Two themes predominate in our analysis: “speed and style at low
cost” and “disposability and limited durability.” These options enable
1 delineates these emergent themes. In addition, three themes that
emerged from discussions of luxury in both locales are desire/dream,
history/heritage, and elegance/art. We focus below on only those themes
directly relevant to the issue of sustainability.
Identity play and fast fashion.
282 Annamma Joy, John F. Sherry, Jr, Alladi Venkatesh, Jeff Wang and Ricky Chan
The Advent of Cheap Chic
Often participants combined several themes in their descriptions. Speed
was described as part of the fast fashion industry mode. Updated looks,
greater variety, and limited editions, along with the speed of their availability,
make this industry very attractive to many consumers—initially
a younger crowd, but now attracting older segments as well. Some
participants even talked of speed that resembled that of the fast food
industry, although they recognize the problems associated with creating
goods for mass cultural consumption (Stillman 2003). Roxanne,
mentioned earlier: “I want to see new things and styles that can help
me create and recreate my wardrobe and who I am. But I don’t want
to look like someone else—so the limited edition satisfies this need to
be unique. When I see it on the catwalks or in magazines, I want it
immediately.” Roxanne’s desire is characteristic of how purchases are
made in stores like Zara. As one participant, Rita, a Canadian student,
mentioned, “If you do not buy the item that you like right away, you
will not be able to get it later.” The supply side of fast fashion ensures
scarcity, which in turn drives demand. Lynn, another participant from
Hong Kong, referenced fast food, noting:
Since the speed with which...the display and collection [changes]
is fast, it [fast fashion] is similar to the fast food store. In Hong
Kong, most of us go to fast food restaurants at least once a
week—the same is true of fast fashion. We like new things and we
don’t have to wait too long before we own these items.
Linda, a Hong Kong student, noted: “Fast fashion (like Flash Gordon)
is moving at the speed of light, speeding up deliveries, and reinventing...
[itself] and...[its] designs as quickly as possible.” Clearly, time is of the
essence. As Dave, a thirty-five-year-old Canadian merchandiser, pointed
out, “Patience used to be a virtue. But nobody likes to be kept waiting.
Once consumers have seen the latest fashion shows, they want to own
the high-fashion item ASAP.”
The possibilities of endlessly defining the self are envisaged. Wendy,
a Hong Kong student, said: “Just recently I purchased a cocktail dress
for my friend’s wedding party. I saw a similar dress at Marc Jacobs—a
velvet beaded dress—but I bought this one at Zara for a fraction of
the price. It may not be premium quality, but it is a trendy piece and
very affordable!” The choice of that item was more than satisfactory,
so why spend more? Since the dress was available at Zara, it suggested
style. Nora, a Canadian shop floor assistant, commented: “The trendy
items allow me to update my wardrobe more regularly than before. If
the style is going to be dead in a year, why should I buy a piece that
Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands 283
will last longer? In a nutshell, it is affordable pricing and acceptable
quality.” Lara, a Canadian student, noted: “It is cheap chic—it is a
trend worth buying into. I visit Zara and H&M twice a month and if
I see something, I buy it.”
The fact that all our participants were students or recent, employed
graduates, and that all were under thirty-five years of age, inevitably
skewed the responses. However, it is this demographic that is conscious
of the catwalks, slavishly follows trends, and is perennially in pursuit
of specific pieces that are both unique and stylish. They are also pragmatic.
Why spend money on something that will last, at most, several
seasons? Instead, acquire a number of items that are cheaper and offer
a wide variety.
The fashions themselves are seen as new and lively. Brendan, a thirtyyear-
old Canadian salesperson, reported:
In-house designers in these stores offer an eminently affordable
take on the season’s trends from the catwalk. They bundle different
values together in the goods. One is freshness, next novelty,
and then trendiness. The pleasure from shopping for these goods
it seems is endless. There is something new and cute each time
they walk into a store like Zara.
Today’s Treasures, Tomorrow’s Trash
Disposability plays a key role, along with speed and style, in fast fashion.
Edith, a thirty-five-year-old Hong Kong consultant, said:
These companies [referring to H&M] use designers like Stella
McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld to create limited, one-time collections,
which generally sell out within days. So they are very
creative when it comes to strategy! Affordable prices mean that
consumers are buying more clothes more frequently. But it also
means they’re truly disposable. You may keep an item after ten
washes, but the item may lose its lustre by then, or it may have
gone out of fashion.
The reference to ten washes is derived from fast fashion companies
themselves, who openly proffer the number as a benchmark,