Fast Fashion


Fast Fashion is a fashion business model of production characterized by the shortening of the time periods in which each fashion cycle reaches the point of sale. In general, the fast fashion model combines short production and retailing time-periods (bringing supply and demand closer together) with a high-trend product design (made possible due to consumer and market monitoring) (Cachon and Swinney, 2011). 

Fast Fashion has been defined as the “formulas adopted by firms that do not create a product planned on a seasonal basis, but instead reduce the time gap between designing the product and the time of consumption; this reduction is achieved either by putting together more frequent selections or by continuous redesigning and constant new production” (Guercini, 2001, p. 70). Thereby, fast fashion brands are able to introduce small collections of articles each week, leaving behind the old planning collections (autumn/winter and spring/summer) and responding to the latest trends.  

Bruce and Daly (2006, p. 329) explain the dynamics of fast fashion through three factors:  


  1. Timing: the objective of this model is getting clothing into stores within the shortest time possible 
  2. Cost factors: companies are taking advantage of lower priced products from overseas (Lowson, 2001; Mattila et al., 2002)  
  3. Fashion buying cycle:  the traditional fashion buying cycle is based on long-term forecasts from historical sales, and occurs one year before a season, with leads for orders placed six months prior to product launch (Birtwistle et al., 2003).  


The fast fashion model first originated in Italy (Sull and Turconi, 2008). At the time, it was devised to facilitate the rapid replacement of clothing items. However, Zara (Inditex) took the model a stage further by going beyond the idea of rapid replacement and focusing on placing new products in its stores according to the fashion of the moment. It is said that they adapted Benetton’s “tinto in capo” system, and combined it with Toyota’s “just-in-time” organizational procedures. This is a model that has successfully been applied to over 80 countries. “The rapid expansion of Inditex throughout the world has forced many other companies such as H&M or Gap to introduce the fast fashion concept into their business models: a high percentage of production close-by that enables them to react rapidly to fashion changes or adapt to certain markets” (Lara and Sádaba, 2012, p.314).  

Fast fashion is defined by Sheridan et al. as “the strategies that retailers adopt in order to reflect current and emerging trends quickly and effectively in current merchandise assortments” (2006, p. 301). This means that the model works under these three pillars: 

  1. Quick response, trying to postpone all risky production decisions (for example, orders of merchandise that may not be needed in case of low sales) until there is enough evidence that the market demand exists. 
  2. Dynamic assortment planning, with weekly collection launches 
  3. Priority to volume instead of margin. 

Then, two main areas arise if we consider the sustainability goal for this model:

1. Suppy Chain 

Many companies have now adopted vertical integration strategies, outsourcing manufacturing to partners connected via global production networks (Tokatli, 2007). Fast fashion companies have different manufacturers located throughout the world and, in this respect, one key problem concerns the way in which labour and working conditions can be monitored at factories. The supply chain becomes the point at which fashion companies must implement measures that guarantee fulfilment of environmental and human rights policies.  

2.Over consumption 

In this model, the clothing items offered at stores change frequently, whilst new collections are presented in shorter time-periods than was traditionally the case. Barrios (2012) explains it as follows: “The clothing items that are produced are designed, manufactured, distributed and sold almost as rapidly as customers change their tastes. What is more, the same company promotes these rapid changes, endowing its stores with new designs each week, thus creating a climate of opportunity in which customers are made to understand that, if they really like some model, they had better purchase it at the time because it probably will not be available the following week, so the customer buys the clothing item in order not to miss the opportunity to acquire it. This is the climate of scarcity and immediate opportunity that companies have created with their live collections concept” (Barrios, 2012, pp.72-73). In this respect, the logistics of design and production processes has been modified, which means that clothing items can be delivered within periods that range between 24 and 48 hours.

Recently it has been questioned the assumption of defining Zara as fast fashion. Pal and Gander (2018, p.254) retain that although not usually referred to as a sustainable fashion business model, Zara's version of the fast-fashion approach is an example of narrowing resource flow. They explain that Zara has a more accurate sales-led approach than other fast fashion brands by using flexible and modular production techniques. This results in more efficient production, a higher proportion of goods sold, and less waste resulting from unsold stock. 

The culture of fast fashion could be similar with the culture of fast food: 

“Indeed, like fast food, fast fashion is mass-produced and standardized. The unbeatably cheap top, dress or pair of jeans, like the hamburger, is traded in large volumes, is globally ubiquitous, and is homogeneously served or styled. Designed to be cheap, easy, and rapid to produce; it draws on low-cost materials and labor, short lead times, and efficient large volume production. Created to be distributed, sold, and consumed in ever-increasing quantities, it is priced low and brought to market fast. New styles, quickly copied from catwalks or high-end labels, are introduced into stores every few weeks, exploiting the consumer desire for novelty. Sales and growth are increased by maximizing economies of scale and minimizing costs. In both food and fashion, “fast” is an economic tool, a lever to be pushed and pulled, in order to increase product throughput and grow profit. Fast fashion is fashion shaped not by speed but by a set of business practices focused on achieving continual economic growth; the most universally accepted goal in the world”. (Fletcher, 2010)  

Fashion companies traditionally classified within this business model are Zara, GAP, H&M and Mango, among others; whereas, examples of ultra-fast-fashion brands are Shein, Boohoo and Fashion Nova, and low-cost ones like Primark.  

a) Academic/peer reviewed 

Arrigo, E. (2018). The key role of retail stores in fast fashion companies: The H&M case study. In Contemporary case studies on fashion production, marketing and operations (pp. 121-137). Springer, Singapore 

Barrios, M. C. L. (2012). The environmental impact of rapid fashion fashion. ARQUETIPO, (4) 73-77. 

Birtwistle, G., Siddiqui, N., & Fiorito, S. S. (2003). Quick response: perceptions of UK fashion retailers. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 31(2), 118–128.  

Bruce, M., & Daly, L. (2006). Buyer behaviour for fast fashion. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 10(3), 329–344. 

Cachon, G. P., & Swinney, R. (2011). The value of fast fashion: Quick response, enhanced design, and strategic consumer behavior. Management Science, 57(4), 778-795.

Caro, F., & Martínez de Albéniz, V. (2014). How fast fashion works: Can it work for you, too?. IESE Insight, 21(21), 58-65. 

Fletcher K. (2010) Slow Fashion: An Invitation for Systems Change, Fashion Practice, 2:2, 259-265, DOI: 10.2752/175693810X12774625387594 

Ghemawat, P., Nueno, J. L., & Dailey, M. (2003). ZARA: Fast fashion (Vol. 1). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School. 

Guercini, S. (2001). Relation between branding and growth of the firm in new quick fashion formulas: analysis of an Italian case. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 5(1), 69–79.

Lara, Luis y Sádaba, T.: “Moda y marca España”. Diplomacia Pública y Marca España, MAE, 2012 Madrid, pp. 311-320.

Lowson, R. (2001). Analysing the effectiveness of European retail sourcing strategies. European Management Journal, 19(5), 543–551.  

Mattila, H., King, R., & Ojala, N. (2002). Retail performance measures for seasonal fashion. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 6(4), 340–351. JOUR. 

Pal, R., & Gander, J. (2018). Modelling environmental value: An examination of sustainable business models within the fashion industry. Journal of Cleaner Production, 184, 251-263. 

Sheridan, M., Moore, C., & Nobbs, K. (2006). Fast fashion requires fast marketing: The role of category management in fast fashion positioning. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 10(3), 301–315. 

Sull, D. and Turconi, S. (2008), “Fast fashion lessons”, Business Strategy Review, Vol. 19 No.2, pp. 4-11. 

Tokatli, N. (2007): Global sourcing: insights from the global clothing industry: the case of Zara, a fast fashion retailer. Journal of Economic Geography, 8(1), 22-25.