February 12, 2013

The Fast & The Furious

We’ve attended some events over the past few weeks regarding fast fashion and incorporating sustainable business practices into a fast fashion retail model. We are at the point where fashion has just gotten too fast. What you see on the runway, is available right off the catwalk and just weeks later you can spot knock-off versions in fast fashion shop windows. At the fabric trade shows, suppliers will be showing S/S 2014 and buyers will be purchasing these collections for S/S 2013. When is enough enough? Where is the breaking point? Our conclusion, we are going to have to cease making things so quickly and for so cheap.

photo via WWD

What are we doing speeding everything up – with new deliveries every two weeks? The people producing these goods are working under inhumane conditions which as of late, has become critically publicized by the media. Look at the recent factory fires in Bangladesh where 7 were killed and nearly 15 injured, all for the sake of what? A $29.99 dress? In response, companies are reacting with politically correct public statements revealing their changing practices in fear of suffering major monetary backlashes. A new sense of awareness is finally being raised as consumers buying these inexpensive garments are beginning to be more conscious about what it means to shop at such low price points.

However, there is hope as countries like China have made astounding leaps of growth with a push for improved worker's rights, wage increases and the emergence of unions. Due to this, many companies have shifted their production to other countries like that of Bangladesh, which will hopefully follow in China's footsteps towards better working conditions over the next few years. Which country will companies manufacture in then?

photo via RFID Journal

Through the help of technology alone, the entire manufacturing process is experiencing revolutionary changes. Affirm Heart Far East is a Chinese apparel manufacturer who manages their fast fashion production by using a RFID-based Apparel Management Expert (RAME) solution to track products from concept to finished product! This system indicates how long the production process takes per item, potential threats of delay as well as which workstations operate most efficiently.

photo via WSJ

In the name of fast fashion, even something as crucial to the entire apparel making process as the industrial sewing machine is finally getting an update. Sunstar Machinery Co., a factory based in Seoul and the largest manufacturer of these machines has been producing both sewing and embroidery machines with built in computers and displays. Theses machines not only track garments as they are being made and offer real time feedback, but also help improve efficiency by controlling the stitch, needle pressure and speed.

While changes at the production level are the most detrimental and involve the most pressure due to the contribution of people actually behind the making of, this desire for "fastness" is hitting everything from the runway to retail. KCD recently announced that their Digital Fashion Shows, which was once solely an industry exclusive platform, has gone public. This unrestricted digital front row access represents the future of the catwalk and offers a more affordable and viral alternative as many designers veer to hold their collection debuts in showrooms or at fashion parties to save money.

video via Rebecca Minoff

The explosion of social media pretty much goes hand in hand with the success of fast fashion. Over the past few years, Instagram has become a major driver for brand awareness just as Facebook has for boosting sales. Therefore sites like Fashion GPS, Olapic and Fohr Card have emerged to help brands track this data and eventually understand how to convert social media and website traffic into actual sales. Brands like Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Coach, Burberry and Sephora are all experimenting with how to take this scientific data and translate it into visible revenue. Rebecca Minkoff not only has a presence on both platforms, Instagram and Facebook, but also participates in Facebook advertising and recently launched a youtube video with Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller which reached more than 129,000 views since launching on January 9th. As the industry shifts to more digital solutions, more brands will begin to understand the importance of investing in their online presence to understand consumer insight.

photo via Hukkster

Despite the changing marketing strategies of retailers, consumers may still be one step ahead, at least when it comes to getting a good deal. Cutting-edge tools like one from Citibank's Citi Card, are beginning to emerge to help shoppers monitor sales and price drops as soon as they change. Hukkster, is one of the best examples of this as shoppers can now "hukk it" and they will be alerted when the price changes on any specific item, at any given time.

What it comes down to is, fashion is fast but the news is faster. With that said, it's great to be on it trend-wise, but you have to do it right because you can't get away with it anymore. The problem lies in the fact that we are a society driven by consumerism. We live to buy "stuff." Typically, fast fashion is bought by teenagers and for them, it's all about looking cool and trendy versus being politically correct. Not to mention, as you know, the internet and social media makes everything available in a matter of seconds, whether it be news related or the latest "it" product. However, things are evolving and for the better as we continue to experiment and learn from our mistakes. Unfortunately just like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire, sometimes it takes a tragedy for us to actually wake up and change. Hopefully, moving forward as a whole, we will make more conscious decisions from concept to consumer throughout the supply chain and gradually slow our speed down. 

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