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Fast fashion, "value" fashion

‘We now buy 40% of all our clothes at value retailers, with just 17% of our clothing budget.’ TNS Worldpanel (2006) Fashion Focus issue 29

A Cambridge University study reports that in 2006, people were buying a third more clothes than they were in 2002, and women have four times as many clothes in their wardrobe than they did in 1980. Women are also getting rid of similar amounts each year.

Brands began competing against each other for market share by introducing more lines per year at lower costs, culminating in a situation where ‘fashion houses now offer up to 18 collections a year’ and the low cost, so called ‘value end’ is ‘booming; doubling in size in just 5 years.‘

Retailers must respond to quickly changing fashion trends, which now change in weeks instead of months – thanks in part to instant coverage of fashion weeks and street style online. It used to take about six months for a product to get to market, and this has now been slashed down to three week cycles.

This naturally has led to pressure on the supply chain. “Buyers pressure factories to deliver quality products with ever-shorter lead times. Most factories just don’t have the tools and expertise to manage this effectively, so they put the squeeze on the workers. It’s the only margin they have to play with.” (Oxfam report, 2004)

The increase in the amount of clothes people consume also has consequences for the environment. Statistics suggest that on average, UK consumers send 30kg of clothing and textiles per capita to landfill each year and that 1.2 million tonnes of clothing went to landfill in 2005 in the UK alone.

Some companies have started to address problems associated with fast fashion through training their buyers in responsible buying practices.

Other fashion companies have chosen to integrate recycled textiles and clothing in their collections, or to raise consumer awareness about the advantages of ethically sourced, good quality fashion items as opposed to low cost, fast fashion.

A bit more context….

Fast Fashion gathered pace from the end of the 1990’s when brands began to look for new ways to increase profits. Globalisation had grown rapidly in the 80’s and 90’s – paving the way for value and mid price brands to shift the bulk of their production to the developing world where labour and overheads cost are a fraction of those in Europe.

High street brands were coming under increasing pressure from supermarket chains developing their own lines of low cost clothing. Initially they sold items like simple T shirts and underwear, however the move of George Davies from Next to Asda signalled a new era for supermarket clothing and a move into high fashion, low cost items.

Traditionally, most fashion labels have produced two main collections a year, spring/summer and autumn/winter. However, high street brands needed to create some interest within their stores mid season, so the number of collections increased to drive sales.

A few fashion companies re-examined their supply chains and developed a system which several other brands then followed. They segmented their supply chain, keeping basic items manufactured in the far east but brought the production of the more high fashion items closer to home.

This had several benefits. Firstly it decreased their financial outlay on forward orders and also allowed them to make decisions about the fashion items much later in the season. This added flexibility and ensured they were able to react to the market quickly and deliver ‘on-trend’ items within their stores.

This model could then be developed through the use of new technological systems which linked all parts of the supply chain together. This new system allowed for the development of ‘just in time’ manufacturing and has now developed to a stage where they are able to turn a garment around from sketch to shop floor as quick as two weeks.

Consumers reacted positively to this trend which in turn has resulted in the widespread speeding up of fashion.

Factory workers are feeling the effects of this. A Sri Lankan factory owner interviewed by Oxfam demonstrates the pressure they are now under:

“Last year the deadlines were about 90 days… [This year] the deadlines for delivery are about 60 days. Sometimes even 45… They have drastically come down.”

‘Instead of 40,000 garments being manufactured across four styles for 20 weeks at a rate of 500 per styles per week… all that is firm is the first five weeks across four styles at 500 per style per week. This is a commitment to 10,000 garments. The remaining 30,000 is unknown. Nor is there any promise of how many styles and at what manufacturing rate per week.’ Just Style (2006) Purchasing trends in the fashion industry www.just-style.com

The Clean Clothes Campaign describe similar instances with garment workers in China: “We have endless overtime in the peak season and we sit working non-stop for 13 to 14 hours a day. It’s like this every day – we sew and sew without a break until our arms feel sore and stiff.”

The increase in the amount of clothes people consume also has consequences for the environment. More clothing is shipped and flown from the Far East to Europe than ever before and the life cycle of these garments is decreasing.

Statistics show that on average, UK consumers send 30kg of clothing and textiles per capita to landfill each year and that 1.2 million tonnes of clothing went to landfill in 2005 in the UK alone. Moreover, textiles present particular problems in landfill as synthetic (man-made fibres) products will not decompose, while woollen garments do decompose and produce methane, which contributes to global warming.

As textile consultant Kate Fletcher points out ‘Fast isn’t free – someone somewhere is paying’ It’s also clear that the environment is suffering too. ..

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