Wednesday 21 November 2012

Zara Is Accelerating Fast Fashion To Dangerous Speeds

A fascinating article in The New York Times on the inexorable rise of Spanish fast fashion chain Zara shows some disturbing trends for the way we consume clothing in the 21st century.

Consume is a word I use deliberately. The Zara fashion model is about responding to trends with lightning speed, and under-stocking their stores. The end result: if you spot something you like in a Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti or Pull and Bear, you'd better get it there and then. The chances are if you go back the following week, it'll be gone, and it won't be coming back. Some Zara lines last for as little as a month.

Because they're so cheap, you can afford to impulse-buy. The clothes are priced to move. Zara's business model isn't keyed to having old stock sitting on racks taking up space that could be taken up by new lines.

The worry is that because the clothes are so cheap (and I'm talking here about the price point rather than the quality; Zara's clothes aren't poorly made at all) consumers are starting to view them as disposable. They're applying the same rules that Zara uses on the shop floor to their own wardrobes. Rather than use 'em up and wear 'em out, they're wearing 'em once and chucking 'em away. And that, as we're all agreed, is something of a problem. Masoud Golsorkhi, the editor of Tank, a London-based culture and fashion mag, puts it best when he says:

“The reality is: a T-shirt is a T-shirt is a T-shirt. It costs the planet the same thing whether you have paid £200 for it or £1 for it. It does the same amount of damage. A T-shirt is equivalent to 700 gallons of water, gallons of chemical waste, so much human labor. But it used to be that we could do with three T-shirts a year. Now we need 30. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper to throw away clothes than to wash them. That has got to be wrong.”
The problem is not one that's going away, despite our eco-fashionista shrilling. The Zara group is set to expand massively into Asia, opening 400 stores in China alone next year. America, up to now the best guide to the fast fashion market, buys 20 billion garments a year. That's 64 items of clothing per person. With the Asian market in play, we can expect to see that figure spike by a factor of four. If we think the amount of clothing going into landfill is a problem now, just wait until the average fast fashion consumer is buying and binning, at a conservative estimate, 200 garments a year.

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