What Is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. The collections are often based on designs presented at Fashion Week events. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase trendy clothing at an affordable price.

Fast fashion became common because of cheaper clothing, an increase in the appetite for fashionable clothing, and the increase in purchasing power on the part of consumers. Because of all this, fast fashion is challenging new fashion lines that are introduced on a seasonal basis by traditional fashion houses. In fact, it's not uncommon for fast-fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times in one week to stay on trend.

  • Fast fashion describes clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to retail stores to meet new trends.
  • Fast fashion competes with traditional fashion houses that continue to introduce new fashion lines on a seasonal basis.
  • Innovations in supply chain management among fashion retailers make fast fashion possible.
  • Leaders in the fast fashion industry include Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, Gap, and Forever 21.

Understanding Fast Fashion

Shopping for clothing was once considered an event. Consumers would save up to buy clothing at certain times of the year. But that changed in the late 1990s, as shopping became a form of entertainment and demand for clothing increased. Enter fast fashion, the cheaper, trendier clothing that allowed consumers to feel as though they were wearing the same clothing that was on the runway at fashion shows.

Fast fashion is made possible by innovations in supply chain management (SCM) among fashion retailers. Its goal is to produce articles of clothing quickly that are cost-efficient. These clothes respond to fast-shifting consumer demands. The assumption is that consumers want high fashion at a low price.

Fast fashion follows the concept of category management, linking the manufacturer with the consumer in a mutually beneficial relationship. The speed at which fast fashion happens requires this kind of collaboration, as the need to refine and accelerate supply chain processes is paramount.

Fast Fashion Leaders

Spanish chain Zara 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.

More traditional department stores such as Macy's, J. C. Penney, and Kohl's in the U.S. have all taken a page from Zara's book, shortening design and production times to better compete in the market.

The Advantages of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a boon for retailers because of the constant introduction of new products encourages customers to frequent stores more often, which means they end up making more purchases. The speed at which fast fashion moves tends to help retailers avoid markdowns, which cut into margins. The company does not replenish its stock—instead, it replaces items that sell out with new items. Accordingly, consumers know to purchase an item they like when they see it no matter what the price because it's not likely to be available for long.

Fast fashion is also responsible for big profits, especially if a retailer is able to jump on a trend before the competition. And if there are any losses, fashion retailers are able to recover quickly by launching a new clothing line or product. And because the clothing is cheap (and cheaply made), it's easy to get consumers back into stores to purchase the new clothing and the latest styles.

Criticisms of Fast Fashion

Despite the advantages for customers, fast fashion has also been criticized because it encourages a “throw-away” attitude. That's why it's also called disposable fashion—the clothing is cheaply made in a style that will change very quickly.

Critics contend that fast fashion contributes to pollution, poor workmanship, and poor working conditions in developing countries, where many of the clothing is manufactured. Because the clothing is made overseas, it's also seen as causing a decline in U.S. manufacturing.

The trend has also been criticized on intellectual property grounds, with some designers alleging that their designs have been illegally mass-produced by retailers.