Friday 9 December 2016

Concept To Coat In 25 Days

If you need an example of how fast fashion has changed the face of clothing retail, then you need look no further than a high-collared dark coat with a ring fastening that went on sale recently at Zara in the US. A month before it hit the racks, it was no more than a vague preference in a customer feedback form.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, it can take as little as 25 days for a broad concept–in this case, customers wanting more hardware on their outerwear (that all important ring fixing)–becoming not just a prototype, but an actual product on the racks.

The key is that all-important customer feedback, linked to a tightly focussed and centralised production based largely in Zara's home base of Spain. The coat was prototyped in the small industrial city of Arteixo, before a squad of pattern-makers, cutters and seamstresses got to work. A little under two weeks later, 8000 coats were on a plane at Barcelona. Destination: the racks at Zara stores across the States.

Other retailers are seeing the benefits to this tightly-integrated and streamlined system. US-based companies are beginning to move operations closer to home, using the Caribbean instead of Asia as manufacturing bases. This squeezes up that all-important transport window, getting new items into the shops much more quickly.

However, we have concerns. This fast-track model only works if corners are cut. Can we be certain that QA standards are as high as they could be, given the reputation for fast fashion's poor quality of fit and finish? After all, one reason that the clothes are so cheap is that they are deliberately designed not to last for more than one season. As Zara are redefining the length of a season into weeks rather than months, should we be surprised that clothes from fast fashion retailers don't suit purpose after the first couple of washes?

You have to wonder about the design process as well. A five-day window for prototyping seems awfully slim. It makes you wonder if designing for a limited range of sizes is part of the business plan.

Zara's parent company Inditex are clearly very successful at what they do, and their business model is envied across the sector. Global communication technology working in concert with a localised and tightly integrated manufacturing base have basically allowed them to redefine the way that clothing is designed, produced and consumed. However, as we all know, the fast-track process and its built-in environmental impact is not necessarily that great for anyone... apart from Inditex's shareholders.

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