Fast fashion became a bit of a buzzword in 2013, with many retailers chasing their tails to catch up to the likes of Inditex-owned Zara who has consistently outdone its competitors when it comes to speed to market.
Some retailers revisited strategies, some opted for supplier slim downs, some realized that less can be more in terms of assortments. Either way, fast fashion has risen rapidly and is changing the retail game.
Here’s a look at what happened in the fast world of fast fashion in 2013 and what retailers have done to keep up in an ever-shifting landscape.
Fast fashion has quickly become the way of the retail world, with Zara as the brand to beat. Esprit executive director and group CEO Jose Manuel Martinez Gutierrez, once the director of distribution and operations for Inditex, has taken a cue from Zara’s superior supply chain model to help revamp the Esprit brand. Since joining Esprit just over one year ago, Martinez has also brought in a handful of his former Inditex cohorts to aid in the effort, most recently hiring Rafael Pastor Espuch as the new chief product and design officer.
After the Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza collapse, compliance rocketed to the top of the agenda for firms working in Bangladesh, but that may not necessarily save lives, says Avedis Seferian, President and CEO of WRAP, a compliance certification company. Current industry trends like fast fashion exert considerable pressure on factories to violate compliance regulations.
Fast fashion retailer Forever 21 is growing so fast that the privately-held firm is now a competitor to be closely watched by its industry rivals, according to analysts.
“Forever 21 is becoming too big for the specialty retailers to ignore,” industry analysts Paul Alexander, Lorraine Hutchinson and Jessica Lebo, of Bank of America wrote in a recent analysis of the rapidly expanding chain.
After a 60 percent decline in profit through 2011, Mango took a page out of Zara’s playbook and cut prices by about 20 percent across the board. The company also cut back on its glitzier, more showy options, instead focusing on the sort of day-to-day stalwarts that made Inditex founder Amancio Ortega the world’s third-richest man.
The global expansion of textiles and apparel hastened the demise of traditional manufacturing in the United States, Europe, Japan and other developed countries. There are two sides to globalization — a winning side and a losing side. Change brings about winners and losers. Those who adapt will survive; those who do not will perish. It may sound harsh, but it is the economic reality of our times.
Fashions come and go, but these days they seem to come and go much faster than before. Big clothing chains such as Forever 21, H&M, and Zara, offer cheap clothing with attractive design, and keep a steady stream of new, trendy apparel regularly coming into their stores, while old — last month’s, perhaps — garments are being closed out.
Fast fashion is reaching an inflection point, say analysts. After a decade of blistering growth, it’s possible that the period of quick, easy returns is over. A new strategy might be needed, as nervous consumers demand higher quality goods and aren’t afraid to pay a little more for them. Some firms are pursuing this path, looking to more expensive goods and a slightly wealthier consumer to drive continued growth. Others, notably in Europe, are doubling down on cheap, quickly made clothes.
Inditex, fast fashion pioneer and parent company of leading retail chain Zara, has pushed boldly into China in the past two years, opening over 400 stores with plans for many more. But according to Columbia University professor and Zara expert Nelson Fraiman, the firm may not have what it takes to truly capitalize on the tomorrow’s largest market.
Gap is not a fast fashion company, but they’ve figured out a way to improve speed to market by using a combination of planning, procurement, and relationships to leverage preexisting advantages. And, as CEO Glenn Murphy says, “I think the team has recognized that in some cases, in categories that matter to us, less is more.”
Zara can get clothes from runaway to retail in less than two weeks. This mind-bendingly rapid pace has turned the Spanish-owned retailer into an international retailing juggernaut. They’ve transcended fast fashion and are now almost anticipating demand. The secret to their phenomenal success is operational.