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Essay: Uncovering the Issues with Fast Fashion in Mass Market Sectors

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T

he aim of this report was to investigate the issues surrounding fast fashion within the mass market sector and the impacts that this has upon the environment. The primary research I conducted was a questionnaire of which I asked 20 participants of whom were the main targeted consumers for the sector. Whilst my secondary research consisted of analysing various books, journals and online articles as well as academic databases such as Mintel and WGSN. Overall, the results from my primary research indicated that consumers feel that they are undereducated about current environmental issues within the fashion industry and if they were, they would make productive changes. The report concludes that the fast fashion industry is rapidly expanding, and the more of an issue it becomes, the more of a negative effect it will pose upon the environment. It is recommended that the mass market becomes more transparent about their environmental impacts so that consumers are more aware of the brand they are buying into. Fast fashion is a term used by retailers that refers to low-cost garments produced at a fast rate. Mainly occurring in the mass market sector, it can help to generate an almost certain fast income for the brand. However, fast fashion “leaves a pollution footprint, with each step of the clothing life cycle generating potential environmental and occupational hazards” (Claudio, 2007). In my following work, I will delve further into the issues surrounding the current environmental impacts of fast fashion within the mass market sector.

The mass market sector caters for a vast range of consumers. The sector produces large quantities of affordable ready-to-wear garments in standard sizes. It adapts various trends set by well-known names in fashion, and now even social media influencers, and produces its garments through simple cultivation techniques. With this and the use of inexpensive materials, affordable fashion is produced, which is a key convention within the sector. The mass market is not generally known for selling durable, high quality products or providing exceptional customer service.

When considering UK market shares in 2017, the mass market occupied 8 spots in the top 20 (see appendices 1). A few of these being Next with a (4.7% share), New Look (2.3% share) and Topshop (1.1% share) and Dorothy Perkins (0.7% share), all of which are key players within the sector (see appendices 1). As of 2017, the leader within the mass market and with the highest market share out of all brands in the UK is Marks & Spencer with a 6% share (see appendices 1).

The mass market occupied more places out of all sectors in the UK, thus making its sector performance within the nation in 2017 quite high (see appendices 1). There are many reasons adding to its success such as its versatility, its appeal to millennials and generation-z and it produces fast fashion therefore products are able to sell at a steady rate throughout the year rather than the designer sector which bring out two main collections per year. The rise of fast fashion has caused the fashion industry to produce 60 million tonnes of garments a year, this of which could reach 100 million by 2030 (DownToearth, 2018).

The products produced typically mimic that of luxury brands at an attempt to sell its consumers, who typically cannot afford designer garments, similar items at a cheaper cost. By fast fashion garments being cheaper in price, the consumer is able to purchase more. As well as this, as the production cost is cheaper than compared to that of a luxury brand (due to cheaper materials), therefore they are then able to bring out more products and collections to the shop floor at a faster rate. Thus alluding to the term “fast fashion”.

Fast fashion is not a serious issue within all fashion sectors however it can be argued that it is most prominent within the mass market. The mass market has a general audience of male and females, typically either millennials or generation-z, whom are the principle consumers for fast fashion. Both millennials and generation-z have become cultivated by the “wear it once” culture, which is a catalyst for fast fashion. The continuous appetite for new and unique clothes within society has placed a constant pressure on brands to keep on top of their consumers wants and needs.

Due to the rise of online stores, mass market retailers are forced to constantly keep on top of trends. By doing this, they will have to bring out clothes at a fast rate in order to keep up with competitiveness of online stores. This being since online shopping is more convenient for the consumer (something which is of growing importance within society), brands have to bring more to their stores to make the consumer go into their store to shop.

As well as this, the mass market retailers must take advantage and be aware of the growing popularity of social media and how it can both positively and negatively affect them. In return for thie quick production that the fast fashion industry creates, environmental corners are likely to be cut, as this high level of consumption is unsustainable.

C

otton is an extensively utilised material which is popular within the mass market. The cultivation of the fabric however, emits a rather staggering environmental footprint. According to research conducted by The World Wide Fund for Nature, 20,000 litres of water is needed to produce only a kilogram of cotton; which is equivalent to a t-shirt and pair of jeans (WWF, 2018). During the process of production, a high quantity of pesticides is used, which damages both soil and water quality. Only 2.5% of all farmland in the world is used for growing cotton (WWF, 2018) and the production of cotton can severely destroy the quality of soil. When farmland becomes too exhausted to the point where it cannot be used anymore, further land elsewhere is then used for the growing of cotton.

Most cotton grown over the globe is genetically modified so that it is resistant to the bollworm pest, therefore the number of pesticides used is reduced. However, this can lead to the emergence of ”superweeds” (Washington State University, 2012) which are resistant to standard pesticides so when treated, are required exceedingly toxic pesticides which are harmful to not only animals, but humans.

The consequences of the production of cotton effects the environment on a global scale. An example of the devastating extent to which it can reach is the Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It was once the 4th largest lake in the world but is now reduced to only 15% of its former size. The main cause of this was the production of cotton. And currently, where the lake used to be, 43 million tonnes of dust filled with pesticides is blown into the air every year (The World Counts, 2018). Proven from the research conducted by the Environmental Justice Foundation, the results from this is The Aral Sea region suffers from the highest rates of throat cancer in the world (The World Counts, 2018).

O

ne of the most widely used manufactured fibres within the mass market is polyester. Produced from petroleum, the synthetic fabric is cheap, versatile, wrinkle-free and easy to wash; thus causing it to be an evident go-to fabric choice for mass market brands.

High quality polyester can maintain its quality for a long duration however most polyester used within the mass market is poor quality and will typically only last a few years. This being the reason as to why it is a popular choice for fast fashion garments because a higher quality is not required as on average, consumers only wear fast fashion products 6 times (Gabrielli, 2013). This cheaper production will then allow for more garments to be manufactured, which is the ultimate goal within the fast fashion industry.

There are however, negative effects upon the environment that are caused by polyester. When a single garment containing polyester is placed in the washing machine, it is estimated that roughly 1,900 individual fibres can be rinsed off from it (The Guardian, 2014). These micro-fibres emitted are transported directly into the ocean, which further contributes to the already increasing levels of plastic within the oceans. In addition to this, as plastic is not biodegradable and takes 200 years to decompose (WWF, 2018), it poses a serious long-term threat to aquatic life. The use of carcinogens are required within the production of polyester, which if released to the land or oceans untreated, can cause severe environmental harm.

According to figures from the Technical Textile Markets, the demand for man-made fibres, specifically polyester, has nearly doubled in the past 15 years (Textiles Intelligence, 2018), the rise of fast fashion is greatly contributing to this. I

n relation to the market map I conducted to present the levels of sustainability within mass market brands, it is evident that there is a gap for low priced high sustainable items. The trends portrayed is that most higher priced brands have a low sustainable, and that more brands within the market, whether higher or lower priced, should be more sustainable as there are only two brands on the higher side. However, with brands such as H&M, ZARA and GAP are towards the middle of the axis but closer to high sustainability. It shows that there is progression within the mass market and hope that there will be improval.

Terrorist attacks not only within the UK but globally is stopping consumers from travelling due to fear of their own safety. Moreover, due to Brexit, it is more difficult to bring stock over from abroad and to make deals with companies overseas because to the countries uncertain state. UK exports will struggle, unless they can agree on for a new trade agreement.

The use of non-renewable resources is faster, easier and cheaper for brands within these materials within their production processes of fast fashion garments. However, the mass market is rapidly using vital resources that take hundreds of years to form again. The fashion industry depends on many endangered and ancient forests to be cut down in order to produce wood-based fabrics (such as rayon, viscose and modal) and are then replaced with replanted trees so that they can be cut down again and more fabric can be produced. The consequences of this continual replanting and removal of trees is posing a serious threat to the ecosystem.

Millennials and Generation Z have a need to constantly want something new and different which is the leading cause of fast fashion. Fast fashion within the mass market is beneficial as it boosts sales however it produces a negative impact upon the environment. Furthermore, workers in factories that are producing fast fashion garments are exposed to hazardous chemicals such as Alkylphenols.

Due to the rise of social media there has been a staggering increase of online stores, as generation-z and millennials use technology more than ever before. The constant evolving of technology poses a threat to mass market brands as consumers are shopping online a lot more than in previous times. Also due to new technology, purchasing products has become a lot more effortless. The introduction of PayPal, contactless and ApplePay means that consumers physically have to do less when purchasing, meaning they are more likely to do so on a regular basis.

Environmental and international trade laws have also grown tough and must to be complied with. This can be difficult for retailers to do so however a positive effect of this is that legal compliance and an ethical image can be beneficial for a fashion brand’s business.

Following Brexit, the value of the pound dropped 15% versus the euro (Fullfact, 2018). For the fashion industry, this could mean a potential rise in cost prices, which could then result in an overall increase of product prices. The weak value of the pound would mean an increase in domestic tourism as people would travel to purchase products at a lower price. Conversely a positive of this is it would result in a growth of employment within the fashion industry as consumers are buying more. Millennials and generation-z also have more disposable income, therefore they are likely to purchase garments on a more regular basis.

It is extremely easy for a new brand to join the

mass market and

vastly gain popularity

within it as the generation-z and

millennials are buying more and are always on the look for something new and unique and are willing to shop around for it. Also due to the rise of online retailers, especially European, the scale of brands consumers can buy from is now global. Supplier power is weak as it is very easy for for brand to change their supplier. This is because mass market brands are releasing clothing

collections on a more regular basis and are changing altering their stylistic image more often to suit the consumer’s needs. Therefore, it is easier for them to change their supplier as they are producing the same items for less often.

This is as mass market

consumers can easily buy off of a competitor, in fact this is being more done now than ever before as nowadays

consumers possess little brand loyalty. Consumers crave low prices therefore they are ready to switch the brands they buy from without hesitation. Products in the mass

market   are  easy   to  replicate  and it is growing rather easy to find

replacements  and   equivalents   as

products within the mass

market as a whole

are very similar

The competitive activity

within the sector is very

intense as the numbers of

competitors are high,

especially with the ongoing rise of fast fashion, this issue within the mass market does not

look as if it will

decrease anytime soon. T

o aid me with my research I decided to conduct a qualitative questionnaire consisting of nine questions. My questions varied from environmentally related to fast fashion. I asked a group of 20 mixed participants, all either millennials or generation-z. I did this as this they are the largest group of consumers for fast fashion, hence why I wanted to delve deeper into their thoughts surrounding the topic.

F

rom my questionnaire I found that the target consumers of the mass market are highly undereducated about the issues surrounding it, most importantly the issues in which they are blindly contributing to. 70% of all participants admitted to throwing at least one item of clothing away in the past year and 70% did not know that the fashion industry was the second most polluting industry in the world. In addition to this, a majority of participants threw away clothing due to convenience however, when asked if they would purchase more expensive clothing if t meant it would have a less harmful effect upon the environment, 85% said yes. Due to the staggering lack of knowledge within answers and the fact that 100% of participants felt like they were undereducated about the environmental issues surrounding the fashion industry, it is evident that the responsibility of the environmental harm caused falls on the retailers themselves and not the consumers.

Zara is a Spanish fast fashion retailer that has 650 stores in 50 countries. The company produces approximately 10,000 designs annually and releases new products every two weeks (Forbes, 2018). Due to this, the customers are almost always guaranteed to find something new whenever they visit the store or shop online, they are in limited stock however, which gives the consumer a feeling of exclusivity. This then forces the consumer to buy whatever product they see when they see it due to fear that they might not be able to purchase it again. This is a top tactic that fast fashion brands use to guarantee and increase sales.

The company has set out its own set of rules in order to combat the quantity of greenhouse gasses it produces each year. They are doing this by promoting the use of energy efficient fibres, thinner packaging to allow more packages to be loaded onto one shipment and promoting an upcycling initiative (Harvard Business School, 2017). Zara’s animal welfare policy includes a strict ban on fur, angora and on stocking products tested on animals. However, they do use leather.

According to an ethical report on the brand from Good On You, Zara uses the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to measure their own carbon emissions, the brand has set an intensity target to “reduce emissions from their own operations by 15% by 2020” (Good on You, 2018). OMS are a global footwear, apparel and accessories company. On their website, Toms states that “with every product purchased, TOMS will help a person in need, One for One®” (TOMS, 2018); the brand has giving partners focused on education, health and empowerment.

Despite using a variety of resources when they had first started, the brand now produces most of its apparel and footwear out of environmentally friendlier materials such as natural hemp, organic cotton and recycled polyester. Thus helping to reduce water consumption within their production process. The brand has even brought out a vegan shoe range, meaning that the shoes contain no leather.

By using pronouns such as “we” and “our” within their branding, TOMS is forming a relationship between themselves and the consumer. This involvements of the consumer makes the products feel more personal, thus driving customer loyalty. Similar to PACT, by TOMS driving customer loyalty, the consumer is more likely to buy products from only that brand and are less likely to shop around. This has a positive impact upon the environment as rather than the customer buying a few cheap, low quality shoes produced out of unsustainable non-biodegradable materials, they are likely to buy one pair of shoes which is ethically produced. This means less waste is produced and the waste that is generated, is recyclable.

PACT is a clothing company that produces 100% of its low-maintenance garments out of organic cotton. Their clothing includes a range of basics including t-shirts, hoodies, leggings and underwear. Rather than targeting one specific audience, PACT targets everybody, in an attempt to get as many people as possible to buy their garments. Their basic products can be used within a capsule wardrobe, meaning that a lot of use can be had from them so they are not used as a typical fast fashion garment. By creating universal, comfortable, inexpensive and high quality products, the brand is driving customer loyalty, not only for a specific person but for the whole family.

By designing all of their garments to be flattering on nearly all body types, the brand is driving further customer loyalty. In addition to this, the customer is likely to shop there again, buying more sustainable products rather than unsustainable.

PACT is Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified. GOTS’s aim “standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibres” (Global Organic Textile Standard, 2018).

Through the use of organic cotton which minimises overall water usage, PACT combats fast fashion as well as the use of unsustainable materials The company is also fair trade and uses no toxic dyes or pesticides. Thus, causing no harm to consumers, workers or wildlife. T

hrough social media and the ability to post reviews, consumers have developed a higher and more powerful freedom of speech. With more options than ever before, they desire the best and are requiring more from brands as they are now more aware of their rights. It is easier for consumers to compare products, and read up about environmental impacts, but only if they choose to.

The mass market industry has switched from the brand deciding what

products to release to the consumer holding all of the power and deciding all. This is as they can shop where, when and however much they decide to.

With the constant evolving of technology, the consumer is able to gain

access about the environmental aspects of the fashion industry. Due to this, they are able to demand for more ethically produced clothing, brands within the mass market have to keep up with this as consumers easily shop around for

better products. The faster technology evolves, the faster brands have to keep up with consumer needs, as brands are more transparent than ever before.

The effects of fast fashion have caused consumers to develop a “wear it once culture”. From my questionnaire, I discovered that 70% of all

participants buy a new piece of clothing within one week and a month, and 75% find themselves regularly going shopping without the intention of buying

anything. From the large exposure to many retailers, both online and in-store, consumers are demanding a quicker and better quality customer service.

To minimise the environmental impact that fast fashion causes within the mass market numerous changes need to be made to create a significant positive impact. The main issue to tackle is fast fashion as a whole. This can be targeted in many ways, one of these being promoting re-selling, recycling and recycling of garments. Which can be done via the promotion of websites such as Depop and allowing recycling to be more accessible within local communities. I found that this could be a useful as from my questionnaire I found that most participants threw away clothing due to convenience.

In addition to this, I believe that brands within the mass market need to drive more customer loyalty so that consumers wait for collections to come out rather than shopping around which can do this through offering exclusivity, such as loyalty cards/points.

Persuading consumers to take care of their clothing so that they last longer will also create a positive impact. Also by bringing back “make do and mend” mentality through promoting the skill of sewing, the consumer can fix their garment is it does break rather than instantly throwing it away.

Similar to ASOS Collusion range, from my research I have discovered that releasing more gender fluid collections can help reduce the impacts of fast fashion. This s because less waste will be produced as less clothes are produced. As mentioned previously, brand loyalty needs to be brought back, this can be done through offering true value, such as gender fluid clothing, which is versatile and can be worn in many ways therefore being seen as more than one garment.

Investing in a capsule wardrobe will be beneficial as the clothes will not go out of season therefore the consumer will only need to purchase a few seasonal items.

Moving away from fast fashion, what will also produce a hugely positive environmental impact is if mass market brands used more organic cotton and linen and less polyester. Organic cotton uses 71% less water (Aboutorganiccotton, 2016) whilst organic linen as it uses less energy within fibre production (see appendices 2).

However, to be motivated to make these changes within their lifestyles, consumers need to be educated about the harm they are causing by contributing to fast fashion. This can be done through education at schools, campaigns on television and the radio, brands being truthful about the materials they use and their production processes etc. I believe this will prompt not only retailers too.

If the sector carries on at the rate of which it is escalating, more clothes will be produced, and even more will be thrown away. However, I do believe that both consumers and brands are being more ethically aware and concerned with environmental issues they are causing. I invasion that the mass market sector will progress in a positive direction, away from fast fashion. Especially as “there is scope for certain retailers to focus on premium seasonless and quality clothes” (Mintel, 2018), although it is likely this will take a long while.

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