Photo by Dwight Burdette
Fast fashion is losing its luster among American shoppers, according to a new study by Iowa State University. Despite the apparel industry’s fixation on inexpensive clothes that need frequent replacing, U.S. garment manufacturers are seeing diminishing returns on market share—both at home and in Japan—for that same reason.
Elena Karpov and Juyoung Lee
Using government trade and consumption data from 1995 to 2004, Elena Karpova, an assistant professor at the school’s department of apparel, educational studies, and hospitality management, and graduate student Juyoung “Jill” Lee calculated a 40 percent decline in the domestic output of U.S. garment producers, despite a market expansion fueled by a 50 percent increase in imported clothes. (The study, and our comprehension of it, gets a little fuzzy here. Do these foreign interlopers include fast-fashion bastions such as Sweden’s H&M and Spain’s Zara? In which case, what makes their fast fashion better than our fast fashion?) In contrast, the Japanese market shrank by half, but local apparel firms held their domestic market share.
The domestic output of U.S. garment producers dropped by 40 percent despite a market expansion fueled by a 50 percent increase in imported clothes.
“American consumers want styles to change quickly and they want to see new merchandise in their favorite stores almost every week—and at affordable prices,” says Karpova, whose report appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management. “And that has meant that U.S. companies produce lower-quality items that last a shorter period of time.”
By countering inexpensive imports with lower-quality, low-cost clothes, however, the U.S. apparel industry inadvertently decreased its competitiveness despite a booming domestic market. On the other hand, the Japanese consumer’s willingness to pay for higher-quality luxury clothing has allowed the Nippon apparel industry to concentrate on goods that stand out from inferior imports, a move that enabled it to maintain its domestic market share.
“I think the U.S. apparel industry has been and continues to be extremely strong in terms of its portfolio of global brands,” Karpova says. “But companies should look more into being socially responsible in their production—no sweatshops—with environmentally friendly materials and processes, sustainable design, and style choices that will last a long time.”