We are all familiar with the popular fashion chains H&M, Zara, Forever 21 and Topshop, which constantly win the favor of not only teenagers, but also adults around the globe. What is it about these brands that allure us into the charms that they hold? Many have experienced a wrinkled and ripped t-shirt after a single wash, or seams that fall out of badly sewn dresses. Yet, these brands continue to flourish and make large profits, despite their palpable flaws. The key to this success is found in cunning, strategic marketing strategies based around a single adjective: fast.
From designing to manufacturing to transporting, speed is the reason these brands can generate maximum revenue and still have their defects. Expansion of the brand also allows the possibility of low prices and an unlimited target audience, which contribute to the eventual success of these multi-national corporations.
First of all, international brands of fast fashion do not set a specific target audience. They attract a wide variety of people and offer affordable collections that fit with various styles. A case study from Third Eyesight, a consulting firm focused on retail and consumer products, revealed that Zara concentrates on delivering a wide range of choices for a higher chance of “getting it right”. However, these global fast fashion brands also sell more than just clothes. Forever 21 is recognized for having an entire floor that provides chic, low-priced accessories. These items range from wallets to travel tissues, catered to all in need of bright articles that are almost always poor in quality.
Jane Shepherdson, brand manager for Top Shop, also remarks that, “officially our target market is 15- to 30-year-old women, but internally we target everyone who loves fashion, regardless of age or income.” To earn higher profits, fast fashion brands have broadened both the diversity of styles offered and the type of customer that will be attracted to it, becoming ever the more accessible. Abercrombie & Fitch, though a considerably popular brand for teenagers, does not try to appeal to consumers all, using the “exclusionary” strategy instead. The company’s CEO states, without any disgrace, that he wants "cool and popular kids" to wear their clothing. As a result of his statement, sales have tumbled 17% in the first quarter of 2012, and are expected to continue dropping if the company’s values stay in place. Widening the narrow views of a company’s mission statement allow fast fashion brands to achieve success on a global level.
Other than targeting a broad audience, these companies also provide new, up-to-date designs for a much cheaper price. The brands sell chic for little – the shopping motto the customer so desires. Zara is known for its sophisticated designs that captivate customers wishing to dress in high fashion on a low budget. A wide range of blazers, trousers, loose tees, and sharp collared-shirts provide the perfect staples for a trendy and chic businesswoman. Although the quality can often be questionable, many still opt for the clothing simply because of its low price.
H&M and Zara also produce simple, basic pieces that they deem “necessities”. Shoppers buy into this “must-have” concept, spending what may seem like a low price on goods that are actually worth less. A similar strategy is used at H&M, where sales increased by 11 percent in 2012. Dresses with decent designs can be found under $5, even cheaper than a Starbucks Grande Frappucino. Knowing an average customer’s desire to look fashionable while spending little, fast fashion companies often create shopping environments suitable for a customer’s needs. Forever 21 attracts customers not only with their reasonable prices, but also with frequent new arrivals of outfits and accessories. By presenting fresh, “new” collections that reflect runway trends, customersfind a reason to keep returning.
Forever 21 is known to employ cheap labor to get away with the low-priced items that they offer. In 2012, several of the store’s employees filed a class action lawsuit against the brand, declaring that they were not paid for the correct number of hours they worked, and were even kept in during lunch breaks. Forever 21, in response to this issue, stated that they are “committed to providing all of its employees with fair wages and proper working conditions." The success of international fast fashion companies may only be apparent on the surface, but when observed on an internal level, the conduct of work may be disgraceful. Zara is also known to operate on cheap labor, with appalling working conditions in many of its outsourced plants in Brazil. Though the workers’ monthly income is around $600, they must work a minimum of 12 hours per day in risky environments.
Every decision encompasses a positive and negative result, but often, the advantages should outweigh the drawbacks for the decision to be truly beneficial. Fast fashion continues to gain profits and popularity despite obvious shortcomings, through the sly marketing strategies undisclosed to the public. However, as the world undergoes globalization and customers begin to demand more speed and a greater quantity of designs, these multi-national businesses will begin to realize their faulty management, as each citizen becomes increasingly aware of the loopholes in the system of fast fashion.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2013 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Cherry Chen, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
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