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Is Fast Fashion On Its Way Out?

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.

How can bargain-seeking, fashion-conscious consumers on limited budgets resist the stylish garments hanging on the racks or stacked on the shelves of these big retailers?

Driving sales of fast fashion apparel beyond affordability is a consumer appetite for novelty.

“We want to surprise the customer,” Margareta van den Bosch, H & M style adviser, told NPR. The strategy seems to working — sales for H & M’s parent company rose by 11 percent last year.

Fast-fashion customers who shop at Forever 21, H & M and Zara, and other similar retailers, are not looking for quality — and they’re not getting it in what they do buy.

“You see some products [of fast fashion] and it’s just garbage,” said Simon Collins, Dean of Fashion, Parsons The New School for Design, in an interview on National Public Radio.

“It’s just crap and you sort of fold it up and you think, yeah, you’re going to wear it Saturday night to your party — and then it’s literally going to fall apart,” Simon said.

But price points are so low, customers are not deterred by poor quality goods. Tops and sweaters, for example, may sell for $10 or $15, the price of a couple of drinks at a bar or restaurant.

With margins razor-thin, can retailers make a profit on these low-priced garments?

Yes, because of volume sales, minimal discounting, and tight inventory control.

H & M, for example, offers hundreds of millions of clothing items yearly at its 2,800 stores in 48 markets.

Adding to profitability are the low-wage foreign countries — China, principal among them — in which fast fashion clothing is manufactured.

Computer-assisted design, along with computerized production and distribution monitoring, inventory control, and digital data base building, provides retailers an efficient, economical and speedy means of serving their customers.  Online shopping has also helped boost bottom lines.

Yet the luster of fast-fashion seems to have started a slow fade recently.  Low quality has acquired a bad rep lately.  Even H & M has been trying to reposition itself by rejecting the fast fashion stigma, although the firm still services that buying niche.

If and when fast fashion disappears, it may not be forever. Remember that old song from yesteryear — “Every thing old is new again” Enough said.

Fashion mavens have long advised both men and women for decades to acquire and keep a few basic items of apparel that never seem to go out of style.  Their advice is simple, prudent, value-oriented and fashion-conscious: Buy quality goods with classic styling.

In the end, that may be the most economical and style-savvy move of all.

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