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Guide to Growth: Is fast fashion dead?

Fast fashion has changed the retail landscape over the last 10 years. What is the next significant shift in fashion retail?

Drapers’ Guide to Growth programme is produced in partnership with Clipper.

Jonathan Reynolds, associate professor in retail marketing at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, says the demise of fast fashion is “a matter of when, rather than whether”.

Its downfall, however, is likely to be a drawn-out affair, he predicts: “Even though we may be reaching peak fast fashion – as some consumers start thinking more about sustainability of clothes buying – any slippage still leaves many mainstream consumers happy to benefit from lower prices and disposability.”

Achim Berg, senior partner and global leader of the apparel, fashion and luxury group at McKinsey & Co, believes fast fashion is likely to survive, but with different dynamics.

“Automation and data analytics have enabled a new breed of start-up to adopt agile made-to-order production cycles. Mass-market players will begin to follow suit, aiming to respond more rapidly to trends and consumer demand. The result is likely to be a rise in just-in-time production, reduced levels of overstock and the rising importance of small-batch production cycles.

Leaner, more agile challenger brands will emerge, with smaller production runs catering to more promiscuous consumer segments

Jonathan Reynolds, associate professor in retail marketing at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

“And the so-called nearshoring can enable extremely short delivery times, which allows apparel companies to react to trends more quickly, and be more agile in aligning collections.”

Reynolds agrees this will be central in determining a brand’s success: “We can already see the democratisation of fashion, as the previous dominance of the fashion houses and retailers is replaced by an enormous expansion in crowdsourced trends and fads. Fortune will favour the most agile and adaptable.”

He adds retailers and brands should “seek to involve customers more closely in design, but their business models are presently slow and ponderous. Leaner, more agile challenger brands will emerge, with smaller production runs catering to more promiscuous consumer segments. Word of mouth from trusted influencers, scarcity and exclusivity will be the order of the day.”

He also has a warning for brands and retailers that fail to embrace sustainable practices: “It is instructive to look at other sectors where poor sustainability practices have triggered a backlash and at what has happened in those markets – for example, government intervention – once public disquiet reaches a certain threshold. Retailers should be anticipating similar pressures for change in fashion.”

Berg predicts that this focus on sustainability will herald a new era where ownership becomes less common: “The lifespan of the fashion product is becoming more elastic as pre-owned, refurbished, repair and rental business models continue to evolve.

“The younger generations’ passion for social and environmental causes have reached a critical mass, causing brands to become more fundamentally purpose driven to attract both consumers and talent. And the trend can become a new threat for fast-fashion retailers as consumers are set to invest in used fashion over new clothes.”

Our advice portal for growing retailers and brands, Guide to Growth, aims to solve the problems and challenges fashion businesses encounter as they grow. Email your questions to associate editor graeme.moran@emap.com and we will get them answered by experts. 

Plus, read our Growth in a Changing Economy report here to learn how fast-growth brands and retailers are overcoming barriers to growth. 

In partnership with Clipper

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