Fast life, fast brands, and fast fashion are, without doubt, enabled by our rapidly evolving digital world. In this article, we unpack these themes to explore their significance on the choices we make, and how we live.
We are only now starting to get back to a new state of not normal. This is after three-years of varying social distancing restrictions from COVID-19. During that time, chances for in-person social engagement continued to diminish day-by-day. That was of course, until global vaccines began to be rolled-out and administered to the masses. During this time however, usage of web-connected devices grew significantly as a primary means of communication. This helped us to engage safely whilst adhering to social distancing rules.
Our personal needs from a life priorities perspective, as well as a dress code perspective changed during the global pandemic. Depending on the nature of our work, many of us increasingly took to Zoom, Google Hangout or Microsoft Teams. This is along with millions of others across the world as we adapted to maintain business and client engagement online.
Showcasing The Best Version Of Ourselves
For those of us that needed to be digitally present in an on-screen world, it required consideration in how to showcase the best versions of ourselves online. Thinking about it, how many variables can we truly play with to showcase ourselves professionally during web calls? Inevitably we became one of many head and shoulder profiles appearing across screens of varying sizes and differing resolutions. Some of us may have set-up dedicated home office spaces and considered the addition of real-life backdrops to add appeal.
Whilst others will have sought inspiration through digital Zoom backdrops for example. In-effect, we digressed from a world of showcasing fashion apparel in-person, to a world instead of home design through the use of art, décor and lighting, showcased through our connected devices, all of which helping contribute towards making a more positive online impact via our digital screens!
Skinny Jeans and Slim-Fit Shirts
Working with a global tech company for my day job, the role pre-COVID typically saw me being either at the office, out visiting clients, presenting, or networking at events. Typical go-to outfits would comprise of skinny jeans, smart shoes, slim-fit shirts and slim-fit blazers. If you would have told me back then that world will change in such a significant way over the next three years, I would not have believed it.
Yet with hindsight, being able to now look-back over the last three years, this was the reality we faced. My role suddenly changed back then. It changed from being physically present in the real world, to being digitally present in an online world. Here I would spend hours-on-end, with my camera on, via web-based meetings each day with my colleagues and clients.
As We Look To The Future
As we look to the future; it continues to culminate into a growing snowball-effect of significant global change events. This further elevates the way we think about and prioritise, amongst other things:
- How we live
- What we do
- How we shop
- Who we engage with
- How we make it meaningful
This is the fast life we are living.
Bring on the staple t-shirt and hoodie, I say! Don’t get me wrong; when the time is required to put on a smart shirt, shoes and blazer, it’s easily done. Especially now restrictions have lifted and we are being encouraged to live a more physically present lifestyle. But needless to say, my shopping behaviour and priorities for clothing and accessories during the global pandemic had significantly changed due to work-from-home and social distancing restrictions.
Combined with the sheer volume of job losses as a result of the global pandemic, the consequential change in global buying behaviours understandably required all industries, not just limited to Fashion Retail, to either adapt fast or fail.
Fashion Retail as an industry however, was bloated with well-established brands. Brands that had spent decades building extensive physical Retail store premises to secure share-of-wallet from high street footfall traffic. This was whilst enjoying the legacy of the established brand reputation to drive in-store purchase and capitalising on global consumerism trends. Inadvertently over the years in the lead-up to the global pandemic, many established brands failed to recognise the signals, changing needs and aspirations of digitally connected, instant access, time-sensitive, on-demand audiences; who no longer relied-upon legacy constraints of physical retail stores to gratify their immediate purchasing needs and desires.
Rapid Pace Of Change
The industry was already struggling before the pandemic kicked-in. However, this significant event in our generational timeline rapidly accelerated the rate of Fashion Retail business closures, especially those with extensive volume of physical retail stores. Many of these companies impacted, failed to adapt and digitally transform to prepare for the future. Arcadia Group was one such example of a Fashion Retailer in the United Kingdom. The group owned Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Evans brands.
Although they had ecommerce storefronts, the sheer volume of physical Retail stores and thousands of employees who work there, were all impacted by the dynamics of a world where things can literally change in an instant. Yet their existing operating model, manufacturing processes and supply-chain set-up were unable to meet or adapt to this rapid pace of change. It is not enough to rely on the strength of brand reputation for Fashion Retailers to survive; they must evolve, not only to help define the latest Fashion trends, but to support the associated values related to the fast life we live, which also comes with heightened expectations with regard to a brands’ ethical footprint in embracing, advocating for, and driving a sustainable, circular fashion future.
In our connected on-demand world, we can operate our own virtual newsrooms, photography and design studios, and even setup a business from the comfort of our home. Furthermore, combined with low data costs, powerful Internet enabled devices and cloud applications; it can all be actionable from the very palms of our hands. With this, fast brands come in all shapes and sizes, and each with their own audience of followers.
The resulting fact is that Fashion Retailers are no longer just competing with other Fashion Retailers. They face increasing Direct and Indirect competition that includes:
- Music Artists
- Media Owners
- Pop-Up Stores
- Content Creators
- Social Influencers
- Online Marketplaces
- Direct-2-Consumer eCommerce brands
Digital impact and efficiency is often integrated and they tend come without the baggage of legacy operating models, assets, or hardware. Let’s not forget the indirect competition from businesses across different industry verticals. Each have a potential to easily create an associated fashion range and ecommerce storefront overnight. One that can become synonymous with their brand to promote to their loyal tribe of customers and followers. The result is one of massive Retail Fashion sector disruption, where many legacy brands have failed to transform.
The world of Fashion was an influence during my childhood. From the late Eighties to the early Nineties my mother, who first started work as a clothing machinist for a thriving Women’s clothing factory in the heart of London, United Kingdom, eventually became a proud joint-owner of the business. This was testament to her drive and passion, which I would like to think has been instilled in me to this day. Interestingly, the mainstream fashion brands her factory-made clothing for back then included C&A and Etam. Her factory also made women’s clothing for Wallis and Miss Selfridge, part of the aforementioned Arcadia Group.
Before Offshore Manufacturing Became Mainstream
To put things into perspective here, this was during a time before the process of offshore manufacturing became mainstream. It was also a time before the Internet was actually introduced to the world. Can you imagine if all you had to run your business today was a traditional phone, no Internet, a vehicle to manage the deliveries and only the postal service to rely upon to send and receive your messages? Well that’s what my mother had to manage with back then. It was a simpler time where society traded in cash-based transactions, weekly payslips, paper-based bookkeeping and in-branch banking.
I have great memories visiting her after school and sometimes at weekends while she was running the business. I learnt about the steps it took to make women’s clothing from start to finish. Everything from the pattern creation, to the rolls of fabric, cutting table, button machines, overlocking machines and more. Observing this taught me how items of clothing would transition from initial design concept to paper-based pattern, through to a finished sample for client approval. This was all before they could then be mass-produced for a Fashion Retailer.
Witnessing The Rise Of Automation
There was a significant moment I recall back then. It was when my mother procured the first automated button machine for the factory. It helped to increase productivity throughput on the factory floor. While automation in manufacturing processes is rife today, back then it wasn’t.
I was lucky enough to witness seeing one of the first transitions from manual to automated workflow processes in the Fashion sector. For me at least, it was both a fascinating and highly educational experience and I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to see what it took to run a business with such dedication.
Local Manufacturing With A Community Purpose
Looking back, there was a beauty of having manufacturing processes remain onshore. Together with a real family culture, collaboration and bond between the employees; this all played a vital role to the success of my mother’s business. It also contributed to the success of the community it served. This was through the creation of jobs that helped the local economy grow.
Like many onshore UK apparel factories back in the eighties, the factory eventually stopped operating, as Retail chains looked to procure lower cost production through offshore manufacturing and an emerging global supply chain.
Unfortunately, offshoring for mass production in Fashion Retail has consequentially led to an over-consumption of the world’s resources. It has resulted in people exploitation, excessive material waste, and has negatively contributed to Climate Change, fuelled by global consumerism.
Yet here we are three decades later. The world is digitally connected. The door has been opened to fast fashion that fuels the rapid growth of fast brands, which is underpinned by:
- Unadulterated low-cost access to the Internet
- Powerful web apps to support rapid launch of custom branded clothing and accessories
- Easy access to 3rd-party digitally-enabled supply chain operating models
Together, this has changed the way in which clothing can be sourced, branded, packaged and distributed.
Dropshipping is an example of one such digitally-enabled supply chain operating model. Fast brands can utilise drop-shipping as an option to power a print-on-demand, pre-manufactured fashion range into the mix. Apparel can include custom-branded Hoodies, T-shirts, Athleisure, and more. But, there are many pros and cons to this model, as listed here by Amazon.
Tinkering With Merchandise
Now might be a good time to talk about the smoothmind brand. I’m not sure that we should call it a fast brand though. After all, it has been live now for over ten years. Ideally, the next step in the journey is to introduce branded, sustainable, and ethically sourced merchandise into the mix. The objective here, to allow fans to get closer to the brand, beyond just content.
That process is actually much harder than it sounds. Especially when you factor-in ‘sustainable’ practices to support a circular Fashion economy! I’d be curious to understand how many fast brands actually place sustainability at the heart of their strategy?
I carried-out a small test back in 2020 with a couple of sample items of clothing for my family. This was a great way to learn more about the model. You can see the end results in the picture below.
It’s easy to see how thousands of fast brands globally have been empowered to drive fast fashion for their audiences.
In conclusion, we are all impacted by the world around us. Inevitably, we do what we need to do in order to adapt. With this, it’s important to plan forward in order to evolve. As we look ahead to the future, how will our world continue to change? Ultimately, fast life, fast fashion and fast brands will mean different things to different people.
Not only are we enabled with rapid advancement in technology that results in instant connectivity, knowledge sharing and collaboration, but equally as important, is what we do with this empowerment that matters. Can we use it to help shape a more circular Fashion future? Or will we continue to follow the status quo of quenching our thirst for global consumerism?