In September, fast fashion chain Forever21 filed for bankruptcy and announced they would be closing all 44 of their Canadian retail locations. The brand that had once monopolized our closets, now has an uncertain future. The news of their bankruptcy has people wondering: could this be the end of fast fashion as we know it?
“[I]f you see Kylie Jenner post a photo in something designer, you’ll probably find a replica on Fashion Nova within five business days.”
The term “fast fashion” refers to retailers or brands that rapidly produce new designs. Famous for keeping up with the latest trends, these retailers are always adjusting their merchandise to fit the most searched outfits on Instagram. For example, if you see Kylie Jenner post a photo in something designer, you’ll probably find a replica on Fashion Nova within five business days. The main appeal of fast fashion is the low price point —if you can get a trendy dress for $30, why wouldn’t you buy it?
However, the business model that was once a dream for its customers is facing new challenges because of a recent culture shift.
Specifically, Forever21 underestimated the upward trend of people shopping online. A survey conducted earlier this year found that millennials in the US make 60% of their purchases online and generally prefer the format over traditional in-store shopping. E-commerce has continued to rise, and online brands have gained more popularity as a result. While Forever21 aimed to renovate its stores and expand locations, online brands like Fashion Nova and ASOS were able to churn out new styles at a faster pace because of their emphasis on online retail. In the world of fast fashion, fast is the key word.
Furthermore, people have become more concerned with quality, allowing name brands to retain their consumer base. Fast fashion outlets can only afford to produce cheap merchandise by skimping on material quality. Yet, the lower quality never seemed to steer people away from fast fashion —until now.
“[A]fter I bought my first pair of Levi’s, I was never tempted by low quality, easily-stretched-out $20 jeans again.”
Millennials are no longer teenagers who view shopping as a daily after-school activity, leading them to prefer investing in fewer items with a longer lifespan. For example, after I bought my first pair of Levi’s, I was never tempted by low quality, easily-stretched-out $20 jeans again. In recent years, well-known designer brands like Gucci and new independent designers on social media have entered mainstream fashion. While knock-offs of these designs were once considered a fashion hack, they’re now seen as cheap and lacking creativity.
As well, there’s a growing concern for ethical consumerism. A 2016 survey found 92% of millennials are more likely to buy products from ethical companies, who are transparent in their practices and value sustainability. Fast fashion outlets rarely disclose where their products are made —labels reading “Made in [insert developing country here]” and cheap prices provide a rough picture about the factories they work with. As they often release new designs before selling out of previous merchandise, they’re extremely wasteful businesses. With recent surges in environmental activism, consumers want to reduce their carbon footprint, leading more young people to buy second hand clothing.
As trends from the late 20th century become popular again, thrift shopping has become cool —with frequent thrifters bragging about their authentic and one-of-a-kind finds. Not only do fast fashion outlets lack uniqueness, they promote constant consumerism instead of encouraging people to reuse or recycle products still in good condition. The thrift store cycle reduces the wastefulness of the fashion industry by allowing pieces to be worn by multiple people over time and encouraging people to donate clothes they don’t wear anymore instead of throwing them away. In this narrative, fast fashion companies seem like the villain in our quest to save the planet.
It’s uncertain whether our change in shopping habits have killed fast fashion completely. Major retailers will have to make some changes of their own to keep up with evolving consumer preference —but, in spite of all these cultural shifts, we’ll probably still see each other at Forever21’s bankruptcy sale.
Header Image Source: Los Angeles Magazine