History of how Fast Fashion Brands like Zara became mainstream

Thu Aug 19, 2021

How Fast Fashion brands make you buy more

Have you ever wondered why fashion and clothing is the way it is today? Why do women feel like changing their clothes collection every few weeks? Why do we feel there’s nothing to wear even after having truckloads of clothes in our closet. The term for this sort of behavior is called Fast Fashion. In order to comprehend what exactly fast fashion is we have to first understand the garment industry’s history and notably when the industry began. The sector of apparel that is fast fashion would not have been possible without developing countries to produce the products and the developed countries markets where the products are largely sold. The emergence of the apparel industry really begins with a brief history of Britain starting in the late seventeenth century.

The introduction of the ready-made garment was made possible through Britain’s enclosure movement and Industrial Revolution. During these periods a cultural evolution was also taking place where a consumer class emerged and a preference for buying ready-made clothing began. The role of slop shop stores and urbanization altered British consumer preferences, which resulted in them no longer wanting to make their own clothes. Additionally, industrialization and the start of wage labor acted as a catalyst for demand for the apparel industry because people no longer had as much free time after the enclosures. The American South was able to capitalize on the cotton crop through slavery to supply Britain with raw cotton exports. 

This American export became easier to manufacture in European factories and mills as newer technology developed. Through an increase in the supply of raw cotton and new technologies, the price of cotton fell so that the lower economic class was able to purchase cheaper fabrics. The United States post-industrialization through the end of the twentieth century was able to have a strong garment industry. But eventually, domestic manufacturing became too expensive so that companies began outsourcing their production to countries with cheaper labor. The connected history of the apparel industry in Britain and the United States demonstrates how the garment industry has become a critical sector for economic development. The garment industry has helped many countries gain enough momentum to go through industrialization and become a developed country. The fashion industry was once only for the wealthy elite. Demographic and socio-economic changes have led to greater apparel differentiation and a different type of consumer. The outsourcing of apparel production and a change in consumer preferences led to the fast fashion sector of the fashion industry. Through the emergence of fast fashion, consumers are able to purchase high fashion content at a fraction of the price. Before fast fashion product variety was very limited. Fast fashion products are low quality and disposable since they last only a limited amount of washes. Moving forward from the United State’s Industrialization to World War II (WWII) American apparel supply chains were relative all the same.

This supply chain began after the end of the general store, which was replaced by forms of mass retailers. The general stores were independent stores across the U.S. where everyone in a town or city would do all of their shopping. Additionally, the general store was a full-service wholesaler supply chain ending in the 1870s and 1880s followed by the rise of department stores, mail-order catalogs, and chain stores. The new apparel industry order consisted of small craft shops, manufacturers, and contractors quickly and flexibly producing garments for mass retailers. These retailers sold products for two or four retail seasons, which meant that new products were only put out on the store’s floor up to four times a year. Retailers were not concerned with consumer demands but more concerned with placing their orders to the manufacturer on time to reduce production costs. This supply chain came to a quick end during WWII when product variety hit an all-time low.

During WWII a more efficient mass production technique was introduced progressive bundle system (PBS), which is based on extreme specialization. PBS along with an increase in mass retailing shifted production toward large manufacturers because of their ability to supply large quantities of garments at lower prices than small independent manufacturers. However, this did not last long, large domestic manufacturers lost market control to large retailers.

By the mid-1970s large retailers had established their own house brands and product design to compete against the manufacturers’. Furthermore, once retailers gained product control they began outsourcing the labor and production to make it cheaper than domestic manufacturers. The mass retailers who managed to outsource their production to developing countries grew in size and gained market share. While retailers, who stayed with domestic manufacturers, started losing market share and profitability. Suddenly low priced stores like Wal-Mart (the first store opened in 1962) and specialty chains like Gap and The Limited entered the market. Increased liberalization of trade regimes allowed American retailers to use developing countries for manufacturing. The mid-1980s marked the starting point to the current supply chain.

Large retailers are now dependent on a supply chain model that relies on scale economies to market apparel that is produced in developing countries. This dependence has been augmented by consumer preferences that call for cheaper and cheaper prices for products. This change in consumer preference is similar to the demand for ready-made clothing in industrializing Britain. People began to care more about how rapidly they can change their clothes than the quality. As the roots of fast fashion have been found throughout history, in the 1980s particularly one company, understood this before anyone. It’s none other than Zara Inditex, founded by Amancio Ortega, which is one of the most successful companies in Spain and in the world. 

Today, the company houses the following brands: Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, and Oysho. Born in 1936, Ortega’s first job was in 1949 as an errand boy for a shirtmaker in La Coruña, Spain. In 1963, Ortega created his first business: Confecciones Goa. Confecciones Goa, the producer of housecoats, was Ortega’s first step in his mission to improve the manufacturing and retail interface. Out of this goal, Zara was born in 1975 on the main street in La Coruña known for its high-end retail stores. From its inception, Zara marketed itself as “a store selling ‘medium quality fashion clothing at affordable prices”. By the end of the ’70s, Zara had expanded to half a dozen storefronts in Galicia, Spain. Galicia, the third poorest of Spain’s seventeen autonomous regions, had poor communication with the rest of the country and during the time period of Ortega’s youth was still heavily dependent on the agriculture and fishing sectors. In the apparel sector, however, Galicia had a strong history dating back to the Renaissance when Galicians were often tailored to the aristocracy, and Galicia was littered with thousands of small apparel workshopsAmancio Ortega purchased his first computer in 1976, a year after the grand opening of the first Zara. At this time in Inditex’s history, Ortega was responsible for only four factories and two stores. He used his interest and curiosity in technology to harvest store data on customers’ wants and desires. Zara reached Madrid, the capital of Spain, in 1985, and by the end of the 80s, had stores in all Spanish cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. 

Zara then shifted to opening new stores internationally as well as adding other retail brands, creating the corporation Inditex, by the early 1990s Spanish consumers wanted low prices but were not considered as fashion conscious or as stylish as Italian buyers, for example. However, that being said, Spain had advanced quickly in the world of fashion after the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975. Following this, the country had opened up to the rest of the world and engaged more in 16 international trade and the global economy. Spain had a strong and productive apparel manufacturing sector by European standards and as a result, Ortega was able to rapidly and relatively easily expand his company. 

Zara’s international expansion began with the opening of a store in Oporto in northern Portugal. In 1989, it opened its first store in New York and in 1990, its first store in Paris. Between 1992 and 1997, it entered about one country per year… so that by the end of this period, there were Zara stores in seven European countries, the United States, and Israel. Since then, countries had been added more rapidly: 16 countries… in 1998–1999, and eight countries in 2000–2001. 

Plans for 2002 included entry into Italy, Switzerland, and Finland. The rapid expansion gave Zara a much broader footprint than larger apparel chains: by way of comparison, H&M added eight countries to its store network between the mid-1980s and 2001, and The Gap added five. By the end of 2001, out of all the chains, Zara was the largest and the most internationalized. Zara had 2,982 stores in 32 countries other than Spain, accounting for 55% of the international market of Inditex. Zara also had earned approximately 1,506 million euros in sales, adding up to roughly 86% of Inditex’s international trade. Zara’s astounding growth has led to an increase of other fashion companies attempting to replicate and recreate Inditex’s business model. In under fifty years, Zara transformed from a local retail store to the second-largest clothing company with approximately 2,700 stores located in sixty countries throughout the world. Amancio Ortega’s once independently owned and operated business was now a public company responsible for over 8 billion dollars in annual sales and worth 24 billion. Zara’s product offering can be defined as “emphasized broad, rapidly

changing product lines, relatively high fashion content, and reasonable but not excessive physical quality: ‘clothes to be worn 10 times”.Zara creates two basic collections each year in the form of fall/winter and spring/summer seasons. The designers, over three hundred of them, constantly search for information about customers’ tastes and preferences.
They attend all the major fashion shows across the globe including Paris, New York, and Milan, and study what people wear in their day-to-day life and routine. Zara’s power and attractiveness to consumers are based on the constant newness of its clothing, which in turn creates a sense of scarcity and an exclusive ambiance around the company’s offering. The company’s freshness was rooted in “rapid product turnover, with new designs arriving in each twice-weekly shipment”. This amount of rapid turnover created a sense of “buy now” out of fear that the product would not be there the next time a customer visited a store.

In addition, this sense of “buy now or regret later” was reinforced by small, frequent shipments and a company-mandated limit of how long items could be displayed and sold in the stores. Moreover, the company requested the in-store displays to appear barely stocked, as well as limiting the amount of each product sent in the shipments, decreasing the availability of stocked products.

Bad for the environment: But by bringing the constant newness and freshness in the market with cheap prices, Zara went terribly wrong that hampered our environment. The level of pollution that is generated as a direct result of the textile and clothing industry presents a dilemma given the fact that many individuals value fashion over the protection of the environment. The industrialization has paved the route to the fast fashion industry. The increased generation of waste is of warranted environmental concern. The fast fashion industry has profoundly confounded the problematic issue of clothing production and pollution. More often than not landfills constitute the final destination for clothing. The fast fashion industry contributes towards the significant depletion of natural resources. Fast fashion has a large carbon footprint that is not addressed enough in academic literature. Many of the fibers used in clothing are polyester which is 2–3 times more carbon emission than cotton. Total greenhouse emission related to textile production is related to 1.2 billion tons annually.

The fast-fashion phenomenon is without question a human consumption problem. We live in a finite world and cannot continue to exploit earth’s resources. Fast fashion is becoming an increasingly large problem; we are consuming more than we need or use. The power lies with the consumer to demand what kind of products they want to purchase. The fast fashion industry is only a phenomenon because the consumer keeps buying more each week.

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