Reading | Fast Fashion

The emergence and disappearance of tidal current is usually described as the result of cultural change, but cultural change is slow because it is based on stable social norms. The trend, on the other hand, is changing faster and faster, so that people can only run after it in the past 20 years. This new phenomenon-the production and promotion of a large number of cheap disposable clothes is called "fast fashion". The change of fashion is neither cultural nor unforeseeable, and it is not an organic phenomenon, but an act carefully designed to stimulate sales.

Traditionally, the fashion industry has been replaced according to the cycle of "eight seasons": spring, summer I, summer II, autumn, autumn and winter, winter I, winter II and holidays. But now, customers who are at the forefront of the trend can pay attention to 24 different new seasons, such as back-to-school season, dance season and even wedding season. Among them, there are not only basic items that are regarded as necessities, but also luxury items that show superior social status. Although these new seasons are of different types, the existence time of each trend is getting shorter and shorter, and the gap between necessities and luxury goods is getting smaller and smaller. Historically, price, brand and quality have distinguished low-end products for the mass market from high-end products. Today, the difference in quality between products priced at 10 euros and 200 euros may be imperceptible. The key to high sales is price: if you want to sell more, you must sell it cheaply. This is why cheap goods and disposable goods have replaced durable products.

In order to get a lower price, it is necessary to reduce the production cost. This will bring many consequences: industrial pollution, social problems, damage to human health … The exploitation of labor by industrial production will aggravate global poverty, promote the production of a large number of industrial wastes, and hinder the improvement of wages in developing countries. Because the purpose of industrial production is to promote people’s excessive consumption of cheap, disposable clothes. Price is a core factor, which determines whether customers are willing to continue to consume.

European companies such as ZARA and H&M dominate this fast fashion industry. They are famous for producing goods that are affordable but look expensive. The success of this business model has prompted all retailers to join the Nuggets. Even some traditional luxury brands, such as Versace, now rely on this sales strategy. Low prices expand the customer base and make them feel that they have a luxury. This pursuit has completely changed the clothing industry. The strategy of price positioning must first determine whether consumers will spend 10 euros, 200 euros or something in between for a piece of clothing. The ability of the manufacturer to create and promote the brand image, value and prestige is the driving force of this game. Innovation and brand reputation enable them to set higher prices, but when the trend fades, the prices will fall, and these clothes will be replaced by other styles … Therefore, consumers who are most sensitive to fashion will pay high prices to gain the advantage of leading the trend, while others are waiting for affordable prices.

In view of technological innovation and industrial innovation, retailers can meet the needs of fashion hipsters at very low prices, which has given birth to a new competition and reclassified the market. In fact, when the variable price is removed from the equation to distinguish market segments, retailers will readjust their strategies and seek the lowest price for the highest-end products. Historically, consumers have two markets to choose from when buying goods, namely mass market and luxury market. But now they have more intermediate options. The "first-line big-name" market-the sales price of clothing, accessories and cosmetics is second only to luxury brands, and the "light luxury" market-is slightly more expensive than the popular brands, but it is close to the products of luxury brands in terms of taste, style and even quality. The development of fashion industry has also promoted the transformation of clothing function, which was once the symbol of social status, taste, general cultural awareness and unique personality. With the emergence of these new categories, the original logo has gradually disappeared.

The real success of fast fashion lies neither in advanced technology nor in the proximity of factories, but in unprecedented sales. The reason why prices can keep falling is that consumers will buy new clothes as soon as they are introduced. On average, customers go to the store 17 times a year. In ZARA, the unsold inventory is less than 10%, while in other brands, the proportion is 17% to 20%. The production cycle no longer follows the law of seasonal purchase, but must satisfy people’s continuous consumption.

Fast fashion stores have their own marketing strategies to make customers buy more clothes, even if their closets are already filled with similar styles of clothes. Fast-selling brands rarely replenish the most popular goods in order to attract consumers into the store with "new products" that are constantly on the shelves. What customers buy is scarcity. In fact, there is nothing innovative about a pair of blue jeans. The combination of low price and treasure hunting in shops is only to persuade and "create desire". There is no limit to how many clothes a person can buy, especially cheap clothes.

(This article is excerpted from The Evil of Fashion: Creation, Production and Manipulation, by Audrey Mier, translated by Qu Xiaorui, and published by Peking University Publishing House.)

Author: [France] Audrey Mier

Editor: Yuan Yilu