Over the next ten years, sales in the fashion industry in America are set to grow significantly
While slow fashion is gaining support with American members of Gen Z, the fast fashion race in the US is showing no signs of stopping
By now it's clear that the fast fashion business model of creating cheap disposable clothes is terrible for the planet. In recent years, it seemed that American consumers were boycotting brands like H&M and Zara, which in fact saw a drop in sales and share prices. But the truth is that fast fashion is still far from dead: new giants are now aspiring to conquer the American market.
However, this does not mean that fast fashion is the market trend most favored by the habits of American consumers who are showing great environmental awareness, despite their passion for fashion.
In May, Shein beat Amazon as the most downloaded app in the United States
H&M and Zara have pioneered fast fashion by producing runway looks quickly and cheaply, but there are other brands looking to enter this extremely lucrative market segment in America
The e-commerce brand Shein was launched in 2008 along the lines of European fast fashion brands that churned out trendy looks at bargain prices. Today, Shein has exploded in popularity and is poised to overtake its competitors: it doubled its sales to 10 billion in 2020 and is expected to surpass Zara's revenues by 2022.
Shein has been very successful among Western consumers: according to the Economist, the United States is its largest market (30-35% of sales). In addition to Shein, there are other brands aiming to conquer the American market, such as its compatriot allyLikes, Fashion Nova from the US and Boohoo and Asos from the UK.
The emerging fast fashion brands in America closely mimic the early e-commerce models but make their products even faster and cheaper: Zara launches 10,000 new products every year; Shein releases 6,000 new items a day; and allyLikes (Alibaba) launches 500 a week. Both Asian brands sell products costing between $8 and $30, from 30% to 50% less than Zara and H&M, and their forte is owning a network of factories that make small batches of products that can be replicated if they are successful with American consumers.
Unlike the original fast fashion brands, Shein and allyLikes operate entirely online. This allowed Shein to thrive in the US during the pandemic, while H&M and Zara suffered significant financial losses due to the slowdown or halting of foot traffic.
At the same time, Shein expertly leveraged social media to sell its products. On Instagram, TikTok and other platforms, more than 250 million followers watch Shein-related content, such as unboxings and "haul" videos in which influencers show and talk about the heap of garments they've purchased.
The parallel trend of second-hand clothing in the US has the potential to reshape the fashion industry and - hopefully - reduce fast fashion imports from China
Now, however, new rules are needed regarding brand claims and the use of unsustainable fabrics for imports into America
More and more American consumers are buying second-hand clothes, fueling the slow fashion trend in the United States. This market is expected to grow by 185% before the end of 2029 to reach $43 billion (source: ThredUp), far more than disposable fashion which yes, is in excellent health, but has seen times when no competition existed. As a result, American consumers have become more aware of the fashion industry's ecological impact and are calling on apparel companies in America to expand their commitment to sustainability.
First, consumer protection agencies must hold brands to higher standards of responsibility. For example, brands should be prohibited from marketing garments defined as recycled or natural unless 70% of their product is made from such materials. Second, the government should regulate the use of unsustainable fabrics such as petroleum-based synthetics (nylon, polyester and others).
Even if Shein and allyLikes are based in China, a set of federal regulations in the USA could be a huge help: the USA could impact all the fashion brands that want to sell in the American market by using smart regulations. The sustainable and/or second-hand fashion industry seems to have the most room for growth for those approaching the American market because consumers in the US are changing the way they shop.
Buying less and better seems to be the new motto of American consumers. This is why it makes sense to look closely at the trends in the world of slow fashion in order to run a successful business in the US fashion industry.