In a fashionable world of fast fashion, styles are not made for eternity

Clothing chains like H & M (above) and Forever 21 design and distribute new styles so quickly and cheaply that they are referred to as “fashionable” retailers.
Kathy Willens / AP
When she left university and moved to New York, Elizabeth Cline liked to buy vintage clothing stores. It was the kind of place that was hidden in the back streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, where much hunting and luck could reward you with a great inexpensive cocktail dress that no one had.

Then she discovered the world of “fast fashion” channels like Forever 21, H & M and Zara – and redefined her idea of ​​discount shopping.

“The products are very, very cheap,” says Cline, author of Overdressed: The Extremely High Cost of Cheap Fashion. “The design is pretty attractive, and when you go to the store, I think it’s almost impossible for many consumers to go empty-handed.”

They see products and they are just waste. It’s just shit, and you somehow bend it and you think, yes, you’ll wear it at your party on Saturday night – and then it’s going to literally collapse.

Simon Collins, Dean of Fashion, Parsons The new school of design

“Sell an ocean of clothes”

By the time Cline had accumulated 354 garments, some of which were never worn. And these excesses are not so rare, she notes. Channels like H & M keep coming back to their products, introducing more and more fashionable clothes and satisfying their customers’ desires for novelty.

“We want to surprise customers,” says Margareta van den Bosch, a highly influential style consultant for the company. “We want to have something exciting, and when all the same things happen there, it’s not so exciting, I think.”

Much of H & M’s clothing is so cheap – a top $ 10 leopard print or a jersey of $ 15, for example – that consumers can afford to buy it in quantities that could not have gone down in the closets of ours grandparents. It’s so cheap that it’s not worth coming back when we go home and decide we do not like it, “Cline said.

But despite the low prices, fast fashion chains can be extremely profitable. Sales of H & M’s parent company increased by 11% in 2012. The chairman and largest shareholder, Stefan Persson, is the 17th richest person in the world with a net worth of $ 26.3 billion. to Bloomberg. Amancio Ortega, founder of Zara, another high-performance channel, is the third-richest company worth $ 58.3 billion.

How can these stores make so much money selling $ 10 shirts? Mainly because of the volume.

“A business like H & M produces hundreds of millions of garments a year,” says Cline. “They put a little bit of pressure on clothes and take the advantage of selling an ocean of clothes.” According to the company’s website, H & M has over 2,800 stores in 48 countries and is growing rapidly, especially in China and the US.

Prices in stores like Forever 21 are so low, “it’s virtually impossible to go empty-handed,” says Elizabeth Cline, who writes about fast fashion.
Michael Buckner / Getty Images
The success of channels such as H & M and Forever 21 represents a paradigm shift in the retail industry, affecting all areas of the industry.

In the 1960s, people typically bought clothes from major retailers, such as department stores, which in turn were bought by manufacturers. In the 1970s, however, retailers began to make their own garments, which had a direct impact on the manufacturing and distribution process.

One of the pioneers of change is Les Wexner, founder of Ohio-based clothing industry chain The Ohio, says Frank Bober, CEO of Stylesight, a company that helps retailers and designers identify trends.

“He recognized it,” I can do it myself. I can understand what my clients want, what my clients want and then I can do it for them. I do not need many manufacturers for that, “says Bober.

The end of the shopping calendar two seasons

At the same time, computer technology has changed the whole process, allowing retailers to design, manufacture and ship products much faster and more efficiently. At one time, the fashion industry was developing a two-season calendar that unfolded at a predictable pace.

“I remember my mom went shopping for me in the autumn of August, and I would die if I were going to wear those sweaters out at 90 degrees,” recalls Sharon Graubard, design director at Stylesight. “Nobody does it anymore.”

A ceaseless effort for speed now characterizes the industry. Chains like Zara are so fast that they can design, make and store clothes on store shelves within a month. Customers can now see the latest trends online and are prepared to expect a steady stream of new fashion styles from retailers.

This focus on speed has affected all sorts of retailers, even those that are generally not considered fast.

“This has allowed the industry to move faster, work faster, and produce more products,” said Ed Filipowski, president of KCD, a public relations firm that represents some of the most important and well-known brands. , “In contrast to a bi-annual fashion calendar, he has created a kind of annual fashion calendar that has made our job much more difficult and creativity a constant challenge.”

Now that retailers have increased customer demand for new products, they need to keep their products affordable – a huge challenge. That means producing in low-wage countries like China, but also using cheap synthetic materials and rudimentary manufacturing processes.

The simple fact is that many fast modes do not survive more than a few washes. Simon Collins, Dean of Fashion at Parsons The new design school loves the speed with which fashion has brought the masses style, but he regrets how bad it can be.

“They see products and they’re just garbage, it’s just shit,” he says. “And you somehow bend it and you think, yes, you’ll wear it at your party on Saturday night – and then it’s going to literally collapse.”

Author Elizabeth Cline remembers buying a shirt from Old Navy, a necklace she visited. “I had this tank top that had two flowers, a bit like the bracelet, and after I started writing the book, I started to look at my clothes and the flowers were attached with some sort of tape.” Was sewn. ”

“Discharge mode”

Poor quality has turned the label of fast fashion into something derogatory, so much so that chains like Uniqlo and H & M now completely reject the term.

And the channels also have other image problems. Cline says there is a growing consensus that mass-production of cheap clothes is a huge waste of resources such as fuel and water. While many people donate their clothes to charities and consignment stores, fast fashion tends to be so cheap that nobody wants to buy it, she notes. Instead, it is recycled or even rejected into rags and industrial insulation – creating the term “landfill”.

The fast mode pattern may crack otherwise. Factory workers in China, where a lot of clothing is produced, demand more and more wages.

Companies responded by moving production to places where wages are even lower than in Bangladesh. But these countries do not have the elaborate production infrastructure of China, and in the rush to fill the void, sometimes a tragedy occurred. A fire in a clothing factory on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka killed 112 people in November.

The industry will definitely adapt over time, but the days when fashion gets faster and cheaper every year are probably over.

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