DEFINITION of 'Fast Fashion'

"Fast fashion” is a term used by fashion retailers to describe inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. As a result of this trend, the tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis is being challenged. Today, it is not uncommon for fast-fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times in a single week to stay on-trend.

BREAKING DOWN 'Fast Fashion'

Fast fashion is made possible by innovations in supply chain management (SCM) among fashion retailers. Its goal is to quickly produce an item that is both cost-efficient and responds to fast-shifting consumer demands. The assumption is that consumers want a high-fashion styled article of clothing at a low price. Fast fashion follows the concept of category management, which more closely links the manufacturer with the consumer in a mutually beneficial relationship. The speed at which fast fashion happens requires such a collaboration, as the need to refine and accelerate supply chain processes is paramount. There is also considerable pressure to keep costs as low as possible.

From the perspective of retailers, fast fashion is advantageous because the constant introduction of new products encourages customers to make frequent visits to stores. Collections are often based on designs seen at the spring and autumn Fashion Week events. Fast fashion enables mainstream consumers to purchase trendy clothing at an affordable price. The speed at which fast fashion moves tends to help retailers avoid markdowns, which cut into margins. The company does not replenish, but replaces items that sell out with new items. Accordingly, consumers know to purchase an item they like when they see it because it's not likely to be available for long.

Despite the advantages for customers, fast fashion has also been criticized on the grounds that it encourages a “throw-away” attitude via the built-in obsolescence of its products. Some contend that such disposable fashion contributes to pollution, poor workmanship and poor working conditions in developing countries. The trend has also been criticized on intellectual property grounds, with some designers alleging that their designs have been illegally mass-produced by retailers.

Fast Fashion Leaders

Spanish chain Zara (owned by Inditex) is all but synonymous with fast fashion, serving as an exemplar of how to cut the time between design, production and delivery. Other big names in fast fashion include H&M of Sweden, UNIQLO of Japan, GAP and Forever 21 of the United States, and Topshop of England. In addition, more traditional department stores, such as Macy's Inc., J. C. Penney and Kohl's in the U.S., have taken a page from Zara's book and have shortened design and production times to better compete.

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