When McDonalds first opened its doors and drive through windows in 1940, very few foresaw the restaurant catching on. Cheap, low quality food did not seem to be a very prevalent threat to many other players in the food service industry. However, it has now grown into one of the largest restaurant chains internationally and prompted a revolution in the hospitality sector. Its success has also exposed a key consumer group never before identified — those craving instant gratification. Don’t want to wait for your food to cook? Don’t want to take the time to prepare a full course meal? Now you don’t have to.
This framework has since translated into many other successful ideas — so much so that the mantra of “I can have what I want, whenever I want” has never been more relevant. The modern consumer speaks convenience and simple satisfaction, leaving the fashion market exceptionally vulnerable to fast fashion retailers. Where the majority of fashion brands wait months between seasons to push out new product, companies like Zara, H&M and Mango are able to upload new merchandise to their website every week.
A brilliant example comes from several years ago; customers were coming in to Zara stores searching for a red dress for the holiday season, unfortunately there were none to be found. Utilizing this feedback, thousands of Zara stores stocked their hangers to the brim with the perfect red holiday dress in a matter of weeks. In today’s modern age, this is something that the next generation is not only searching for, but expecting. They are no longer simply being told what to wear and accepting the trends displayed on the shelves and mannequins, their tastes are changing day-by-day with every new trend that peaks their interest. That is the attraction behind fast fashion and the reason it continues to prevail despite cheap quality and ethical disputes— it manages to keep up with the modern fashion consumer’s sparatic and ever-changing wants and desires.
The other appealing aspect comes with the price tag. Why purchase trendy designer pieces that you will likely wear once or twice for thousands of dollars, when you could simply pay $40 for an imitation? Cost ties in with the prevailing motif of instant gratification as there is the ability to buy whatever you want, whenever you want — no need to save. Before, consumers were forced to wear styles that they could afford, leaving the trendy, designer pieces to those in the elite upper crust. However, fast fashion retailers give anyone the chance to sport whatever style that they want, even looks baring striking resemblance to designer pieces.
With its rise in popularity over recent years, many believe that fast fashion could be a key pitfall for many luxury retailers. After all, so many of these stores find “inspiration” from the clothing that designers put out on the runway. The term “inspiration” is used loosely, as many designs are replicated to the point where the differences between real and fake are unrecognizable. To make matters worse, clothing is viewed by the law as a commoditized good, meaning that it is very difficult to pass copyright laws and seek financial compensation for stolen designs. Without any means of stopping intellectual property thieves, many brands are already feeling the sting of customer groups turning to cheaper retailers to get the styles they are seeking. Knock-offs also deter the luxury customer from purchasing the copied item, as they are typically searching for exclusive items unaccessible to the general public.
Now despite many strong arguments that vilanize fast fashion brands — they surprisingly lend a strong hand in forming a new and powerful era of trends in the fashion industry. As aforementioned, trends in today’s age often begin with street style, rather than what designers pump out to their customers. Fast fashion brands are actually the ultimate bridge between designers and consumers, as the pieces they replicate symbolize which items are going to be popular this season. From there, this results in more customers heading over to luxury retailers to pick-up the latest “in-piece” and thus increased buzz and foot traffic surrounding designers supplying these items. Without fast fashion and high street brands, trends would not be able to grow into the phenomenons they become.
If a winner had to be declared in the war between luxury retailers and fast fashion companies — ultimately there would be a draw. They have entirely separate value propositions that they provide their consumers. For luxury retailers, it is about the experience, the quality, the story behind the clothing. However, fast fashion companies are all about the convenience, the accessibility, the trends provided to their customers. In this way, there is a limited overlap between the two sections of the fashion industry, allowing the two to coexist with a couple hiccups here and there. The question becomes though, as the years, economies and income brackets change — will one value proposition dominate the market over the other?