Is long lastin’ the new fast-fashion?

Photo: RetailWire
Feb 21, 2019
Matthew Stern

Fast-fashion could be slowly falling out of fashion in favor of more sustainable apparel if the sentiments expressed in a new survey from the Fashion Retail Academy in London are an accurate sign of a consumer shift.

Around 39 percent of shoppers polled said that they would rather buy expensive clothing that lasted longer, and one in eight even said they would choose expensive, longer-lasting clothing over cheaper options that were more fashionable, according to the survey, which was reported on by Just Style. The population polled was between the ages of 18 and 35, encompassing some Gen Z and some Millennial shoppers.

And younger shoppers seem to be slightly less interested in fast-fashion with those in the 23 to 26 cohort being five percent more likely to buy expensive, long-lasting clothing than 31- to 35-year-olds.

As evidence of a trend away from throwaway apparel, Lee Lucas, principal of the Fashion Retail Academy noted that Patagonia, a brand with a lifetime guarantee on its products, has been growing steadily in popularity.

The survey’s findings aren’t the first sign to have people speculating that fast-fashion fever might have peaked. In 2016, for instance, retailers like H&M and Uniqlo began to report financial difficulties and slowdowns. But, while those retailers have retooled their operations and concepts in turnaround attempts, others, most notably Zara, have risen to the fore, indicating that H&M and Uniqlo’s woes may be retailer-specific and not a bellwether for consumer preference.

Fast-fashion has also grown controversial among consumers. Socially and environmentally conscious customers have taken issue with factors like human rights abuses in the fast-fashion supply chain and the amount of waste produced by purchasing clothes just to throw them out after a season, if not more quickly.

Some in the fast-fashion world, however, are doubling down on speed. Recently, a few pure-play online retailers like ASOS, Misguided and boohoo have begun to tout their ability to get new merchandise out in a blazingly fast two to four weeks.

Beyond getting new merchandise produced more quickly, retailers like Zara have focused on speeding other elements of their operation, such as click-and-collect.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the desire for higher quality, longer-lasting clothing a consumer trend fast-fashion retailers should worry about? How might retailers pivot to address the shift? Do you see fast-fashion becoming less prevalent as Generation Z consumers get older?

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"I wonder how many young people realize they are buying fast fashion. They are more attuned to buying what they can afford..."
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16 Comments on "Is long lastin’ the new fast-fashion?"

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Art Suriano

Changing how we buy clothes will be a bit of a challenge. Many people especially the younger ones are very fashion conscious, and that’s hard to break. However, people of all ages realize that we have too much of everything and it’s ridiculous to buy clothes every season to stay fashionable. There is way too much waste. When consumers say they would prefer to buy more expensive clothes that will last longer, that may not turn out to be true because we have become so programmed to look for bargains. Look at the success of all the off-price retailers especially for apparel. So consumers “saying” they would be willing to spend more money and “doing” it may not be the same. Apparel retailers need to move slowly on this and attempt to find a balance of fashion apparel that will stay in style longer, in essence last longer, while still being within the price points that consumers want. It’s not going to be easy.

Nikki Baird
I think there are a lot of conflicting factors at play here. Gen Z in particular has whatever money their parents are willing to spend on them. But they’re starting to turn over into paying for their own stuff. The wallet pressure of $100 for a pair of jeans that you still might outgrow vs. $25 for a pair of jeans that will fit you for about as long as they will last is still pretty real. However, I do think the backlash is coming. When you look at the trends of: experiences over things (spending less on clothing overall but on things that last a lot longer so that I can fund experiences), small-scale living (not wanting to “own” so much), social awareness (the human rights impact of fast fashion), environmental awareness (the ecological impact of fast fashion)… It’s getting to be a pretty long list of factors working against the industry. I think it is no coincidence that H&M accepts old clothes in order to recycle, as one way of addressing the issue.… Read more »
David Weinand

Consumer sentiment is definitely changing. Consumer sentiment around transparency (where was it manufactured and by whom) and environmental consciousness are becoming driving factors for the next generation of shoppers. Patagonia’s practice of total transparency of the manufacturing process is a perfect example of a winning strategy for what shoppers want. H&M had to write off, what, $3 billion of excess inventory last year? Their target will notice that and judge them harshly for it. Fast fashion can still be a good business but these retailers should look at perhaps scaling back their mix and focusing on making what is available better quality.

Neil Saunders

Fast fashion remains a huge part of the industry and I cannot see that changing any time soon. However, there is no doubt that the growth of fast fashion is slowing down. Consumers are saturated with product, are more environmentally conscious, and are waking up to new ways of getting apparel – including resale and rental, both of which are seeing enormous growth.

The consequence of this is that some retailers that rely on low prices and volume for their business models to work need to pivot to a different position. That will be far from easy, and not all will survive. However, we are already seeing adaptations such as American Eagle’s recent foray into clothing rental/subscriptions.

Ralph Jacobson

This one survey doesn’t show substantial enough findings to make any retailer worry for the immediate future. Trends will come and go, however there has never been a fashion cycle where the vast majority of shoppers do not want value. Regardless of these lukewarm findings, you can’t tell me that young people won’t want fashionable, inexpensive clothing as they enter the consumer market as young adults.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

While I’m into acquiring fewer items that have longevity (quality and style), the power and appeal of Instagrammable outfits may not die down any time soon for digital natives!

Lauren Goldberg

I wouldn’t make any major assumptions on a whole retail category over one survey. There is a strong subset that values quantity over quality and want to buy a “Kardashian” knock off a few hours after they saw it on Instagram. But I believe that fast fashion might have hit its peak. I think there is a growing trend towards “less is more” – experiences over things, eliminating waste, even finding items that “spark joy” a la Marie Kondo and getting rid of the rest.

Paula Rosenblum

I have talked about this with friends quite a bit. What they prefer to have is a mixture. Some timeless, high-quality go-tos, coupled with fast fashion separates to make new and interesting outfits.

We tend to think in such draconian ways. No market is infinite, but there’s a market for most everything. So I see fast fashion existing, but not “taking over.”

Georganne Bender

I wonder how many young people realize they are buying fast fashion. They are more attuned to buying what they can afford – stores like H&M, Old Navy, and even Target, have given them this option.

I can tell you that the Millennial and Gen Z shoppers in my life will spend $35 on a pair of jeans at American Eagle vs. $200 on a big brand at Nordstrom. If they even go into Nordstrom. My observation is that fast fashion retailers will look for new ways to connect with core customers, but the $5.99 t-shirt will be with us for a long time.

Evan Snively

Ideals expressed on a survey and actions taken with purchase behaviors are two very different things. I would like to believe that the intentions of those polled will be followed through, and certainly the mere act of outwardly expressing them makes that more likely, but I think it will be slower to develop than the data might suggest. The fast-fashion industry will evolve hand-in-hand with the social media industry, and as long as consumers are given the temptation to make impulse decisions, they will continue doing so.

Gene Detroyer

This isn’t an either/or conversation. There is reasons on both ends and across the spectrum.

But the reality is no matter what the age, fast fashion offers a fashion and price efficiency that is hard to ignore. I call them disposable clothes. One can buy a blouse at H&M that is good looking, fashionable and for just $12. You wear it for the season and the fashion changes. Compare that to the similar $198 blouse at Bloomies.

The Bloomies blouse may be made better (that is an entirely different question) and it may be more classic. It may even be stylish after 10 years or more (but it may also look a little dingy).

Net/net, as long as fashions change regularly (yearly or even seasonally) there is a place for fast fashion — my disposable clothes.

Ken Morris
Fast fashion is driven by two major factors that are most relevant to younger generations: cost and fashionability. Younger shoppers don’t have as much discretionary income and they want to have the latest fashion styles. It is natural for style preferences to change as they have more stability and income when they get a little older and more expensive, longer lasting apparel becomes more appealing. This is a natural trend that will likely persist. Investment in clothing has always been an affluent consumers mantra and as wealth shifts to a younger demographic we will continue to see this tack toward longer lasting classics. As Generation Z consumers age, they will be replaced by the next younger generation that will likely have similar preferences to Gen Z when they were the same age. Fast fashion will likely continue to have a core following in the future, but it will just be different consumers. The key to success for fast fashion retailers will be to continue to adapt to the evolving preference of this younger age group.
Rob Gallo
1 month 2 days ago
Several good points made above. One survey doesn’t indicate the end of a trend and it’s not an either/or proposition. There will always be segments of the population (no matter what the age) that want inexpensive, fashion forward clothing, while others are willing to invest in higher quality. Younger consumers have much more access to information and clothing options than previous generations. As a result, they are much savvier and more actively think about the value equation before making purchases. “Am I willing to spend more or less on this and what am I giving up by buying it?” For most people, that value equation changes by product and/or occasion. What we are seeing is that the elements in the value equation are changing. It’s not just about price, style and quality anymore. It now includes some of things that Nikki mentions above – experiences, small-scale living, social and environmental awareness. Companies like Patagonia (incumbent), United By Blue, Marine Layer and Wolford are focusing on at least one or more of these elements and having… Read more »
Dick Seesel

Some fast fashion retailers’ problems are self-inflicted — for example, H&M’s sales numbers may be the result of an unclear brand identity. Are they trying to be as trend-right as Forever 21, or are they trying to be more basic and “wear to work” oriented? The mixed message has a visible impact on the store’s execution when the consumer walks in.

But the biggest problem affecting “fast fashion” is the rising alternatives: If you think about the growth of off-pricers and niche e-commerce sites, you can see why mall-based fast fashion retailers are slowing down as much as other formats tied to the mall.

Michael Decker

Macro business and consumer retail trends like social consciousness (CSR) are becoming deeply seeded into our youth culture and these values are accelerating, given the current political climate. Gen Zers and Millennials see themselves as the protectors of the environment (the Future, even) and wear that badge proudly by differentiating themselves from the rest of the marketplace (their parents!) in what they buy and how they consume goods and services.

Patagonia is a perfect example of a socially responsible company that has firmly grasped this concept — charging SRPs that are upwards of 200 percent higher than their competitors (with the lifetime guarantee that Matthew mentions) and outperforming. Traditional branding tactics have become gauche and “uncool.” Quality is the new black. And “brandless” brands like Brandless are reaching new heights.

Fast fashion will begin an inevitable decline this year because it’s superficial, wasteful and a detriment to our planet. Change is good. Right?

Jeff Sward

There is nothing to prevent any given brand or retailer from managing their business for both quality and longevity plus addressing the trend of the moment. It does not have to be all or nothing. There are categories that can experience longer shelf lives, and there are categories that can be freshened weekly or every two weeks, or whatever. And this can happen if the supply chain is fast or slow.

During my time in China, I could go from test result to on-floor in 3-5 weeks with almost any product I wanted. That prevents a lot of guessing/markdowns. And items that sustain their customer demand enjoy long life. So yeah, FAST is highly preferable. But you can also plan scarcity and obsolescence and short shelf life. It’s complicated, but very doable. FAST should have been a solution for H&M, not the problem.

"I think there are a lot of conflicting factors at play here. "
"I wonder how many young people realize they are buying fast fashion. They are more attuned to buying what they can afford..."
"As Generation Z consumers age, they will be replaced by the next younger generation that will likely have similar preferences."

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