It was not that long ago that you could walk into the stores of fast fashion retailers, such as Forever 21, Topshop or Zara, and put together an entire look for under $100. That is not necessarily the case anymore. Long known for their $20 trousers and dresses, many of which are “inspired by” (read: copied from) high fashion runway looks, these fast fashion retailers have been upping their prices and adding more expensively priced goods to their shelves – both online and in their brick and mortar stores.
One theory for such price hikes ties increased competition among fast fashion retailers with a larger movement towards evolution. Primark, for instance, is putting low cost retailers to the test. The Irish fast fashion brand, which began opening stores in the U.S. this past fall and which is known for what the Economist calls “astonishingly low prices,” set its sights on expansion in the U.S., France, and Italy in recent years.
Additionally, the influx and success of other similarly situated web-based retailers like Nasty Gal, Missguided, and Pixie Market, the most longstanding fast fashion retailers – such as H&M, Forever 21, and Zara – are being forced to up the ante in order to attract new customers and to hang on to the ones they already have. And it appears that adding variety – in terms of price and quality, and in some cases, brand (some of which also appear to stock on Revolve.com and other non-fast fashion e-commerce sites) – has been the key to such efforts.
Another theory centers of the fact that influencers – whether it be Alexa Chung, who has been a proponent of Topshop for years, Olivia Palermo, who is a fan of Zara, or Kendall and Kylie Jenner, who have been spotted in Forever 21 and Nasty Gal garments and have fronted their own collection for PACSUN – have increased demand for high street brands, thereby driving up prices.
“One major factor [in the rise of fast fashion prices] has been this real push globally by some of the fashion industry’s most influential bloggers and fashion editors, who have said to the world, ‘it’s OK to mix and match,’” says Simon Lock, owner and CEO of The Lock Group and the pioneering force behind Mercedes Benz Australia Fashion Week. “It’s OK to wear a Chloe top with a pair of Zara or H&M jeans. With that has come a certain amount of prestige that is then associated with these fast fashion brands and as a result, consumers are willing to pay more for it.”
He continued: “Often the items that come with $200, $300 and $400 price tags are copies of ready-to-wear designs and there is an appreciation of the value of those copies in comparison to the original. When people look at the catwalk and go ‘oh my God I love that beautiful blue Alexander McQueen dress but it’s $5000 and I could never afford that’ and then the next thing a version of that dress turns up in a chain store for $300 then that is seen as great value and a consumer can substantiate paying a few hundred dollars for that item.”
And Lock just may be on to something. Vogue’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour, has not shied from the high-low mix. Her first-ever Vogue cover, from the November 1998 issue, featured model Michaela Bercu in a Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele-styled look of a haute couture Christian Lacroix jacket and stonewashed Guess jeans. “It was about mixing high and low,” Wintour wrote in 2012, reflecting on the issue on Vogue’s 120th anniversary. “I had just looked at that picture and sensed the winds of change. And you can’t ask for more from a cover image than that.”
Such change was the start of a bold movement away from head-to-toe branding or runway looks, in real life, at least; Vogue editorials do still feature full designer looks, after all. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen launched an entire label based on this notion – to some extent. Speaking of their collection, The Row, Ashley noted in 2013: “We saw a space in the market. We knew there wasn’t another brand offering basics in a luxurious and contemporary way. If I wear certain designer brands, or too much of something, I look crazy, and I need something to break it up.” The aristocratic norm of dressing from head to toe in a single brand is out, and as Raf Simons put it during his time at the helm of Jil Sander, “I’d be much more interested in seeing a girl in a ten-euro T-shirt and a couture skirt.”
It is in accordance with this mindset that fast fashion retailers have been able to raise prices on an array of items. As for whether this is a sustainable tactic, or one that can be applied universally, that is another matter. Zara, for instance, was forced to lower prices and even launched Stradivarius in 2014, a lower priced brand in the UK. And as we reported in May, sources in the Indian market confirmed that Zara began cutting prices by 10 to 12% late last year in order to better compete with other similarly situated retailers entering into the market in India, such as H&M.