Nowhere is the trait of instant gratification more evident than in contemporary culture and the fashion industry.

In previous years, consumers were willing to purchase merchandise from major fashion labels for the brand name and guaranteed quality. However, today’s consumers desire the same latest fashions, but are not willing to pay the major price tag because they do not hold quality in the same high regard. With this willingness to purchase replicas and items of a lower standard, the chief operators of fashion retail saw an opportunity in the market. In an effort to match customer desires, the concept of ‘fast fashion’ was born.

Fast fashion was coined in fashion retail to describe the quick turnover of designs that move from the catwalk to current fashion trends and became extremely popular in the early 2000s. Retailers aimed to increase profit by focusing on key elements of the supply chain with an emphasis on increased manufacturing speed at a low price. The concept has changed the industry dynamic with a quick response philosophy that has resulted in increased forecast accuracy because of the shortened timeframe and the ability to generate quick turnover of merchandise for major retailers.

With this strategy, clothing collections are built around the latest fashion trends presented at spring and autumn fashion shows in New York, Paris and Milan, providing consumers’ high-end style at an affordable price. Although fast fashion has been negatively described as the ‘largest disrupter in the retail industry today’ it has massively benefitted consumers, transforming the market by focusing on simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability; also working to provide a positive impact on companies.

The benchmark: Zara

With around 1,600 stores in 58 countries, Zara is a mammoth retailer that has become the benchmark model for fast fashion by selling their own-label clothes in the latest styles, frequently updating their ranges and cutting the time between design and production. The company has become synonymous with this fashion management concept and the process has enabled the Spanish retailer to manufacture around 30,000 units of product annually, 18,000 designs each year and the capacity to produce them within an average of 3 weeks. The decreased time period improves the variety of choice and product availability while simultaneously increasing the number of original customers.

With regard to implementing new fashions, new designs, and new ideas quickly in its stores, Zara is the paramount fast fashion trendsetter. Their financial performance has made many in the fashion retail industry take notice. In 2015, Zara recorded total global sales of $19.7 billion beating the likes of Gap, Primark and Abercrombie & Fitch as well as surpassing their2014 sales by 8%.

The future of fast fashion

There is a reason why fast fashion is also known as disposable fashion; the significant amount of waste associated with it. With consumers understanding and accepting the lesser quality of the garments in substitution for lower prices, they are quick to throw away the items and move on to the next trend. Although this is nothing new in the fashion industry as there have always been trends causing a large surplus; with fast fashion however, the amount of pollution has increased at a tremendous rate. So the question remains, how long can fast fashion last?

Retailers such as H&M are focusing on the long term and looking at solutions to reduce their environmental footprint. Although they are one of the main culprits of flooding the world with inexpensive clothing, they often recycle the goods in the countries where they originated. The fabric is reprocessed into different goods such as blankets, insulation, carpet padding and pillow stuffing.

With the fast fashion sector relying on a business plan that encourages mass production at an accelerated rate, there was always going to be collateral damage. There are some indicators that fast fashion is decreasing but as long as corporate social and environmental initiatives are enforced by retailers and high consumer demand remains, fast fashion will continue to be a business model for the foreseeable future.