Pacific Standard featured an article recently titled, “The Secret World of Fast Fashion,” in which an assistant professor at New York's Parsons New School for Design, Christina Moon, discussed the “baffling transformation” taking place in the fashion industry, much of which can be attributed to fast fashion. “What used to be a stable three-month production cycle—the time it takes to design, manufacture, and distribute clothing to stores, in an extraordinary globe-spanning process—has collapsed, across much of the industry, to just two weeks,” Moon writes. She took to the street, or more correctly, to church, to learn more about fast fashion. Specifically, she found herself at the Ttokamsa Home Mission Church in East Los Angeles. This church is home to many Korean families who produce fast fashion, including the Chang family who owns Forever 21.
Moon described the bustling fast fashion industry that has developed in Los Angeles. A 30-square-block neighborhood known as the "Jobber Market" is home to thousands of showrooms, largely owned by Korean couples. South Koreans have been working in garment factories for decades, learning the skills necessary to make clothing. And at a time when Koreans were being oppressed by the military regime, thousands fled the impoverished country and landed in the U.S. with very little money and without a mastery of the English language. So, they relied on the trade they had learned in their home country: making clothes.
But the experience and ability to make a pattern and to decide on fit was not enough to create a prosperous business. The immigrant entrepreneurs basically lacked an ability to capitalize on what American consumers wanted and thus, as Moon puts it: “By 2000, by many accounts a large swath of garment businesses were failing. Korean-owned sewing factories, cutting studios, and small-time manufacturers were going belly-up in waves.”
As we know, though, this was not the end of the story. The Jobber Market is, by all accounts, a thriving area. And that’s in large part because of second-generation Korean immigrants that grew up around the industry but were also going to universities and designs schools. What their parent’s lacked in marketing or design skills, the kids were learning with study. What their parent’s lacked in understanding of American culture, the kids were learning by growing up here.
With a newly trained generation, capable of communicating fluently with big retailers and buyers, stores like Forever 21 were born. As you know, these stores have done exceedingly well. On this subject, Moon writes, “Competing against retailers that were still observing the three-month fashion cycle, Forever 21’s buyers only needed to show up daily in the Jobber Market and choose from a smorgasbord of fashion-forward designs, all ready to be shipped that day. If the company’s buyers did not agree with one vendor’s price, all they had to do was go next door, where a similar design could likely be had for cheaper.”