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If fast fashion isn’t slowing down, then how does the rest of the retail industry keep up, while being sustainable at the same time?

On Wednesday, Primark released its half-year results and Boohoo released its full-year results, both showing growth in sales, market share and operating profit. While other big names in retail, and particularly the high street, announce losses and store closures – why is it that these two continue to succeed and what does the rest of the industry need to learn from them?

I spoke on BBC Breakfast about the business strategies of Primark and Boohoo, while they each have a different strategy based around stores and online respectively, there are also many similarities which contribute to their success. This includes truly knowing their customers; they don’t aspire to appeal to everyone and know that they’ll never capture the entire market, however, they are then smart with their strategies and everything they do is focused on their loyal customer base.

They don’t aspire to appeal to everyone and know that they’ll never capture the entire market, however, they are then smart with their strategies and everything they do is focused on their loyal customer base.

Both companies focus heavily on customer experience, whether it be the bricks and mortar department store feel that Primark tries to replicate, introducing cafes and beauty salons to feel like a day out, or the online experience of Boohoo where they also try to replicate an in-store experience online, making everything as seamless and accessible as possible.

The business behind fast fashion’s success

They both also have agile and efficient supply chains, with 50% of Boohoo’s operations being based out of the UK, meaning manufacturing and shipping can happen in very short time frames. Items can go from catwalk or celebrity look to being online and delivered to customers in just a couple of weeks. They also experiment and initially order very small volumes to instantly measure success before quickly ordering more stock. Primark, on the other hand, buys in very large volumes but has an efficient supply chain where items are produced in the factory and sent immediately out on to the shop floors, without multiple layers of packaging and distribution.

Other success factors including targeting of the younger generation, using social media and celebrity collaborations and endorsements to reach as many people in their audience as they can.

Other brands are now following suit to keep up with these two success stories and trying to give the customer what they want; current trends as soon as they see them. But the question is whether brands can produce fast fashion and remain sustainable, with the additional aim of becoming even more sustainable for the increasingly conscious consumer.

Can brands produce fast fashion sustainably?

The answer is yes, they can. There is definitely some way to go before the fashion industry is known for its sustainability, but there are simple steps these brands can take.

  • Being more transparent with supply chains, including partners and materials – following in the footsteps of H&M highlighting the material and manufacturing process of each item.
  • Reviewing the opportunities for changes to existing supply chains, with the aim to take more control – this will lead to more accurate volumes and less waste.
  • Using more sustainable fabrics, for example, Primark is partnering with the Sustainable Cotton Programme and producing full ranges in this material.
  • Looking at their returns policies like ASOS, to crack down on people wasting resources by consistently returning high volumes of garments.
  • Introducing processes for bringing back worn clothes to be recycled. It is not widely known, but many brands already do this, such as M&S, Levis, and Apple. So it won’t be long before pressure will build for others to replicate.

It is likely that fast fashion will remain the trend for many seasons to come and, with the latest results, the fashion industry is now stepping back to see what it can learn from the successes of Primark and Boohoo. At the same time, there are steps that can be taken to become more sustainable for all retailers – another trend that won’t and shouldn’t go away.

Jen Nixon

We support retailers to ensure your business model focuses on the customers that will deliver the most value and provide you with the best opportunities for growth.