what is fast fashion?

fast fashion is defined as an expression that is widely accepted by a group of people over time and has been characterized by several marketing factors such as lowpredictability, high impulse purchase, shorter life cycle, and high volatility ofmarket demand (Fernie and Sparks 1998). Thus, in order to be profitable in theindustry, fashion apparel retailers need to take the ‘speed to market’ approach tocapitalize on fashion that is not in the stores of their competitors. It has been furtheremphasized that market responsiveness and agility through rapid incorporation ofconsumer preferences into the design process in product development increases theprofit margins for retailers (Christopher, Lowson, and Peck 2004).Looking at history, fashion runways and fashion shows were the biggestinspiration for the fashion industry. Along with this, these trend shows wereprimarily restricted to designers, buyers and other fashion manager s. However from1999 onwards, fashion shows and catwalks became a public phenomenon, wherephotographs of the recent fashion shows cou ld be seen in magazines and on the webleading to demystification of the fashion process (Sydney 2008). As a result, fashion-168 V. Bhardwaj and A. Fairhurstconscious consumers were exposed to exclusive designs and styles inspired fromrunways. Retailers such as Zara, H&M, Mango, New Look, and Top Shop wereadopting such designs rapidly to attract consumers and introduce interpretations ofthe runway designs to the stores in a minimum of three to five weeks (Barnes andLea-Greenwood 2006).Drawing on the foundations of quick responsiveness, the fashion apparelindustry shifted from forecasting future trends to using real-time data to understandthe needs and desires of the consumers (Jackson 2001). The inability to accuratelyforecast or predict future trends (Christopher, Lowson, and Peck 2004) or failure toquickly imitate and produce fashion apparel as seen on runways (Richardson 1996)can lead to risk associated with longer lead times and hence failure to attract fashion-conscious consumers. Using real-time data can eliminate this possible risk.United Kingdom retailersThe UK fashion indu stry has been widely ack nowledged to have initiated this uniquestrategy in the fashion industry (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood 2006). Since itsbeginning, the fashion apparel industry has been characterized by high levels ofdominance by large retailers in the UK with inflexible supply chains (Hines andBruce 2001). Around the 1990s, apparel manufacturers and retailers, primarily fromthe UK witnessed price pressure from the strong players in the market. In order tostay in competition, UK retailers such as New Look and George shifted sourcing ofmerchandise to the Far East for a low cost advantage. In doing so, supply chainsbecame more complex due to extensive geographical distance, thereby forcing theseretailers to introduce practices such as just-in-time (JIT), computer integrate dmanufacturing (CIM), total quality management (TQM) in manufacturing alongwith emphasis on shorter supply lines and quick response in the market (Bruce,Daly, and Towers 2004).As an outcome, retailers in the UK started providing increased variety andfashionability to their customers, keeping in mind the low cost of the merchandise.In addition, they also added mid-season purchasing to their previous two-seasoncalendars, resulting in providing high fashion at a low price ‘throwaway market’.Since then the ‘throwaway market’ (now called fast fashion) has become a trend ornorm (Tokatli, Wrigley, and Kizilgu¨n 2008). In sum, the concentrated UK fashi onmarket resulted in street fashion as an attempt to gain a competitive edge along withmarket share through speed to market (Birtwistle and Freathey 1998).The following sections provide supplier and consumer pe rspectives in regard tofast fashion.Fast fashion from the supplier perspectiveApparel markets have become more varied and faster-changing in the present retailenvironment. The development of new, quick fashion appears symptomatic of thetransition from a production-driven to a market-driven approach in the fashionapparel industry. Retailers have started realizing that flexibility and rapidresponsiveness to the market are the areas that are most important in today’smarket.During the past two decades, the fashion apparel industry has received increasedattention in the context of buyer-supplier relationships, and quick response andThe International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research 169supply chain management to gain a competitive edge in the market (Crewe andDavenport 1991; Fiorito, May, and Straughne 1995; Sohal, Perry, and Pratt 1998;Perry and Sohal 2000). In academic study, fast fashion has been researched from theperspective of a business model with a quick response strategy to reduce productiontimes (Bailey 2001). Literature on fast fashion reflects association with pressure onlead-time reduction in an organization and coordination with various players in thesupply chain (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood 2006; Wensley 1999).The obsolete long-buying cycles for many fashion retailers ha s forced them toimprove responsiveness in reduced time, resulting in an introduction of severalpractices in the fashion industry that describe shorter, more flexible supply chainssuch as quick response (Fernie and Azuma 2004), just-in-time (Bruce, Daly, andTowers 2004) and agile supply chains (Bruce, Daly, and Towers 2004; Christopher,Lowson, and Peck 2004). In order to improve efficiency in the demand-drivenmarket, these practices have often been related to vertical integration focusing oncollaboration, information sharing and trust between entities in a supply chain(Birtwistle, Siddhiqui, and Fiorito 2003). In addition, improvements in communica-tion between retailers and producers through technology such as computer-aided-design (CAD) and electronic data interchange (EDI) have contributed to shorteninglead times (Bruce, Daly, and Towers 2004).Fast fashion from a consumer perspectiveConsumers are becoming more demanding and fashion savvy which is forcingfashion retailers to provide the right product at the right time in the market – inother words, pro vide quick (fast) fashion (The Economist 2005). As the consumermarket is fragmented in terms of consumption patterns, fast fashion is gaining inimportance among consumers. With such developments, researchers should identifythe full spectrum of consumer behaviour towards fast fashion. The literature on fastfashion highlights various aspects of supply chain management, supported by supplychain theory to improve the business model of fashion retailers. It is worth notingthat not many studies have addressed fast fashion as a consumer-driven approach,leaving this an under-researched area.Information and trends are moving around the globe at tremendous speeds,resulting in consumers’ ability to have more options an d thus shop more often(Hoffman 2007). Changes in lifestyle due to sociocultural factors and a need foruniqueness forces fashion retailers to renew merchandise constantly to deal with thegrowing competition in the market (Sproles and Burns 1994). The constant, varyingdemands by consumers has impacted the process of forecasting and productplanning shifting; towards replicating famous designs and styles from fashionmagazines and fashion shows in small quantities more frequently (Christopher,Lowson, and Peck 2004).The perception of throwaway fashion varies among different generations. Forexample, young people of the population that constitute Generation Y would prefera higher number of low-quality, cheap and fashionable clothes as compared to babyboomers, who would prefer to purchase fewer number of higher quality clothes(Crewe and Davenp ort 1992). From conservative consumers’ perspective, fastfashion is viewed as a ‘waste’ because rather than buying one high quality item tosatisfy a wardrobe need, consumers buy multiples that are lower quality and thenthrow old merchandise away as quickly as they bring in new ones (Sydney 2008). In170 V. Bhardwaj and A. Fairhurstagreement with Barnes and Lea-Greenwood (2006) and based on differentperspectives of consumers toward fast fashion mentioned in this study, it is apparentthat fast fashion is a consumer-driven approach, in addition to a supplier-drivenapproach.Future research related to fast fashionReview of existing research on different aspects of fast fashion indicates that the past20 years have seen substantial progress in knowledge generation about the topic, asevidenced by the increasing number of journal publications over time and the varietyof topics addressed, though these are mostly restricted to the supply chain domain.Literature on fast fashion implies that rapid responsiveness techniques such asjust-in time, quick response, and agile supply chains can be valuable to the fashionindustry because such techniques can create a competitive edge in the market (see,for example, Bruce, Daly, and Towers 2004; Christopher, Lowson, and Peck 2004;Fiorito, May, and Straughne 1995; Sohal, Perry, and Pratt 1998). However, minimalevidence addresses consumer behaviour towards fashion that is quickly changing(see, for example, Barnes and Lea-Greenwood 2006). By knowing how and to whatextent rapid changing fashion affects consumers’ purchase behaviour and satisfac-tion levels, retailers can develop strategies that can lead to improved profitability.The phenomenon of fast fashion has been extens ively discussed in the fashionpress. However, the existing academic literature on fast fashion is somewhat limitedand calls for additional research on aspects such as factors that motivate consumers’purchase intention such as exclusivity, price-consciousness, hoarding merchandisefor future use, co nsumers’ perceived risk due to trade-off between quality and price,consumer expectation and satisfaction afte r the consumption process, andconsumers’ efficiency in terms of cost–benefit analysis.The dramatic change in the fashion apparel industry, coupled with environ-mental concerns giving rise to conscious consumers in terms of fair trade, the greenmarket and organic clothing, implies that researchers will need to broaden, redesignand align their research to match the fashion markets in the twenty-first century.Further research can also examine the pricing strategy used for fast fashion apparelalong with analysis of consumers’ willingness to pay more for environmentallyfriendly and sustainable fast fashion apparel (for example, organic and green cottonapparel used by Zara and H&M) (see Ethical Style 2009). Currently, little is reportedin the literature regarding the segmentation of consumers based on the acceptance offast fashion. Therefore, it is important to conduct resear ch to analys e the acceptanceof fast fashion across different consumer segments. Another area of resear ch interestcould be to see whether consumers perceive fast fashion brands as counterfeit due to lower price and quality offered by the retailers. Also, it will be worth understanding how consumers differentiate value retailing and fast fashion retailing as both aim tooffer lower prices.ConclusionFast fashion is a concept that will continue to affect the fashion apparel industry over the next decade and will have a direct effect on the way consumers purchase and react to trends. Although continued research relative to the supply-side of fast fashion is important, emphasis should be placed on examining consumers’ International Review of Retail, Distribution, and Consumer Research 171perception of fast fashion. An empirical understanding of consumer characteristics and their motivation to make purchase decisions for throwaway fashion can helpretailers in developing effective marketing strategies to perform more effectively inthe market.


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