Does The Forever 21 Bankruptcy Signal The End Of Fast Fashion?

  • October 2, 2019 at 1:49 PM EDT
  • By Retail TouchPoints Team
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Forever 21, once one of the preeminent names in fast
fashion, filed
for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
after months of reports and
speculation. While the retailer thrived throughout the 2000s, in recent years Forever
21 has been plagued with many of the same issues as its mall-based apparel
contemporaries, including slowing sales and traffic, increasing competition and
most recently, the introduction of newer, more sustainable business models,
including subscription rental and secondhand apparel sales. The struggles at
Forever 21 spotlight a potential weakness in the fast fashion business model
itself.

In the wake of the Forever 21 bankruptcy, the RTP
editorial team discusses whether fast fashion is on its way out, or if
retailers that partake in it will be adapt to changing market and social trend
conditions.

Adam Blair, Editor: With the caveat that
one (or even two) retail bankruptcies don’t necessarily signal the end of a
powerful retail trend, it does seem that “Fast Fashion” is slowing down. This
may not be an altogether bad thing, at least as far as the environment is
concerned. Consumers are waking up to the environmental impact of the choices
they make — including the fact that so much apparel ends up in landfills — and
recognizing that a sector based on a buy it/wear it/toss it ethos
is unsustainable in both the economic and ecological senses. “Before if people
bought an item for $10, they didn’t care about throwing it away,” said Sue
Welch, CEO of Bamboo Rose. “Now they want to pass it on, recycle it or repair
it.” (Read my full Q&A with Welch, being published on Oct. 3.).
And when a subscription service named Wee Blessing adds
a “like new” clothing category for babies and toddlers, as it recently did,
that means even parents of the youngest kids — notoriously picky about what
goes on their children’s bodies — are willing to purchase previously worn
clothing. To me that signals a major shift in consumer sentiment, one that may
continue to slow fast fashion’s roll.

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Forever 21 certainly had
its place as a top industry disruptor; it was a name everyone associated with
fast fashion along with Zara, H&M and Uniqlo. But the
latter three brands still appear to be going strong, with H&M
turning around misfortunes of its own in 2019
. Fast fashion doesn’t quite
have the trendy connotation it may have had a decade or so ago, and resale and
subscription rental programs are going to cut further into overall apparel
sales, but I don’t think we can toss this business model to the wayside just
yet. Forever 21’s issues also stemmed from an overexpansion of its
brick-and-mortar capabilities (occupying much bigger stores instead of
smaller-format locations) that seemed to go against the direction successful
retailers have pivoted to in recent years. There’s still plenty of room for
affordable fashion, but shoppers simply have different priorities in what they
want out of an experience. If a store is too big and becomes too much of
a treasure hunt, shoppers have plenty of other ways to do their clothes
shopping.

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Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: I don’t
think fast fashion is going anywhere tomorrow, but this year’s closings may
mark the beginning of the end for the fast fashion industry. No trend is
forever, and between dropping disposable incomes and rising sustainability
concerns the market looks past its prime. The rise of luxury resellers and
newer, more socially conscious apparel brands are giving today’s consumers fashionable
choices well beyond the mall-based retailers that dominated in recent years.
While the stronger brands will survive, I expect them to shift their focus to
keep up with the new and upcoming trends. They got this far by staying
relevant, not simply waiting for fast fashion to come into vogue, and they will
continue by adjusting their business plans accordingly.

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