As Demand for Fast Fashion Grows, DAAP Students and Professors Learn to Adapt

Zach Hoh, who coordinates UC’s fashion design program, weighs in on recent industry shifts.

In July, The New York Times declared in a headline, “The golden age of thrifting is over.” There are a number of culprits for this, but one of the most consequential is the rise of fast fashion brands like Forever 21 and Shein.

Fast fashion isn’t a new concept, says Zach Hoh, who coordinates the fashion design program at the University of Cincinnati. The practice has been around for years.

The industry has grown, though, and it’s gotten a moniker that isn’t as concerned with being nice. In the past, Hoh says, fast fashion might have been called something friendlier, like “clothing for the mass market.” As more consumers gain a relationship with fashion and an understanding of sustainable practices, the desire for transparency grows and the language—“fast fashion”—becomes more specific.

Hoh shares some insight into the problem with fast fashion, how it affects thrift stores, and how students are reacting to the shifts.

Photograph by Andrea Oberto

What is fast fashion?

Simply, it’s garment produced with trends at the forefront, created at volume and scale, Hoh says. Think of retailers like H&M, Zara, and Shein, which churn out massive numbers at a quick clip.

How does fast fashion affect fashion trends?

“Think about fashion in the ’60s,” Hoh says. “You have a clear picture of what that is in your mind. Same with ’70s and ’80s and maybe the ’90s.” But from the 2000s on, those defining garments and silhouettes get blurry.” As trends come and go, fast fashion can pick up on what’s popular, even if it’s not as iconic as, say, a 1960s fit or 1980s material. “(Fast fashion retailers can) pick up on these trends at a much faster pace and respond to them immediately through a streamlined supply chain and make tens of thousands of duplicate copies in the blink of an eye and shove those out to their retail and online e-commerce platforms.” That speed and efficiency, however, leads to a reduction in quality.

What effect is fast fashion having on thrift stores and those who thrift?

It makes finding those unique pieces more challenging, Hoh says. Plus, looking toward the future, the look of “vintage” is going to be different. “I don’t think anyone’s going to be trying to find a 2006 vintage Zara top at a thrift shop.” Hoh says. Also affecting what thrifters find in the future? The rise of retailers that let consumers rent clothing. Plus, some larger brands are starting to reclaim their own vintage brands. “So I think the people shopping for vintage might also be in competition with the brands they’re looking for,” says Hoh, because the brand wants some market share of that dollar, too.

How does any of this affect fashion students?

A student perspective is much different, Hoh says. Their goal tends to be finding affordable fashion, not diamond-in-the-rough vintage finds. Plus, they’ll often look for items to use as material, where the end goal is to rip up the garment to make something else. “The sense I get from them (is) it’s more about value,” he says. “They can change it or style it and make it work for them from a fashion perspective.” Also important to students: the knowledge that they’re saving something from getting into a landfill.

Do you see students caring more about things like sustainability?

“Sustainability” has gone through the lifespan of being a buzzword. The hope is that it continues to transition into inherent practices. “I think it’s important that we speak to it directly, but also that we instill in our students that it should be an expected and integral part of the process,” Hoh says. Students learn to be mindful of sustainability when sourcing fabrics, looking at fiber, and thinking about design and potential waste.

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