Fast Fashion: The New Face of American Retail?

January 25, 2011 • Fashion, Yahoo

A Uniqlo store

Its a new year in fashion, and as we gear up for the first fashion ritual in the calendar year, the Fall 2011 shows of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York (closely followed by shows in London, Paris and Milan), one can't help but take note of the current state of fashion retail. People are shopping again. After the past few years of shaky ground caused by the recession, retail is reemerging, yet bearing a different face. One that reflects the changed buying climate: fast, easy and cheap. investigates this new trend of fast fashion retail, shaped largely by foreign chains from Europe and Asia setting up shop in the U.S. to enormous acclaim. H&M from Sweden first came over to the U.S. in 2000 and now operates over 2,000 units and is still growing. And why wouldn't they, with recent design collaborations with Jimmy Choo and Lanvin causing people to sleep outside the stores. H&M was  one of the pioneers of the fast fashion movement, which offered affordable (albeit disposable) versions of the most on trend fashions, made available almost immediately after it was shown on the runway.

An H&M ribbon-cutting in Atlanta

Japanese retailer Uniqlo is being branded "the new Gap (GPS)," according to Bruce Dybvad, CEO of Interbrand Design Forum. Featuring basic pieces like t-shirts, jeans and jackets, the store is planning to open a second store in Manhattan this year, on Fifth Avenue, following the success of its downtown store in Soho. A possible contributing factor to the store's growth was the much talked about collaboration with designer Jil Sander on the capsule collection called +J last year. The retailer just announced a second +J collection will debut this spring with the same amount of fanfare. Reps for the company have reported Uniqlo may open at least 200 U.S. stores by 2020.

Other labels like Topshop from England and Zara from Spain have received similar amounts of popularity, causing everyone from fashion journalists to financial analysts to ask, "Is quantity now better than quantity?" The lightening quick rate at which clothes go on and off the shelves seems conducive to the success of the retailer. "You need to come back frequently to see what's going on," Dybvad said. "And if you like what you see you're driven to purchase it because it won't be there for long." This "speed to market" trend is likely to be adopted by retailers in 2011, if for no other reason than to keep up with their competitors. "Speed to market has always been a topic but now it's going to be critical to drive every last day, hour or minute out of the supply chain — or you are going to lose," David Bassuk, head of global retail at AlixPartners said.

A Topshop store in New York

With all these foreign chains taking over the U.S. market, experts are finding that the U.S. companies are starting to lose out. With the exception of Forever 21, once popular American retailers like American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch are struggling to maintain their targeted demographic. So what's to become of them? One answer that explores is a sort of reverse migration, American retailers doing the same thing as the foreign retailers and exporting their wares to Europe and Asia, where the concept of American fashion is still fresh and exciting. Last year, the Gap shuttered many of it's freestanding stores, as did sister chains Old Navy and Banana Republic. Simultaneously, however, international openings from all three companies increased. "If you can't reinvent your brand to grow, you might take it to a market that doesn't know it as well," said Paul of Deloitte. "In a lot of emerging markets, anything that's American is interesting."

So, dear readers, will the American face of fashion soon become one hodgepodge of foreign fashion ideologies? Do you prefer the fast fashion trend or would you like to see the days of quality production (though at a higher cost) return to the mainstream market? We'll just have to see what happens this year……

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-Alia Rajput

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