Almost as fast as their discarded clothes are pilling up in landfills (okay, not quite), fast fashion brick-and-mortar stores could be on their way out.
It seems the fast fashion bricks-and-mortar bubble has finally burst as retailers struggle to stay afloat in certain markets.
Last month, Swedish-born fast fashion staple H&M announced it would shutter 160 bricks-and-mortar locations worldwide in 2019. Focusing on markets where it makes sense to do so (i.e. not necessarily in the U.S.), however, the company also announced the opening of 335 new stores this year. The fast fashion giant suffered a major hit mid-2018 when it accumulated more than $4-billion in unsold inventory, resulting in blowout-level discounts. In a press conference earlier this year, the brand announced it would direct attention to its online store and mobile app, with upgrades coming soon.
Last month, longtime American fast-fashion retailer Charlotte Russe filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While it initially planned on only closing about 20 per cent of its stores, the company just announced it would close all of its stores and start liquidation after they couldn’t find an investor to save the struggling brand. Given the current climate of perpetual store closings, few are likely surprised.
Meanwhile, Topshop, the once beloved British high street fashion brand has seen better days – but its problems can’t be blamed entirely on online shopping or growing landfills. Thanks to sexual assault allegations slapped on Topshop owner Sir Philip Green and a resulting boycott of the brand from everyone from loyal shoppers to once collaborator Beyoncé, analysts predict the tough times ahead for Topshop. Recent years have been characterized by store closings around the world, and 2018 saw dismal sales figures for the brand.
When it comes to a move away from fast fashion, a main underlying cause is as simple as a shift in consumer attitudes. According to new results of a survey by The Fashion Retail Academy in London, shoppers are developing a soft spot for sustainable, quality options over environmentally damaging fast fashion. Thirty-nine per cent of shoppers between the ages of 18 and 35 reported that they would rather buy expensive clothing that lasts longer, with one in eight reporting that they would rather drop dollars on pricey, long-lasting clothing as opposed to cheaper, trendier and more fashionable alternatives. Somewhat surprisingly –perhaps because they’re more well researched in the environmental impacts of fast-fashion or because their spending habits are less engrained – the younger respondents (23 to 26-years-old) were less likely than 31 to 35-year-olds to opt for the cheaper alternative.
The Marie Kondo craze has also brought minimalism into the spotlight of consumerism, prompting countless numbers of people to give their closets a makeover, rediscovering old pieces and new ways of wearing them in the process.
Another reason for the shuttering of bricks-and-mortar fast-fashion stores, however, may have nothing to do with a lack of demand. While we are definitely moving toward a culture of “less is more” and a newfound value of experiences (especially the social media-worthy ones) over material things, there is still an impossible-to-ignore market of young, impressionable shoppers who love to shop the latest knockoff days after a celebrity debuts a look on Instagram – even if it collects dust in their closet after being worn once. In a culture that documents daily life on social media, some don’t want to be seen in the same outfit twice – especially when it’s so affordable not to. This demographic of social media-inspired shoppers are also digital savvy ones and will often opt for a few clicks of a keypad or taps on a phone over a visit into a store.
The reality is, when things are so cheap, people are more likely to shop online as it’s not as big of a temporary credit card dent if something doesn’t fit.
Pioneers in the fast-fashion game—especially the historically fast-moving Zara—are losing their long-held competitive edge when it comes to pumping out runway-inspired clothing seemingly days after they show. Fuelled by social media, eager competitors like Boohoo, Fashion Nova and Forever 21 are proving they can keep up with the pace and the price. Thanks to cutting down supply chains, such brands are able to have trends available within a week. The ever-popular digital-first Fashion Nova introduces between 600 and 900 new pieces weekly.
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While they’ve remained mall fixtures for decades now, if fast fashion retailers want to draw people to their physical stores, they need to step up the in-store experience from that of a sometimes-overwhelming and unorganized one, to a more refined and seamless one. This means things the infusion of technology, combined in-store experiences, and yes—even Instagram-worthy décor.
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