Despite widespread campaigns aimed at educating consumers about the harms associated with the practice of fast fashion – both in terms of sustainability and human rights – the intense demand for trendy, cheap clothing is not waning. Britain’s biggest discount-clothing chain, Primark, for instance, announced this month that it expects the effects of last June’s Brexit vote to start feeding through to apparel prices later this year, though it is not terribly worried. AB Foods, the owner of the Primark chain reported that sales for the first half are expected to be up percent compared to the same time last year.
Moreover, Primark says it has seen little change in consumers’ behavior in connection with the Brexit vote. The chain - which is known for its dirt-cheap offerings (think: A rust-colored “bandeau crinkle maxi” dress? £13 ($19.70). “Rip and repair” skinny jeans? £15. A slim-cut floral-print men’s shirt can be had for £8, and denim espadrilles are £4) - is still taking market share in its home market and its expansion plans are “very much intact," according to execs.
In the U.S., Forever 21 is in expansion mode. This month, the Los Angeles-based fast fashion giant announced plans to push out more locations for its lower-priced, F21 Red line. The company said it will open 40 new F21 Red stores throughout the country in 2017. The additional stores will more than double the footprint of F21 Red to 70 locations. The chain, a value spin-off of Forever 21's eponymous brand, which currently maintains more than 800 worldwide locations, carries discounted merchandise, including $7.90 denim and $5.90 tank tops.
Japanese retail giant, Uniqlo, has similarly set its sights on the American consumer, announcing that it will implement its network of 51 stateside stores with 20 more this year. Known for its low-priced basics and what New York Magazine recently called "surprisingly inexpensive cashmere," Uniqlo's parent company, Fast Retailing Co. experienced a surge in second-quarter profits (operating income increased about 80 percent for the period), with the Uniqlo brand boosting profitability as it company continues to expand worldwide.
While lowering spending for its retail network, Fast Retailing chief Tadashi Yanai said his company is investing in better distribution and faster delivery of online orders to fend off other fast fashion rivals.
And not to be outdone, Zara's parent company Inditex revealed in March that its full-year profits jumped 10% to €3.16 billion, as its multi-brand proposition continued to attract shoppers from around the globe. Store openings continued apace across the globe. During the period, Inditex opened 279 new Zara stores, bringing its total to 7,292 stores, despite its vow to increase its focus on e-commerce as opposed to brick-and-mortar.
In short: While much has been made of the widespread store closures among clothing brands (suggesting a drop in consumer spending), and a larger push for awareness about the ugly byproducts of fast fashion (more about that here), consumers are seemingly undeterred, and still all in when it comes to inexpensive garments and accessories. Hence, the seemingly ever-increasing rise in revenues for many of the aforementioned brands.
As for whether eco-friendly, consciously-made garments and accessories - which some fast fashion retailers, such as Zara, H&M, and Mango, for instance, have begun to introduce by way of small, more expensively priced capsules collections - will catch on, it is unlikely, at least for the time being. Until mass market retailers are able to offer these products at more competitive prices and with the same level of convenience as their regular wares, consumers will be more swayed by the price tag than the peace of mind that comes with ethically-made and sourced wares.