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Why fast fashion isn't a case of one size fits all

The fast fashion model, in all its guises, is ensuring some retailers thrive in spite of challenging market conditions. Here, Bob McKee, industry strategy director, Infor Fashion, takes a closer look at some of the secrets of its success.

Against all the odds, since the economic downturn of 2008, those organisations implementing a fast fashion model have outperformed their competition on nearly every level. In fact, fast fashion retailers have not only achieved pleasingly positive results since the start of the global financial crisis, but have actually seemed to thrive, in spite of these adverse economic conditions.

In a nutshell, fast fashion is really about trying to optimise the cycles of supply and demand in a climate that's often clouded by consumer vagary, not to mention driven by unpredictable trends. In many ways, the fast fashion model favours the overall control that a vertically integrated company has.

It is, however, possible to be 'virtually' vertically integrated, without having to have total vertical ownership. While the fast fashion model typically includes control of the majority of stages in a retail production lifecycle, having a shared mission of successful consumer fulfilment does seem to be a key requirement to ensure process success. Zara, for example, can own every part of the production process while obtaining certain materials from an outside vendor and still be 'virtually vertically integrated'.

What fast fashion definitely isn't, however, is a case of one-size-fits-all, with the very concept of fast fashion manifesting itself via numerous deployment models. Consumers may regard these fast fashion companies as one and the same, but what makes one successful is not necessarily what works for the other.

Many fast fashion retailers test-market their products, as well as relying on quick replenishment or replacement of items as soon as demand changes. Some retailers are very dictatorial, sometimes resulting in key decisions being made at the last possible minute (or, worse case scenario, even later). Orders are changed and cancelled without any prior knowledge or warning, and price and delivery requirements can seem to be stuck in a cycle of constant flux.

On the other hands, some fast fashion retailers are only interested in 'cheap and deep', buying tonnes of a single product line with what it can seem to be scant interest in either quality or sustainability. What this highlights is that while there are without a doubt numerous fast fashion success stories out there, t