Why the Solution to Fast Fashion Might Be Luxury Goods
While fast fashion is not going anywhere anytime soon, the shift in consumer education is happening more and more and brands are noticing and adapting
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Despite the massive success of fast fashion brands across Southeast Asia and the world, consumer sentiment is gradually shifting as companies become more conscious. Fast fashion has employed more than 60 million people in the world, with heavy concentrations in Asia, that help fulfill what seemed to be an insatiable demand for seasonal trends and cheap garments by consumers.
The problem with fast fashion is multi-faceted. For one, it has become a pricing battle with mass-market retailers competing to release new lines faster at increasingly cheaper prices. Next, there is the issue of worker compensation and the often horrid working conditions of overcrowded factories. Lastly, is the ecological damage done by fast fashion in the form of pollution, waste, and carbon emissions.
In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of the world's carbon emissions and the second largest consumer of the world's water supply. Unfortunately, Greenhouse gas emissions from the apparel industry is expected to increase to 49 per cent in the next decade. These are dire figures according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which expects Asia to be largest consumers of textiles through 2050, based on proportional demand growth expectations.
The Shift to Ethical and Sustainable Consumerism
Within the last year, the ethical clothing market has increased by over 20 per cent in value as consumers become more educated about the impact of fast fashion. Sustainable consumerism includes supporting brands that are eco-friendly, buying clothes that are organically made or from recycled materials, and even higher quality brands that are made to last, even if more expensive.
In Southeast Asia, people are becoming more affluent due to the rise of a new demographic called the "mass affluent', which will comprise of 137 million people by 2030 according to BCG. This shift is expected to increase the popularity of premium goods. To address this market and promote environmental awareness, there is an emerging segment of entrepreneurs and designers focused on more expensive, higher-quality craftsmanship catering to this segment.
The idea is simple. If you build clothing with better materials that are meant to last, consumers can ultimately spend more money upfront to save more money in the long-run. This assumes proper maintenance is applied and interest in the style and fashion remains.
In return, this form of buying products to last and wear a long time is a classic quality over quantity approach. In this scenario, we assume the clothing that is being produced is being produced with sustainability features, or this assumption could be lost due to the obvious damage done by production facilities.
Re-defining the Word "Luxury"
When thinking of the word luxury, it is important not to assume high-priced luxury brands offer quality that is in par with their higher pricing. Research has found that many luxury brands do not provide quality that justifies the price.
Consumers in general are paying for better materials when shopping famous luxury brands, but also for the brand, image, and social status that comes with them. This brand equity is what justifies higher pricing for many traditional luxury brands.
Jawad Malik, founder of sustainable luxury shoe brand Idrese, shared his insight on some of the nuances of the word luxury in the industry. In short, it appears quality has actually become worse over the past few years in the ultra-premium market.
"Large luxury brands are guilty of leveraging their brand loyalty to lower their quality while maintaining inflated prices in hopes of maintaining profitability. This only happens due to the lack of consumer education on the quality of the materials used," Malik explains.
The challenge now for entrepreneurs is to create a product that can balance consumer fashion demands around style, quality, price, and sustainable practices. For more timeless products, such as dress shoes or formal dresses, the turnaround on style is much less than a t-shirt for example. The ideal situation is one that involves using clothing for much longer periods of time, something that can only happen if quality standards increase.
Fashion is complicated. Even in the described scenario, the implications of a movement would result in the loss of jobs of many factory workers in the region who rely on the fast fashion industry to survive. This is a consideration that needs to be incorporated into new business models and taken into account.
While fast fashion is not going anywhere anytime soon, the shift in consumer education is happening more and more and brands are noticing and adapting. Ultimately, consumers can help dictate where the industry goes based on where and what they purchase.
When asked about the future of consumers, Malik adds, "We believe a change is coming. Consumers are educating themselves on what well-made goods are and they're seeking more value-added products. Branding is no longer the single major factor in decision making, now consumers want to know the quality of what they buy."