The Fast and the Furious


Recently, I spoke with a former retail executive and got into the topic of fast fashion. I learned some interesting facts about the industry and think it’s a great topic to discuss. I bet that many of us have been to or purchased from fast fashion retailers such as Zara, H&M, or Forever 21. Do you ever wonder how they are able to mass produce some of the trendiest pieces and sell them at such low costs? Well, you will now get an idea of how they do it and how these retailers have become so successful.

Two words that come to mind when talking about fast fashion’s success: Speed and Volume. Zara, fashion retailer based out of Spain, can design, manufacture and get new product into their stores in less than a month’s time. How do fast fashion retailers do this? According to the former retail executive, they have workers go to Italy, France, or wherever they are taking fashion trends, purchase designer garments, and take them to a mass producer in countries such as China or Korea. The manufacturers copy, but alter the piece in 9 different ways, to avoid legal troubles, and then mass produce the new items. Companies might have different strategies, but that is a prime example of fast fashion.

Many of the retailers mentioned do not only provide speed, but they also provide volume. In 2013, Zara produced around 450 million garments for its 1,770+ stores. I can only imagine how much H&M produces with its 2,629+ stores! As these retailers are able to mass produce with low wage manufacturers, they are able to offer their clothing at dirt-cheap prices. Many retailers, such as Forever 21, are then able to charge less for their clothing as they have their manufacturers produce with cheaper, synthetic materials. With prices so low, consumers like you and I find ourselves leaving these stores with at least one item and usually fall into the dilemma of not bothering to make our way back to the stores to make a return.

It is evident that fast fashion’s quick and efficient supply chain management is crucial to their success, but there has to be some downside to the system, right? Since most of the products coming out of these retailers are cheaply made, it is without a doubt that these garments are not going to last forever. As some of you know, some of these garments won’t even last 2 or 3 wears. It is a pain, but at such low prices, what can you expect?

Food for thought:

Can you think of any possible flaws in the fast fashion system?

From a consumer’s standpoint, are you willing to give up quality for quantity?

From an ethical standpoint, what do you think about retailers exploiting low wage workers overseas?



13 thoughts on “The Fast and the Furious

  1. Wow, after reading your blog post I was amazed on how much clothing is produced each year. Zara, the company you did research on produced 450 million articles of clothing alone, that is a lot. Every one has clothes they wear so I can only imagine how much effort and time is put into producing, selling, and marketing clothes. It was interesting when you said that Forever 21 purchases clothes made of synthetic material, allowing them to charge less. I have a few articles of clothing from there. In regards to your food for thought questions, the only flaw I can think of in the fashion system is the process of purchasing clothes online. As a student like you, I find it hard to make time to go to the mall and shop for clothes so I turn to online shopping as an alternative. Sometimes when I buy clothes online I often receive them in the mail and dislike them as soon as I try them on, or they don’t fit right. Thats why I have turned to alternatives such as Trunk Club, where they ship clothes to me that are hand picked by personal stylists and they fit perfectly. Overall great blog post, I was very interested reading throughout the whole thing.

  2. The quality vs quantity sure is an issue here. What is nice about fast fashion is that it is cheap and trendy like you said and you can get it quickly. This is great for someone who wants to constantly have new clothes and new styles. However, I sometimes too buy clothing from these stores, and find that I like something so much it became my favorite article of clothing, just to find it destroyed because it couldn’t survive one wash. Sometimes, its better just to pay the price and get something of a better quality.

  3. This is a very interesting topic that I never thought about before. And you’ve raised some very important questions that are involved throughout the process: low wage workers and quality vs quantity. I always wondered how they manufactured clothing that mimic the current styles released by brand name companies at such a cheap price. I’ve shopped at H&M and promised never to go back because of the quality of the clothing…and yes I believe you get for what you pay for when it comes to purchasing clothing. From an ethical standpoint, I don’t agree that sweatshops should be used if that’s the case. And this would make my decision even easier to not shop at stores like H&M, Zara, or any other mass clothing retailer.

  4. The fashion industry is definitely a fast paced industry (like the rest of our lives). Styles change constantly and Zara, Forever 21 and H&M definitely know how to get the latest greatest styles to customer without breaking the bank. I rarely shop at fast fashion clothing stores because when I buy clothes I like them to last. Quality is way more important to me than price. In regards to your last question, I think ethics plays a large part in where people choose to shop. Most people will agree it is not fair for fast fashion companies to pay workers less than minimum wage to work ridiculous hours in sweatshops. Sympathy is limited by distance. Since sweatshops are half way across the world, customers don’t think twice about purchasing clothes from places like Forever 21 because all they see is the price and style. Perhaps if people saw the conditions people worked in to make that $10 sweater, people would have a different perspective on the fast fashion industry.

  5. This was such an interesting post! I never realized how many articles of clothing stores like Zara and H&M put out per year and how quickly they are able to create new articles of clothing in order to stay on the cutting edge of fashion. The one flaw that came to my mind immediately was how much they are paying the people who are actually doing the manufacturing and if they work under safe labor conditions. There is no way that stores can achieve such high efficiency unless they have tons of people working for them, and that costs money. I definitely don’t think that any clothing is worth people working in unethical conditions and sadly, we come across problems like this all of the time. In order to manage your business effectively, you need to have a balance of quality and quantity. If making millions of shirts means exploiting your workforce, then you need to find a new way to do things.

  6. Traveling abroad in Europe this summer was definitely an eye-opener for exactly how large these “fast fashion” companies are. In Prague, there were two H&M stores literally around the corner from one another in the New Town Square. Recently, there has been a lot of controversy concerning fast fashion stores, like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, regarding content that manufacturers decide to put on their merchandise. The quality vs. quantity question you raise is also interesting. Over time, I have found myself steering away from cheap, fast fashion clothing towards more expensive, but durable, pieces that will last me (at least) more than a few months of wear. While the ethical points you raise are also interesting and could be hotly debated, it is hard for me to see the connection with operations management — but it would be a great question for a business ethics class!

  7. I recently had an interesting discussion with a friend about this topic. She informed me that most clothing that include beads and sequence are sewn on by home workers and their children for almost no money. The factories overseas do not feel the need to spend money on these types of equipment. It’s terrible the fashion industry allows this and disheartening to know that this is happening!

  8. Fascinating post! I didn’t know anything about that process until now. It seems great for selling clothes fast. The inventory is constantly going out of style. I always wondered where the clothes from seasons ago end up. Those stores are always full of people. I have been to H&M in Warsaw, Krakow, Munich, Prague, and Amsterdam. Each one was as packed as the one on State st. Personally I prefer to purchase items that are more durable, even if they are more expensive. It seems like a better strategy over time. However, it easy to give in to the temptation to get something fresh. I feel like executives at H&M know that their products aren’t great quality, and they could care less, but it would be very interesting to see how increasing quality would change profit margins.

  9. Great article to read. I want to answer the question about the dilemmas of cheap labor overseas, I do think it is awful to use cheap labor like these companies do, but then again this labor is a job that they may not have otherwise. I see the quality and quanitity issue, but I think it sort of depends on what you buy. I simply go to H&M to buy their V-necks and some tank tops, they seem to last me a pretty decent amount of time. I don’t see anything wrong with my purchases from H&M, but I can tell my some of the material that it isn’t the best. However, the v-necks are still comfortable. I don’t really know anything about fashion so its difficult to answer about the flaws I believe are in there. I still feel the quality is decent for me, I’ve never really had issues with their clothes, but then again my shirts are only $5 and I may not even notice if I am replacing them.

  10. I think the quality of clothing in these fast fashion chains is awful and the working conditions they are made in are even worse. With fashion trends changing so quickly these days it’s not hard for manufacturers to keep up, but keeping up does come at a price. The question is would consumers be willing to pay more money for better quality clothes. Unfortunately I don’t think they would, if only because it would mean fewer selections to choose from and more than a small price increase. We are used to immediacy and I don’t think that will change in the near future.

  11. It is very convenient to go to H&M for example, and pick up a nice and affordable outfit and it obviously comes with its costs, like inferior quality and also that a million other people will have the same clothing. For the retailers business is good and I agree with Janelle (above) nothing will change soon if consumers keep buying.

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