PARIS: Fast fashion, the driving force of the fashion industry, is nevertheless criticised for its ever-increasing impact on the environment, as well as for its propensity to encourage overconsumption.
But while some giants of the sector are starting to turn their backs on this concept, fast fashion still has plenty of support, including from some of social media’s most influential celebrities.
Is fast fashion losing momentum?
It’s hard to believe if you consider that the textile sector is (still) largely driven by fast fashion chains, including giants like Zara and H&M.
Popular with younger shoppers, fast fashion seems to have been keen to boost its image in recent months with advertising campaigns and collections with international stars, from Bella Hadid to Kourtney Kardashian.
These celebrities usually front the collections of the world’s biggest luxury houses, and are certainly not used to shopping in fast fashion stores, but their key strength is their social media influence.
More environmentally-minded practices
With an estimated carbon footprint of 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2, or about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, fashion is trying to reinvent to get greener.
This is being achieved through new uses such as resale, rental, upcycling, or repair, aimed at extending the life of clothes and limiting waste, among other things.
Voices are also being raised to criticise the perverse effects of overconsumption, which players in the circular economy essentially blame on fast fashion, always producing faster and cheaper.
And, although younger generations are often considered the most environmentally committed, they don’t seem keen to give up on this business model.
Shein is even “the number one place where 15-to-24-year-olds in France buy clothing,” Hélène Janicaud, head of research at Kantar, told Le Monde newspaper.
Nevertheless, they are turning – slowly but surely – towards new, more responsible practices, starting with second-hand goods.
Fast fashion in the firing line
Drawing on various figures, the US company thredUP estimates that the resale market will surpass the fast-fashion market in 2028, while a report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Vestiaire Collective says the resale market for clothing, shoes and accessories has tripled in size since 2020.
Is that enough to get fast fashion scared?
The fact remains that the image of fast fashion seems to be becoming increasingly tarnished as reports, conferences and surveys of all kinds denounce its human and environmental impact.
And things aren’t likely to get better in the coming months. Present on many second-hand platforms, fast fashion now seems to be becoming persona non grata.
Because, while resale could theoretically reduce the environmental burden of this disposable fashion, it may also contribute to boosting purchases due to the ease of reselling unwanted items.
As a result, this Black Friday, Vestiaire Collective – a high-end fashion resale platform – landed a major blow, announcing that it would simply ban fast fashion brands from its platform. One more hit for these fashion giants, whose future seems to be looking somewhat bleaker.
Boosting an ailing image
In the meantime, since the start of the year, the giants of fast fashion have been following each other in unveiling totally unexpected advertising campaigns and creative collaborations.
Accustomed to working with reality TV stars turned influencers, who always promote themselves with Instagram stories, some brands have made waves by enlisting the services of global celebrities, who are a world away from the budget fashion aisles.
Kourtney Kardashian, the eldest of the US’s most famous family, is the first to have surprised everyone by becoming an ambassador for Boohoo, a brand known not just for fast fashion, but for ultra-fast fashion.
This is a major marketing coup, of course, but it has also led to a flood of criticism.
Why? Because the reality TV star has been named the brand’s “sustainability ambassador” – a title that did not necessarily go down well with the American star’s millions of followers.
“Fast fashion will never be sustainable.”
“If Boohoo had any intentions at all about progressing to a more sustainable model then they would hire industry experts to consult and not a celebrity who is asking social media how to improve,” reads one comment under the star’s post.
Another follower added: “You’re literally helping one of the most unsustainable brands on Earth become more popular.”
All these critics show a certain awareness, despite fast fashion’s success among the younger generations.
But Boohoo is not the only brand to have signed up a global star to boost its image. The fast fashion brand About You has called on Bella Hadid this fall, with whom it has concocted a collection of essentials for the winter.
And the partnership has everything to make it a sure-fire success, especially since – here too – shoppers can relish in pieces that are “more sustainable,” and made from recycled materials.
Plus, considering the comments posted under the star model’s video, the online fashion giant has succeeded in its gamble, and with flying colours.
In its wake, Zara recently caused a stir by enlisting the services of Kaia Gerber, again for a collection.
This is a more common initiative for the Inditex group brand, which has long called on world-famous stars to promote or co-create collections – including Kate Moss – but which nevertheless reflects a certain need to renew, if not strengthen ties, with shoppers who seem to be gradually turning away.
In fact, this issue will undoubtedly be key in the months to come, despite the efforts of some of these companies to reinvent themselves.