Fast fashion

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Fast fashion is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly in order 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 in order 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, 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]

A H&M store in Downtown Montreal


Category management[edit]

The primary objective of the 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.[10] 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".[10] 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[edit]

Quick Response (QR) was developed to improve manufacturing processes in the textile industry with the aim of removing time from the production system.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] The QR initiative was viewed by many as a protection mechanism for the American textile industry with the aim of improving manufacturing efficiencies.[14]

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.[15] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[17] 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. 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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[10] 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".[10]


"Supermarket" market[edit]

The consumer in the fast fashion market thrives on constant change and the frequent availability of new products.[15] Fast fashion is considered to be a "supermarket" segment within the larger sense of the fashion market.[10] This term refers to fast fashion's nature to "race to make apparel an even smarter and quicker cash generator".[15] Three crucial differentiating model factors exist within fast fashion consumption: market timing, cost, and the buying cycle.[10] 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.[15] 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.[15] 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[edit]

Supply chain[edit]

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.[20] 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.[16] Two kinds of supply chains exist, agile and lean. In an agile supply chain the principal characteristics include the sharing of information and technology.[15] 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.[15] The combination of the two supply chains is called "leagile".[citation needed]

Vendor relationships[edit]

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".[15] 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[edit]

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.[15] 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.[15] 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 Dilema in Fast Fashion[edit]

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 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 (Kanawaty, 1992).In apparel manufacture, three PTS (aka PMTS) consultancy firms specializing in 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[edit]

Lawsuits & Proposed Legislation in the U.S.[edit]

Recently "Forever 21", one of the larger fast fashion retailers has been involved in several lawsuits over alleged violations of Intellectual Property rights.[21] 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.[21] 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".[21]

H.R. 5055[edit]

H.R. 5055, or Design Piracy Prohibition Act, was a bill proposed to protect the copyright of fashion designers in the United States.[22] 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.[23] 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.[22] 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[edit]

The Design Piracy Prohibition Act was reintroduced as H.R. 2033 during the first session of the 110th Congress on April 25, 2007.[24] 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.[24]

Environmental impact[edit]

Consumers in developed countries produce massive amounts of waste by buying and throwing away fashion items. For example, the residents of New York City discard around 200,000 tons of clothes, handbags, belts, and other sorts of textiles each year. The average American household produces 82 pounds of textile waste every year. Consumers in the European Union generate a total of 5.8 million tons of textiles each year that end up in landfills.[25]

In every step in the production of clothing there is harm caused to the environment in aquatic, terrestrial and atmospheric ecosystems. This harm is in the form of the release of toxic or greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or pollution and destruction of aquatic habitats. These problems are only exacerbated by fast fashion in developed countries, particularly the United States, which imports more than 1 billion garments annually from China alone.[26] The United Kingdom, where the amount of clothes purchased surged by 37% from 2001 to 2005, is also a major contributor to pollution caused by fast fashion.[27] The insatiable need for new clothing pushed by clothing companies as well as our own conspicuous consumption has led to exponentially more environmental damage caused by the fabric and garment industry compared to just a few decades ago. The majority of the atmospheric pollution from fabric production is because of the need for constant transportation all over the globe, which leads to greater carbon dioxide release from transportation vehicles. Additionally, the amount of carbon dioxide released from the heavy machinery used to produce textiles and garments has increased with the greater demand for new clothing. Increased demand for clothing also leads to more effluent release from textile factories, which contains dye or caustic solutions.[28] This is caused by fast fashion instilling a notion in people that clothes should be cheap, and the only way to make this happen is to have the fabric and clothes made in countries where wages and regulations can be kept to a minimum. [26] Fast fashion has caused a dramatic increase in the environmental damage caused by the textile industry during the recent past, and this problem will certainly continue into the future unless an enormous change is made in the minds and attitudes of consumers.

List of fast fashion brands[edit]


  • Tsan-Ming Choi (Ed.) Fast Fashion Systems: Theories and Applications, CRC Press, 2013.
  • Choi, T.M. Fashion Retail Supply Chain Management: A Systems Optimization Approach, CRC Press, 2014.
  • Choi, T.M. (Ed.) Fashion Supply Chain Management: Industry and Business Analysis, IGI Global, 2011.


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  3. ^ See, for example, Sunday Times Style, 17 September 2006
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  21. ^ a b c Casabona, Liza. "Retailer Forever 21 Facing A Slew of Design Lawsuits." WWD: Women's Wear Daily 194.15 (23 July 2007): 12-12. Textile Technology Index. EBSCO. Mary Couts Burnett Library, Fort Worth, Texas. 13 Nov. 2008 <>.
  22. ^ a b United States. Cong. House. Committee on the Judiciary. 109th Cong., 2nd sess. HR 5055. By Goodlatte, Delahunt, Coble and Wexler. 30 Mar. 2006. 13 Nov. 2008 <>.
  23. ^ Woyke, Elizabeth. "FASHION'S BID TO KNOCK OUT KNOCKOFFS." Business Week (10 Apr. 2006): 16-16. Business Source Complete. EBSCO. Mary Couts Burnett. 13 Nov. 2008 <>.
  24. ^ a b United States. Cong. House. Committee on the Judiciary. 110th Cong., 1st sess. HR 2033. By Delahunt, Goodlatte, Maloney and Bono. 25 Apr. 2007. 13 Nov. 2008 <>.
  25. ^ Amy DuFault. "Can 'upcycling' give Haiti's fashion industry a boost?". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
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  28. ^ Slater, Keith (2003). Environmental Impact of Textiles. Boca Raton: Woodhead Publishing. 

Further reading[edit]