since those products have a shorter life span and would need to be replaced much more often. Furthermore, as both industry and consumers continue to embrace fast fashion, the volume of goods to be disposed of or recycled has increased substantially. However, most fast-fashion goods do not have the inherent quality to be considered as collectables for vintage or historic collections.[41] The low quality goods can only end up as waste, hardly to be recycled. These cycles of providing affordable price to trigger the sales, and the low quality comes with it that makes products last shorter are making consumers unconsciously buying more. Not only does it drive sales numbers, but also the amount of waste that comes with it.

Fast fashion brings considerable consumption that prospers the fashion industry. Its unique business model and low prices enables the public to purchase fashionable items even during times of the economic recession. However, it has brought along the problem of overconsumption, whereby countless amounts of waste ends up in landfills. Moreover, hidden costs of landfills also include waste, pollution, energy and natural resources exhaustion.

List of fast fashion brands



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Further reading

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