Love it or hate it, fast fashion has completely changed how consumers make purchases. Globally the fashion industry is worth $2.5 trillion and fast fashion’s share of this industry is continuing to grow to an expected 43% by 2029.
The concept of fast fashion is widely regarded as being a fairly new concept that originated from brands like Zara being able to sell trends at record speed for affordable prices, but “fast fashion” is really just a term given to a constantly evolving production system that has been gaining momentum since the 1800s.
But have you ever wondered what makes the fast fashion supply chain so amazing?
Short Lead Times – Fast Fashion is all about taking the latest trends from social media or from the runway and turning them into a purchasable garment in little to no time at all. As a result, having the shortest possible lead time from design concept to sale is essential, with an extra few days making all the difference. For example, every year Zara creates 12,000 new patterns a year and its fastest pieces take as little as 6 weeks to make. This may seem fast however, in comparison to Boohoo, this is a long time. Boohoo lead times are incredibly short as they can design, manufacture and dispatch batches of a single design within 2 weeks. Having such short lead times, allows them to be more responsive to consumer trends and demands.
Test and Repeat – Fast Fashion relies heavily on constantly changing trends. To prevent brands from being stuck with high amounts of inventory it can’t sell, many brands particularly those who work heavily online, use the test and repeat model. The reason for this is so that they can try out styles and ranges before increasing production. For example, Boohoo will only make 300 examples of a single line and see how they sell, before ordering and restocking popular lines.
Outsourcing – In order to keep prices as low as possible, many fast fashion firms outsource their production to countries where the cost of manufacturing is low and then transport their garments to where they are going to be sold. While many fast fashion brands aren’t completely transparent about where their factories are located, Asia is seen as a major producer of clothing. This can be seen for example in the factories used by both ASOS and H&M who both source a large majority of their clothing from China and India.
While the fast fashion supply chain can be seen as being successful and the growth of the industry being seen largely as the reason that the clothing industry will more than double by 2030, the sustainability record of the industry is particularly damming. The concern about the environmental impact of all elements of the clothing supply chain has been growing with statistics suggesting that globally, the fashion industry accounts for 20% of freshwater pollution and 10% of all carbon emissions. While the impact of the industry is damaging to the environment, initiatives are being put in place to try and reduce this impact, such as the Sustainable Cotton Communique.
Social sustainability is something that is being particularly ignored within the fashion industry. Around 24.9 million people around the world are considered to be used as forced labour, however, while this is not broken down by industry, $9,289,350 worth of apparel imports being tainted by slave labour annually in the UK alone. In 2020, for example, the fashion industry was tarnished with accusations that forced Uyghur labour in the Xinjiang region of China. The accusations tainted the whole industry with more than 82 global fashion brands including fast fashion retailers C&A, H&M and Zara having links to the Xinjiang region.
However, while trade liberalisation made it easier for many fashion firms to off-shore their production networks to countries with access to cheap labour, the recent growth of fast-fashion has seen businesses chose reshore production to be close to the domestic markets like the UK. This, however, has seen lax restrictions and forced labour accusations, despite the many countries strict regulations.
Boohoo are just one company that were caught up in accusations of using forced labour in their Leicester supply chains. In 2020, Boohoo’s unsustainable procurement practices, including critical issues such as paying workers as little as £3-4 pound an hour, was revealed in a Guardian report. While this should have impacted on the brand’s sales due to a poor brand image and people not wanting to shop in an unsustainable brand, to date, however, this has not been the case with Boohoo who have seen rising sales despite the pandemic.
The fast fashion supply chain is truly amazing in two ways. On the one hand, itss ability to operate with such short lead times, low prices and with successful inventory management practices has to be commended. There are many lessons, which other supply chains can learn from this industry.
On the other hand, it is amazing that an industry, which is tainted by accusations of forced labour continues to grow without addressing these accusations.
What amazing supply chains do you know?