Does Forever 21’s bankruptcy signify the fall of fast fashion?

I remember walking into an H&M for the first time in roughly 2005. As someone born and raised in a rural area in the northeast, I had not encountered clothing that was both “cool” and affordable until this very moment. Like many others in this era, I was mesmerized by the concept of hip clothes at extremely low prices.

Indeed, I was not the only young millennial mesmerized by this fast fashion phenomenon. H&M, which formally is known as Hennes & Mauritz, steamrolled through a global recession and expanded to 3,000 stores globally by 2013. It’s almost unfathomable to imagine that H&M also underwent this rapid expansion without online sales until August 2013.

H&M’s stock price since 2014.

However, the world of fashion retail has changed rapidly since 2013. H&M recognized this problem in 2017 and slowed the growth of new stores. With so many retailers targeting the fast fashion craze, online shopping experiences were streamlined so that consumers could simply swipe up on targeted Instagram advertising to shop for an item. As H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 rapidly expanded by adding physical retail locations, technological innovations were persuading consumers to purchase more and more items online. The decline of fast fashion narrative reached a crescendo when, earlier this week, Forever 21 announced its bankruptcy, resulting in massive store closures.

A Change of Heart for the Millennial Consumer?

Some are attributing the struggles of brick and mortar fast fashion retailers to an increasing consciousness in young consumers. Think pieces throughout the blogosphere are dedicated to encouraging readers to reconsider their habits. According to one striking statistic by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second.

Big retailers have noticed. H&M vigorously promotes their efforts of allowing customers to drop off unwanted clothing for recycling in exchange for store coupons. Macy’s and JC Penney now sell used vintage clothing through partnerships with ThredUp to appeal to the more environmentally conscious customer. Some critics believe these efforts are insincere publicity tactics. After all, these companies still need to depend on the consumer’s endless appetite for new clothing to continue to thrive.

Changing tastes or spreading the love?

As millennials age and become more sensitive to fast fashion’s contributions to the climate catastrophe, they may seek out more durable and environmentally responsible brands such as L.L. Bean and Patagonia. The rise of popularity for apps such as Poshmark could also suggest a new era of thrift and repurposing.

However, let’s not forget that H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 are still dominating the industry even while Amazon, Costco and Target are imitating their approach. Additionally, online only outfits such as ASOS, Everlane and Fashion Nova are also making plenty of money on fast fashion.

It is comforting to attribute Forever 21’s bankruptcy and H&M’s falling stock price to consumers flocking toward more sustainable lifestyle choices. More likely, the large pie of fast fashion dollars is being trimmed into smaller slices for a growing number of retail outlets.

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