Fast fashion is a business which is designed to reflect immediately the latest fad, low cost, and fast turnover of stock. Its fast circulation is like fast food which we can eat immediately after ordering, that’s the origin of fast fashion.
Fast fashion appeared first in Europe. Fast fashion noticeably grew in London, Paris, and Zurich since the mid-2000s and spread to the USA and Asia. Fast fashion is also called SPA. This format was introduced by the U.S jean company the GAP in 1986. The GAP changed their company format to SPA to get through a financial crisis. SPA is an abbreviation of Specialty retailer, Private label and Apparel’s. It means SPA brands plan, produce apparels and sell at the store under direct management with a self-circulation network. Therefore, they can prepare system that combines production, circulation and sales vertically. After this, SPA brands such as ZARA, H&M, and UNIQLO began to appear and modeled after the GAP.
Growth of fast fashion
Currently, it is known that the value of the fashion brands H&M, ZARA, UNIQLO is ranked as 2nd, 3rd and 6th, respectively, in the world. Therefore, SPA brands currently are widely recognized. Additionally, SPA brand shows remarkable growth despite sales of many fashion brands decreasing and fashion brands downsizing businesses because of the recession. Sales in 2013 for ZARA increased 22% over the last year. Sales of H&M also increased 42% over the last year. In addition, experts expect the SPA brand market will grow up to 5 trillion won in 2015.
As well, one year sales of SPA brands, reached to about 1 trillion 900 billion won in Korea, and they have expanded stores in each region. UNIQLO, ZARA, EIGHT SECONDS, TOPTEN and H&M which were not opening stores at Daegu are competitively opening stores to extrude the clothing store of existing brands. This shows the growth acceleration of SPA brands.
Why are we enthusiastic to the SPA brands now? The first reason is price competitiveness. There is a nearly double different between the same type of SPA brand clothes and normal brand clothes. The reason is since SPA brands have the circulation process of its own store instead of the circulation system such as a conventional department store. Also, instead of having their own factory, they reduce prices through outsourcing. These merits stimulated the purchasing psychology of consumers’ thin pockets due to the long-term global recession that began in the United States.
The second reason is adapting quickly to the change of fashion trends. In fact, most SPA stores showcase new clothes at two-week intervals. This is in contrast to the most conventional garment manufacturers. Conventional garment manufacturers exchange goods about four times a year. The possible reason to change was SPA brands’ communication structure and decision making structures are simple and straight forward.
The third reason is the various attempts. People have prejudice that SPA brands have only basic apparels. However, SPA brands stimulate the desire of consumers’ with the collaboration with famous designers. For example, H&M collaborated with designers like Lanvin and Comme des Garcons and UNIQLO collaborated with Jil Sander and came up with the + J line-up, consumers ravaged stores in a matter of days.
Also SPA brands stimulate consumers’ purchasing demand with developing innovative fabric or improving fabric which are used for specific use. For example, UNIQLO’s fleece sold like hot cakes in the winter. The fleece, which is made with polyester fiber, was originally used in expensive snowsuits, sports clothing and professional climbing gear for workability and warmth excellence despite it being thin and lightweight. Fast Retailing, which is the parent company of UNIQLO, lowered the cost through mass production and offered a variety of colors, 51 colors, and sold it to the mass public. The company sold 2 million pieces in 1998, in their first year of sales, and sold 26 million pieces in 2000. It was a record breaking sale in the clothing industry. These achievements of SPA brand gave the world of fashion a refreshing shock.
Harmful effects of Fast Fashion
There is also a dark side of SPA brands which is often only considered being good. <Earth: One Thing Fast Fashion Does Not Tell> which aired on EBS on January 17th, showed the dark side of SPA brands.
Currently, most SPA brands have a production in the form of outsourcing. The factories which are outsourced by SPA bands are located in third world countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Myanmar which is based on cheap labor costs. Unfortunately, the factories like this do not adhere to the basic labor law. These factories employed employees for about 260 won per hour. Also, in Uzbekistan, children starting from 7 years old are recruited to the cotton farm for three months to produce cotton. In that period, even schools close their doors.
Not only this, lately, accidents have occurred. At an eight-story garment factory ‘Lana Plaza’ in Bangladesh which had 5 garment factories that collapsed because of the poor factory environment. It was a tragic disaster that left 1100 people dead. Not only this factory, but many factories in Bangladesh like the Lana Plaza still have the risk of collapsing. Workers who work for clothing factories in Bangladesh are always trembling with anxiety. In spite of this, Bangladesh government has turned a blind eye to the poor environment of the apparel industry which earns the majority of their GDP. (China hourly wage: 1 dollar 26 cents, 52 cents Pakistan, Cambodia 45 cents)
By-products which occurs from making SPA clothes are also problems. Many pesticides are used to cultivate cotton necessary for the production of clothing. The amount is huge indeed. A full 10% of agriculture chemicals used in the world and 25% of pesticides in the world is used to cultivate cotton. In addition, a lot of hazardous substances like perfluorinated carbons gas, surfactants are used. Also, 1500ℓ of water is used to make jeans. Fabric scraps left by creating clothes are also mass-produced and discarded causing enormous pollution in garbage.
As the consumption of SPA brands increases, cloth wastes also increases from 45,800 cases in 2007 to 71,905 cases in 2011. 7/8 of cloth wastes were thrown out and 1/8 wastes sent to the recycle shops and charities. It shows that most clothes are discarded before their expiration date.
Efforts of SPA brands for image reproduction
The Bangladesh disaster has caused discussion of social responsibility issues and fast fashion. After the Lana Plaza disaster, SPA brands provided the regulations for the protection of human rights of workers. SPA brands came to an agreement to improve the working environment. In addition, global SPA brands create and execute Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and send a report of sustainability investing a hefty sum. H&M started the “recovery movement of old clothes” in 1,500 of their shops that started March of this year. It is expected to expand to 2,800 stores in the fall. If you bring your clothes into the store, the next time you buy clothes, the store gives you a coupon for a 15% discount. Also returned old clothes are recycled by I:CO, new Swiss venture, or use it to make floor cloth or material for fabric. In addition, ZARA announced their plans to decrease more than 50% water consumption and 30% of electrical energy to stores in 86 countries, a total of 6,000 stores around the world. New stores that will be launched from now until 2020 will also follow this plan. Moreover, ZARA will release 2-4 premium collections to overcome short durability of products. This strategy is making clothes that are not too trendy with high-quality fabric or increasing the value of possession by collaborating with celebrities. However, their labor environment is still poor and collecting old clothes is not enough.
To oppose the absurdity of the SPA brands, people are trying to consume rationally, therefore slow fashion is a better consumption focus. Kate Fletcher of “Sustainable Fashion Center” of the United Kingdom has been named ‘Slow fashion’ in 2007. Slow fashion aims to look for a solution, and take actions to problems like raising awareness to Fair Trade, the protection of the rights of animals, poor working environments that the fashion industry had acquiesced. You can see slow fashion as anti-fashion that goes against fast fashion, but ‘SLOW’ of slow fashion means not just the fashion cycle, but the consumer lifestyle. It is not saying the slowness of the process of production, slow fashion means that people consume products that can be worn a long time, have good quality, conscious of environmental and ethical values in the production process.
Companies, leading to a slow fashion
PeopleTree uses only organic cotton to make natural dye and to produce using recycled products. Also, they offer jobs to 20 developing countries and they participate in Fair Trade through producing products using resources that are easily available in those countries and establishing facilities like schools. Emma Watson participated in the collection, it drew attention. Similar companies are companies like Oxfam in UK and Gru in Korea.
Outdoor brand Patagonia takes a strange approach that advertises to consumers to not to buy the new product in front of them. Also they explain the reason why you shouldn’t buy their products. To make consumers buy new clothes, they make partnerships with shopping malls like eBay and Common Trades, and have an inverse concept that allows people to exchange their old clothes easily instead of buying new clothes. They inform the consumer on tips of how to wear clothes a long time and hire more staff to mend, so if customers send their worn clothes to the company, they can repair it and it will be returned within 10 days; more than 12,000 clothes are mended per year. Since opening in 1973, they become the 2nd USA outdoor brand with a growth rate of 50% annually.
Freitag is a brand to practice upcycling fashion. They produce their products using recycled materials, for example, an abandoned oilskin can turn into fashion items such as bags, wallets, iPhone cases, and bag straps used for safety belts. They have their own unique patterns because the shape is different for each oilskin. There are rumors that eight out of ten Swiss have this bag.
Plan for practice
Slow movement fashion is known only as an alternative to fast fashion. In order to overcome the recognition that slow fashion is not a trend, effort for consumers like us to practice this movement is more important.
1. Quality over Quantity
If you buy quality clothes, you maybe spend more money than when buying cheap and low quality clothes, but in the long term, the life of high quality clothes is so much longer, so it is a proper way to save money.
2. Becoming tolerant to used items
Recently, retro-fashion became popular, there are many cases that people buy washed out jeans, scratch their new pants, and make their shoes dirty even though the real vintage clothes are sold in second hand markets. How do you buy vintage products that are truly aged by time over buying products that mimic the flow of time?
3. Reducing and Recycling
Donating or repairing worn and unworn clothes is called upcycling, it is a practice that is an upgrade of recycling. You can make your own fashion through this DIY.
4. Reducing the number of washing
There is no need to wash your clothes every time after wearing except your underwear. Washing is a main culprit that wears out clothes. It is because fibrous tissues of clothes are destroyed when dirt is removed. If you spot clean your clothes and turn clothes inside out, you can expand your clothes’ life.
SPA brands have grown explosively in competitive turnover and low price. These SPA brands can be contribute their success to the mass production therefore many consumers can buy their products easily. However, after the factory collapse accident in Bangladesh, people became aware of children receiving low wages close to a sweatshop in the developing countries, and nature being destroyed by chemicals and enormous waste. The price of clothes is cheap, but many things are sacrificed for the low price. This does not mean to boycott the SPA brand. But when you buy clothes, please think one more time about the clothes. If customers practice a little thing such as buying their clothes carefully and preferring Fair Trade goods, SPA brand companies will have to adjust to customer’s needs.
Choi Woo-kyung email@example.com
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