Note: This article is Part 1 of 2 opinion pieces covering fast fashion. Part 2 can be viewed here.
While flipping through runway collections on Style.com, I find myself lusting after certain looks in every collection. Perhaps that amazing color-block coat off the latest Céline runway, or those glitter boots from the Marc Jacobs show; there is always something that catches my eye and drives me to go on a hunt for something similar. Though aspirational luxury brands can be a source of frustration for any lover of fashion who is also on a budget, luxury designers largely set the tone and trends for fashion and retail in the upcoming seasons. As the classic blue sweater scene in The Devil Wears Prada makes painfully clear, trendsetters and tastemakers—the people we see in fashion blogs and on the pages of Vogue—dictate what the average person wears.
So what does a person who has adoration for fashion and a limited bank account do to fulfill their sartorial needs? The majority of the population shops at stores like H&M and Forever 21, but not many people know that many of the clothes in such stores are actually very directly inspired by runway collections. The silhouettes and colors that become so popular in a particular season can be traced directly to designer collections, and particular styles follow the same pattern as well. For example, the Prada S/S 2014 show featured clothing with athletic motifs, like stripes and sporty fabrics. The same elements can now be commonly found on $5 tank tops at stores such as Forever 21. For a long time, fashion and retail have followed a trickle-down system: what is shown on the runways is simplified, made affordable, slightly altered, and sold to the masses. Every trend is intentional and has a very specific source.
What most people also notice when walking into a store like Forever 21 or H&M is that collections are incredible dynamic and a store will never look the same for longer than a day or two. Displays and inventory are constantly changing, leading to the label of fast fashion. The fashion industry as a whole is extremely fast-paced, with many luxury houses putting out up to six collections a year. Mass retail has had to keep up, and fast fashion allows retail chains to quickly meet changes in consumer desires while also encouraging more spending. The idea is that if there is always something new for consumers to want, consumers will always want more.
Of course, with the reduction of price comes a lessening of quality and design. The clothes you would buy at H&M aren’t exactly designed to last a lifetime, as fits with the fast fashion philosophy. However, on the high street level, retail chains like Topshop, Mango, and most famously, Zara, are revolutionizing fashion in ways that have changed the fashion industry from top to bottom. Topshop is known for its trendy clothing that, at a slightly higher price than Forever 21, is similar to what is worn by street style stars. Zara’s production process is incredibly fast from conception to manufacture, allowing them to get new items that are directly inspired by runway designs, with slight tweaks, into the stores almost twice a week.
While stores like Zara seen by some as a threat to luxury brands who actually conceive designs and influence trends, they can also be viewed as a democratizing force in the notoriously elitist fashion industry. Why should someone who loves clothes be limited by their budget? Fast fashion gives me, the average student and so many others the opportunity to participate in the fashion world without going into debt. In reality, not one of the garments one would find in a Mango or Topshop is identical to a garment on the runway, and even luxury fashion has a history of taking inspiration from other properties, whether it’s art, film or other cultures. And in terms of threat to the luxury business, there is no real danger. It will be a while before a Zara dress carries the same weight as Chanel.
Deeksha Mehta is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.