Fast fashion didn’t always use to be a thing. It primarily started gaining popularity in the late 90s, as consumers’ demand for clothing increased due to a rise in their purchasing power, and shopping became a source of entertainment. After that, fast fashion revolutionized the retail industry. More and more brands began to adopt this fast paced supply chain, racing against each other to see who could offer the latest trends to their consumers at the cheapest prices.
However, in recent years, as consumers started to become more conscientious, fast fashion began facing scrutiny for its lack of sustainable sourcing, unethical factory working conditions, and contribution to pollution and wastage. This now creates an opportunity to slowly start directing consumers back to boutique owners, independent retailers, luxury brands and/or local designers like yourself.
Below I detail four big ways you can compete with fast fashion brands while remaining profitable.
1. Differentiate your fashion brand, by differentiating your products
One downside of fast fashion is mass produced homogenous apparel, which leads to consumers buying close related outfits. Selling differentiated products will help set your brand apart, and help your target audience express their own individualistic style.
Shelley E. Kohan, VP of Retail Consulting at RetailNext, said, “In the world of fast fashion, competing on the scale of speed would be exceptionally difficult. I do believe, however, that apparel retailers can compete with differentiated products, enhanced brand experience across all customer touchpoints, and loyalty programs.”
Fashion industry expert and consultant Robert McKee further comments, “we have conditioned the consumer to only care about price and to only ‘shop the sales’. Yet those organizations that have chosen the road of originality of product and limited offerings have managed to achieve ever greater profits.”
One way to maximize the originality of the products in your clothing line is to recognize your niche market and design your products for them.
Take a look at Hot Topic for example. They have a very defined market - teens and young adults who are into goth or pop culture. Hot Topic heavily uses licensing and designs merchandise to fill in the lack of this specific style in the market. Their consumer demographic may not be wide, but they have brand loyalty.
Another example is Altar’d State, a brand that designs and sells merchandise that has a “bohemian” vibe. Their target market is wider in age, but once again they cater to a specific style of clothing which allows their consumers to express their individuality.
You can find a quick guide to using the perfect fabrics and materials for your unique designs here.
2. Focus on trend forecasting, but make it long-term
Aside from cost, one big benefit of fast fashion is the speed element that allows big brands to forecast trends closer to the point of sale. In this case, independent retailers can counter-attack by staying two steps ahead and focusing on long-term forecasting. As Small Business Chronicle puts it, “accurate forecasts allow a business to position itself competitively, and advance notice gives the business time to implement new strategies.”
Planning long-term fashion forecasts allows retail businesses to design and source inventory from factories well in advance without sacrificing quality. It also diminishes the need to respond to quick changes in trends closer to sales like fast fashion does.
Aside from attending traditional fashion and trade shows to get ahead on new trends, plenty of digital platforms and resources like Trend Tablet, Fashion Snoops and WGSN now exist to give fashion designers and buyers upcoming trend information on designs, silhouettes, colors, fabrics, and textures among others.
3. Go seasonless, with higher quality and lower inventory
Fast fashion labels are able to make huge profits despite offering cheaper prices because they produce poor quality clothes at high quantities. This leads to an enormous amount of waste from unsold inventory. To compete with this, avoid overstocking and offer limited kinds of styles every few weeks. Let me explain.
You want to keep your inventory turnover high, but at the same time you want to carry new merch in order to retain repeat customers, and for customers that essentially seek fast fashion for newer styles. The best way to do so is to not stick to the traditional fall/winter and spring/summer seasons and make all your designs and productions accordingly.
Gucci recently decided to go seasonless, offering two fashion shows a year instead of five. Their Creative Director Alessandro Michele “declared the fashion week calendar obsolete, and said he was no longer adhering to a rota staked out by spring/summer, autumn/winter, cruise and pre-fall shows. ‘I think these are stale and underfed words … clothes should have a longer life than that which these words attribute to them,’ he said.”
So what can you do instead? Well, this links back to product differentiation and trend forecasting. Going seasonless means focusing more on “timeless” pieces, ones that don’t go out of style for a long time, ones that consumers can view as a good investment. With multiple shorter seasons, you can introduce smaller, new lines for each so the inventory overall remains fresh. Stock more if necessary according to sales patterns, maybe even allow customers to pre-order, but otherwise keep depth and width of assortment low.
4. Be transparent, and the revenue will follow
You can also stand out amongst the sea of fast fashion brands using unique storytelling. Adapting core values that resonate with your audience and constantly reiterating that through your brand’s image and products can definitely lead to greater customer acquisition and loyalty. As mentioned previously, fast fashion companies face a lot of criticism based on unethical business practices. This gives you even more reason to get in the sustainability game and form an ethical supply chain, and thus convince customers to abandon fast fashion for clothing brands like yours.
One way you can successfully achieve this is to build ethical credibility through the use of tools or credentials that show customers hard proof of your commitment.. Everlane is a company that strongly promotes environmentalism, giving it equal, if not more, importance as its products. That’s why when consumers visit the Everlane website, the first thing they see is not sales ads, but how Everlane lives up to its promise of sustainability. This includes detailed information about Everlane’s carbon footprint, organically sourced fabrics, ethical clothing factories, breakdown of costs from the start of the product lifecycle to the finish and the entire supply chain journey. This fashion brand’s consumers want to know about what they buy more than they care about pricing or trends, so Everlane tells them.
A study of 390 consumers found that about 75% of respondents said they would pay more for apparel manufactured under fair ethical labor practices. Moreover, a YouGov poll found that 74% of consumers would pay an extra 5% for their clothes if the company could ensure that their factory workers were being paid fair wages and were working in safe conditions. Therefore, transparency and sustainability can provide you greater leverage when setting competitive prices in a crowded market.