Donald Sull and Stefano Turconi examine how Zara, a leader in the industry, has pioneered an approach to navigate the volatility of fast fashion, offering lessons for any company facing rapidly changing markets.
Haute couture has always been a fairly staid affair. Big-name designers crafted clothing that sold for tens of thousands of euros.
Astronomical prices served as the doormen to keep the masses out of the exclusive club of high fashion. Fashion houses introduced their collections twice a year, and a designer’s choices on the height of a hemline or colour of a skirt largely dictated what was “in” and what was “out” for the following six months.
How things have changed. In recent decades, retailers including Benetton, H&M, Topshop and Zara have revolutionized the fashion industry by following a strategy known as fast fashion, democratizing couture and bringing trendy, affordable items to the masses. Fast fashion describes the retail strategy of adapting merchandise assortments to current and emerging trends as quickly and effectively as possible. Fast fashion retailers have replaced the traditional designer-push model – in which a designer dictates what is “in” – with an opportunitypull approach, in which retailers respond to shifts in the market within just a few weeks, versus an industry average of six months.
While fast fashion is heaven for its target consumers, it can be hell for traditional retailers.
Quickly shifting trends have slashed the shelf life of many garments from months to weeks, or even days.
In the autumn of 2006, demand for a one-shouldered cocktail dress exploded, and retailers rushed to stock up on the hot item. A few weeks later, the same