In 2023, it’s tricky to avoid fast fashion brands. And that’s either because you’re a customer of theirs, or you have seen their influx of advertising on TV and social media. Common household names of fast fashion retailers currently include Pretty Little Thing, Primark, and boohoo being amongst the most popular. 

However, there’s a few things these retailers don’t highlight on their site alongside their trendy clothes. A few of the names have been the subject of major controversies in recent years. They’ve been exposed as being unethical, unsustainable, and selling bad quality items. Yet, their customer base is constantly growing, as they’re thoroughly engaged with them. Fast fashion customer bases are usually between 16 and 32 – meaning they are competent and comfortable with social media which these brands use to market themselves.

While there are calls to boycott these brands, there’s also a few lessons we can take from them. How can these unsustainable brands teach us good CX?

What is fast fashion? 

Google search’s Oxford Languages defines fast fashion as ‘inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends’. These are some of the traits of a fast fashion brand:

  • Quick to release trendy clothes modelled by those in the public eye.
  • Pressure to buy the clothing due to limited availability.
  • Clothes made from cheap, poor quality materials. These materials and clothes are often produced in other countries where they need to be transported across to the UK – adding to pollution issues.

There’s a plethora of reasons and cases as to why fast fashion retailers are dangerous. But the pivotal point of danger remains the same – their clothes are produced in large factories where workers are paid unfair wages.

The contribution to social inequality

Let’s take the Chinese fast fashion retailers Shein are an example of an extremely wasteful and harmful retail model as the epitome of fast fashion. 

The online store has blown up in popularity over the last half a decade. A simple search on TikTok for #shein has over 10.4 billion views. YouTube fashion hauls, Instagram outfit highlights, influencers sharing discount or affiliate codes – you name it, Shein is everywhere. However, they have a multitude of issues. 

Shein releases, on average, 6,000 new items to their site every single day. The typical price tags of these items is between £6.55 and £24.55. There’s over 30,000 items reduced in price and 15% off if you spend over £29. There’s so many tempting deals to pull you in, so what’s the catch?

Shein clothes are made from synthetic, poor quality fabrics. In other words – materials that do not decompose. It has been calculated that their clothing items will spend more time in landfill than they ever will in their customer’s wardrobes. Plus, only 6% of their inventory remains in stock past 90 days

To top that off, their manufacturers are subject to terrible working conditions. They work up to 18 hours a day, with only one day a month. For this, they only receive 4,000 yuan a month – the equivalent of £466.88.

Unfortunately, Shein is not a lone example here. 

  • Urban Outfitters staff aren’t paid a living wage. US workers have reported being asked to work for free on weekends. 
  • In June 2014, Primark customers of a Swansea store found labels stitched with SOS messages from garment workers. 
  • About 85% of garment workers aren’t even given the minimum wage. A typical wage for a garment producer in Bangladesh is $97 a month. 

What CX lessons does fast fashion teach us?

Despite the dangers and undeniable issues of fast fashion, it is still incredibly popular amongst the general public. There are many reasons for this. A key point and a positive lesson we can take away from the industry is their CX strategies. Let’s see what we can learn from them as we boycott them.

Costs, offers and discounts

From a more sustainable and ethical standpoint, it’s better to avoid fast fashion and shop from resale marketplaces. This includes charity shops/thrift stores and online resell apps like Vinted and Depop. You can buy clothes that are from ethical and sustainable brands. 

However, better quality clothing items often cost so much more money. Ethical and sustainable brands like Patagonia – who has a Fair Trade Certification – are unattainable for many because of their prices. The average cost of a Patagonia jacket is $300. 

In this, it’s worth noting how on top of offers fast fashion brands normally are. They so often have discounts, giveaways and offers. For Black Friday, Pretty Little Thing often do sales of their items at 99% discount. Boohoo often takes to Twitter to host giveaways. They know their appeal of offers and low prices is what makes them so desirable – why not push that further?

So that’s one reason as to why fast fashion is so popular, especially in today’s financial situation.

Marketing 

Something that is difficult to fault fast fashion on is that they know exactly how to appeal to their target audience. Fast fashion brands know very well how to market themselves. They’re always up to date on the latest social media trends and platforms and are able to gain more outreach and visibility. With their target audience often being younger customers under the age of 30 who are very present on social media, these brands are able to grow to become household names. 

Fast fashion’s commitment to omnichannel marketing is staggering. You can find these brands across so many platforms and any you can think of. Most recently, these brands have taken to TikTok – like most brands hoping to boost visibility nowadays. As of mid-April 2023, fast fashion brand Pretty Little Thing has 18.4 million followers. Sustainable brand Patagonia has 5.1 million in stark contrast. 

Pretty Little Thing are a good example of how they take the world of social media influencers marketing to the next level. They have taken on some of the most popular contestants from the ITV reality show Love Island as brand ambassadors to boost their visibility. 

Most notably, one of the most in-demand contestants, Molly Mae Hague (currently at 7.5 million Instagram followers) was onboarded by PLT in 2019. Two years later, she was promoted to their creative director.

Influencer marketing is a clever move by any brand. They see the value of this personality, and see what they would bring to the brand. Molly Mae’s visibility contributes to PLT’s brand awareness tremendously. 

On the flip side, non-fast fashion brands are starting to take influence from this. The reselling website eBay onboarded another Love Island contestant – Tasha Ghouri – as a brand ambassador in 2022. We’re already starting to see a ripple effect from the positive side of fast fashion in CX.

Popular media and current trends are top-sellers

The fast fashion industry is clever in that they make items they know will sell. Because an attribute of these retailers is that they can churn out items to meet trends, there’s always something to appeal to a group of customers. 

For example, New Look have released collections showing off the top Netflix show, Emily In ParisPrimark often have items and collections in clothing and homeware with the long-lasting show Friends. There’s many more – shirts with memes, famous music artists, popular films and series. They appeal to a lot of consumers.

Closing thoughts 

The bottom line we can all draw is that fast fashion is dangerous in both ethics and sustainability. Because their CX and marketing tactics are so good, they’re only increasing in sales. But this is leading to pollution. 

Fashion production comprises 10% of total global carbon emissions. Plastic fibres from their fabrics are polluting the oceans. They account for a fifth of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced globally every year.

 There are many lessons to be had here. Either way, we must all campaign for a better environmental and sustainable future alongside our better CX. Let’s take away their successful tactics, and leave the danger to rot away.

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