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By: Jeffrey Ye
If you’ve been keeping up with brands such as Zara and H&M recently, you’ll know that their moves have been surprisingly uncharacteristic for their “fast fashion” label. What is fast fashion? Fast fashion is characterized by the strategy of the aforementioned fashion giants to rapidly incorporate (knock off may be more accurate) the latest trends from either the runway or popular culture into their stores. Their streamlined processes take as little as two weeks to go from design to delivery. So far, this approach has been extremely lucrative, with H&M and Zara operating a combined total of over 5,000 stores worldwide. To say nothing of their association with poor working conditions, why fix what isn’t broken?
On one hand, Zara may be testing the waters to see if the average consumer is receptive to higher end designer styles and superior quality at an increased price point. Zara has unveiled their first male studio collection that does just that. The outerwear and knits are clearly the highlight of this line, displaying prominent check prints and using wool blends in addition to alpaca and mohair fibers. Textured turtle necks, rolled trousers and several suiting options round out the collection. The difference with this collection and the fast fashion model is permanence, both with regards to its lower turnover of pieces and reduced likelihood of clothes falling apart after ten washes.
H&M on the other hand, looks to appeal to more mature consumers who have a defined style and can afford to spend more to attain it. The company has opened new stores in Toronto and Montreal under the name of COS. Having visited the Bloor street location, I was impressed by the spacious, clean layout of the store compared to H&M’s usual cluttered racks. The pieces themselves take a minimal approach to patterns, branding, zippers, and buckles. COS instead opts for clean, monochrome styling, reminiscent of the work of Jil Sander and Lemaire. While we have come to associate fast fashion with descriptors such as cheap, poor quality and trendy, COS is far from it. The company has stated, “COS prices start where H&M’s finish,” and included in that cost is superior construction and fabrics with a recognizable aesthetic.
Both companies seem to be challenging consumers to choose quality and investment into a thoughtful wardrobe in place of cheap trends. In the words of everybody’s favorite Belgian fashion designer, Raf Simons, “Fashion became pop … And I don’t know if one should be ashamed or not to admit that maybe it was nicer when it was more elitist.” While I don’t necessarily agree with putting up barriers to people exploring fashion, I agree that things are moving too quickly. There is such a focus on hopping onto the latest trend without any attempt to get to know what’s out there and discover one’s personal style. Fast fashion feeds into this. But the fact that companies such as Zara and H&M are moving towards less volatile and more refined offerings is undoubtedly positive for promoting more thought about what we wear.