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The fast-fashion industry is unraveling at the seams

The practicality of online shopping, social media influence, and increasing awareness of environmental effects, are causing fast-fashion brick-and-mortar businesses to become out of style. 


For the past decade, fast-fashion has been thriving. Allowing people to achieve the looks of their style-icons without breaking the bank.

Big brand clothing chains are seeing less foot traffic as today’s generation of fashionistas shop with evolving idealistic.


Fast-fashion uses rapid production, cheap materials, and outsourced and underpaid labor to quickly turn a profit on mass quantity clothing. Stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara have found success in the market by offering desirable trends at a fraction of the cost.


As of recent, these stores are seeing a rapid decline in profits. According to an article in The New York Times, H&M reported having $4.3 billion of unsold merchandise in 2018. In August of 2019, reported that Forever 21 has experienced more than a 20% dip in sales and that the company is currently seeking help from financial advisors as they face possible bankruptcy filing.


Palomar College fashion student and Forever 21 employee, Kyle Jones says, “Even though I work at Forever 21 I don’t actually buy any of the clothes there.” 


So what has caused this shift in consumer habits?


Fashion student and manager of Palomar College’s Comet Closet, (on-campus clothing line for students) Fey Salgado says, “People aren’t shopping at stores anymore. They’re doing their shopping online or on their phones.” 


Millennial and gen z consumers prefer the convenience of at-home shopping. Online retail stores like Stitch Fix provide you with a personal stylist who customizes attire for you based on your size and fashion taste. Customized clothes are delivered to your home to try on, choose what you want to keep and send back what you don’t. No subscription required.


Social media is another factor. Brands like Fashion Nova are booming. This clothing shop that began as a brick and mortar in 2006 was transformed into an online platform in 2013 and when  Instagram sky-rocketed so did the company.


Fashion Nova relies on the power of influencers and even celebrities to post photos of themselves wearing the Fashion Nova brand.  In an article by Paper Magazine Fashion Nova CEO, Richard Saghian says “a post from Kylie Jenner can result in $50,000 in sales.” 


Beyond celebrities and paid influencers, Fashion Nova receives a ton of free marketing from fans who Saghian refers to as “Nova babies.” They post and tag photos on social media in hopes of gaining more followers and catching the attention of the brand. It’s a huge boost for sales, as millennials are more purchase driven by peer recommendation as opposed to traditional advertising.


The modern consumer is also more informed than ever before. Watchdogs have repeatedly called out fast-fashion for their mass contribution to environmental waste. Cheap, synthetic fibers used in fast-fashion are non-biodegradable and can sit in landfills for up to 200 years according to


Traditional fashion typically goes from the design to the purchase phase in a matter of months, where fast-fashion does this in as little as a week. This has caused massive inflation of clothing produced.


Many of these poorly made garments can only survive a few wash cycles, causing them to end up in the trash much sooner. And with so much overflow, many don’t get sold at all.


Conscious consumers are turning to alternative and ethical options such as thrift stores, sustainable basic pieces, and/or companies that are working to correct the problem. Rent the Runway, for example, uses a business model that allows customers to rent special occasion garments and return them for a fraction of the purchase price. 


Salgado supports repurposing second-hand items and said, “I love thrift shopping because you can find unique, one-of-a-kind items.”


Jones prefers to spend his money at local boutiques supporting small businesses. 


For the sake of the planet let’s hope old-school fast-fashion reaps what they sow and ends up in the landfill too. 

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