The worldwide collapse of Fast Fashion. All Covid’s fault?


It is the first “red” in about two decades of fast fashion history, and it is not about the trend color of the year. Shutters lowered, billionaires damage, orders skipped, jobs at risk: the long dark of the lockdown has taken life away from the sector which, by combining the low cost products with fast assortments, has imposed itself by transforming global consumer habits since the end of the nineties .

A first jolt had occurred in 2018 with the entry into crisis of the American low-cost brand Forever21, which then resorted to bankruptcy in September 2019. In this 2020, the ax of the coronavirus: closed shops and collapsed demand made suffering many big names in the sector. From Zara, passing through H&M and Primark, up to the not-too-distant relatives of fast fashion overseas, among which department stores such as Macy’s stand out.

To weigh on the “fast fashion” sector, there is also a strongly globalized production. The production phases of a single item of clothing are located in distant countries, and this has made crisis management even more difficult: from production, to inventory, to rents.

“Covid-19 only laid bare a trend that was already not going well. Too much production, unsustainable for the planet. Too much selling tension, unsustainable for human relationships. And too much style redundancy, the denial of fashion itself, which instead thrives on change, “he tells HuffPost Danilo Venturi, director of the Polimoda international institute of fashion design and marketing. In this scenario – says Venturi – the business model that “must start from the fundamentals: a sustainable production and distribution system, a quality management of human resources and greater consistency between what you do and what you do, must be redesigned. you communicate “.

Because the landscape is far from rosy, but the fashion industry can rewrite its future through new strategies and choices. In the meantime, the contingent crisis remains the news in recent weeks. To give some examples: the announcement of the closure of 1,200 stores between Europe and Asia of the Inditex group, which includes the brands Zara, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, Bershka, Oysho, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti and Uterque. The company has announced that the new growth strategy will focus more on e-commerce, an already growing channel. On the other hand, it was the social distancing and the lockdown that highlighted the importance of digital channels within the fashion chain.

Over 3,400 of the 5,062 H&M stores, located in more than 74 markets worldwide, also lowered the shutters. The Swedish giant said it expected losses in the second quarter after recording a 46% drop in March sales over the previous year. Like Zara, H&M is now focusing on the online sales front. But, as in many other sectors and for other realities, the employment situation is worrying. The alarm launched in Italy for about 2 thousand H&M workers by the trade unions Filcams, Fisascat and Uiltucs is in the past few hours.

Primark, another major fast fashion brand, during the lockdown reported losses of 650 million pounds (about 720 million euros) of net sales per month. Despite this, the fast fashion giant said ‘no’ to a bonus of about 30 million pounds from the British government for the recovery of staff: it will count on its own strength. To date, in fact, only eight of the 375 total stores of the brand owned by Ab Foods are still closed and new openings are expected.

Beyond the fast fashion case, according to estimates by The Business of Fashion (Bof) magazine and the strategic consultancy firm McKinsey, the global fashion industry (clothing and footwear) is expected to contract by 27- 2020 30%, with the possibility of returning to a growth of between 2% and 4% in 2021. The figures shake the wrists, considering that the value generated by the global fashion industry was valued at 2.5 trillion dollars. last year.

But the health emergency has not only generated an economic impact: a public debate has in fact opened up on the opportunity to restore fashion to a “human scale” dimension. Among the first to launch a warning in recent months was Giorgio Armani with a letter written to the WWD Women’s Wear Daily magazine, in which he stressed the unsustainable speed achieved by the sector, encouraging a change for a more seasonal and lasting product. “The decline in fashion began when the luxury segment adopted the fast fashion operating methods, imitating the endless delivery cycle of the latter in the hope of selling more, but forgetting that luxury takes time to reach. and appreciated, ”wrote Armani.

Lower impulse consumption, less “disposable” purchases (according to the data of the American Environmental Protection Agency, in 2015 alone the USA generated 11.9 million tons of textile waste, which ended up in landfills), more attention to quality , durability and impact on the environment: the BoF and McKinsey report estimates that, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, before buying 15% of European consumers, it will pay attention to the sustainability of a garment. Furthermore, according to the same report, in Europe and the United States over 65% of consumers intend to spend less on clothing and accessories than they did before the pandemic.

We asked Danilo Venturi if habits are already changing and if people have to buy less but of quality. “Yes and no,” says the director of Polimoda, introducing a more complex reflection: “Many fashion stores are empty and many restaurants are full. People want what has been forbidden to them, that is, authentic and free human contact. Therefore, if on the one hand the lockdown made it clear that many garments and accessories were not necessary and consumption turned to the basic quality, on the other hand it is consumption aspirational e self-treating to be the master, that is, those who give the most emotion “. Venturi underlines that to suffer instead is “the product of low intrinsic quality and of little stylistic content, that is the ‘buy-from-buy’. And people rightly don’t buy. “

But the fashion crisis, as demonstrated by the aforementioned data on the global fashion industry of BoF and McKinsey, crosses the boundaries of “fast”. To make news, in recent days, also a historical brand like Brooks Brothers, the oldest chain of retail stores in America and a symbol of men’s fashion. Despite the over 200 years of history and the thirty-seven (out of forty-five) US Presidents clothes, the brand has not resisted the changes undergone by the market over the decades, yielding after the lockdown of consumption due to the lockdown. The company presented the Chapter 11, similar to the Italian extraordinary administration, which allows you to keep a company in serious crisis open as long as you pay your creditors and start a recovery plan.

Isolated case or first step that risks triggering a domino effect even in higher-end realities? On luxury brands, Danilo Venturi of Polimoda has clear ideas: “Italian and French fashion luxury brands will not fail, especially those who enjoy the protection of large groups. Indeed, I find the choice of some right to take a period to produce and sell only what they feel and when they feel like it. This could bring back the desire to discover the novelty in mono-brands “.

“But – underlines Venturi – a real systemic recovery will only happen with innovation, like every one after every great crisis. Suffice it to recall Chanel and Ferragamo who between the two wars introduced new materials, cultural references and occasions of use, thus reinventing women and footwear. Or Armani, who by de-structuring a jacket has reinvented man ”. And he concludes: “When someone has courage the others follow and the system restarts. Attack must be played. Never stand still. “

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