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Fast Fashion: Affordable Designer Clothing

If you’ve looked around your mall, college town, or nearest big city lately, chances are you’ve seen a change in the types of new stores that have opened over the last few years. More and more stores with lower price points are in spaces vacated by their department store and designer boutique peers, and this trend is expected to continue into 2010. But what do all of these stores have in common? Fast fashion—the budget-conscious consumer’s dream and a high-end designer’s nightmare—has taken the fashion world by storm.

Stores like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, and especially European implants H&M, Topshop, Zara and Mango, have seen significant growth as they bring seasonal designer looks to the masses at affordable prices.

The Internet has played a huge part in the development of fast fashion. Each year at the spring and fall fashion shows in major cities (New York, London, Milan and Paris), runway looks are either streamed live through designers’ websites (or in Marc Jacobs’s case, Facebook), shown in slideshows, or compulsively Twittered about from a fashion editor’s front-row seat.

Luckily for consumers, it’s now easy to get these hot-off-the-runway looks as fast fashion stores release cheap copies of designer creations months before the original designs hit the department store shelves. Fast fashion stores like Forever 21 and H&M are packed on Friday afternoons as girls comb the racks searching for the perfect last-minute outfit for the weekend. With low price points, the mimicked designs are meant to be affordable and seasonally perishable.

Despite the overall cutback in consumer spending, studies show that fast fashion is staying strong. Over the last year, fast fashion stock prices have risen 17.3%, while department stores like Macys, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, and JCPenney declined by an averaged 17.8%. To try to combat this, JCPenney recently announced a new store-within-a-store collaboration with Mango, another Spanish fast fashion chain looking to expand in US markets. Rather than fighting fast fashion, many designers have decided to embrace it by either designing lower end lines for their own brand or collaborating with specific stores.

In 2003, Isaac Mizrahi started the trend by designing a collection for Target, which turned into an extremely successful five-year run. The following year, Karl Lagerfeld, the head designer and creative director of Chanel, followed suit by designing a line for H&M. In November, people camped out overnight for shoe designer Jimmy Choo’s collaboration with H&M, and on December 20, Rodarte’s collection made its long-awaited debut for Target’s GO International line.

Since 2006, established designers such as Thakoon, Anna Sui and Alexander McQueen have designed collections for the store in one of the world’s largest fast fashion collaboration efforts. The fashion world is already abuzz with recent news that Zac Posen’s line will be available in stores this spring, following Jean Paul Gautlier’s previously announced winter collection. Fast fashion stores capitalize on the consumer’s urgency that what’s in the store today might not still be there tomorrow (Think about how finding something you like—in your favorite color and size—at Forever 21 is like searching for a needle in a haystack). Zara, the Spanish superstore that revolutionized the fast fashion market, takes only 15 days to design a piece of clothing, delivering new items to stores worldwide twice a week. With such fast turnover, they keep a low inventory, which adds to that “gotta get it before it’s gone” feeling. But in a struggling economy, getting chic designer looks for cheap is the way to look stylish without emptying your bank account.

Paying the Price: When it’s Worth the Splurge

If you’re deciding whether to swipe your ATM card for that designer piece you lusted after on the runways or in the store, think about how many times you will wear it. Last March, Harper’s Bazaar wrote about the cost-per-wear concept. While at first this might seem like it’s trying to justify an expensive purchase, if you think about it, it’s actually logical. To make the point, paying $250 for snow boots your freshman year of college is a better value of your money than paying $300 for a formal dress that you would only wear once. Splurging for a new purse or a pair of shoes is okay once in a while, as long as it’s in your budget. Also, when it comes to cold weather, staying warm is worth your money! A jacket from Forever 21 does not have the same protection for winter as one from North Face.

Frugal Finds: Go Faux With Fur

One of this season’s hottest looks is the fur vest. Popularized by Rachel Zoe’s signature look on her show The Rachel Zoe Project, and Opening Ceremony’s collection based off the movie Where the Wild Things Are, it’s a perfect layering piece. To save your money (and a few animals), consider these affordable pieces:
Forever 21, $38.90
Urban Outfitters, $88

“Leather” That’s Light On Your Wallet

Over the last few years, leather jackets have become a fashion staple. This year, designers have brought leather bottoms back into the equation, from leggings to pants and skirts. Look towards fast fashion stores for these stylish options:
Forever 21, $22.80
Urban Outfitters, $58

Chains for Cheap: Quilted Bags

While nothing can compare to a Chanel, many stores have designed quilted bags that are pretty chic. The chain strap adds a sense of toughness to any outfit, but the quilt pattern keeps it delicate.
Topshop, $70
Forever 21, $17.80

Other Recent Designers Going Discount

alice + olivia for Payless Christian Soriano for Payless Lela Rose for Payless Olsenboye (by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen) for JC Penney Stella McCartney for Gap Sonia Rykiel pour H&M Christopher Kane for Topshop Sources: http://www.stylelist.com/2009/08/26/fast-fashion-profits-put-department-… http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4652.html Consumer Behavior class taught by Linda Cushman, Associate Professor of Retail Management at Syracuse University http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/fashion/15iht-fhandm.html Main picture: fashionista.com/nymag

Cassie Kreitner is a Magazine Journalism and Marketing Management dual major. She spent last semester across the pond in London, but is happy to be back at Syracuse University for her senior year. After growing up in Wayne, NJ, she can't wait to live and work in New York City. Last summer, Cassie interned at Family Circle Magazine through ASME’s Internship Program, and loved every minute. On campus, she stays busy as a senior editor at What the Health magazine and associate features editor at Zipped Magazine. She also blogs and writes for several other campus publications, and is a member of Ed2010 and Alpha Epsilon Phi. Cassie can’t live without Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, sunglasses, post-its, SOAPnet, froyo and sunny summer days in Central Park.
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