Want to get rich? Build a clothing empire based on aggressive expansion, breakneck turnarounds, cheap materials, and even cheaper labor. “Fast fashion,” as Quartz reported on Tuesday, has established the fortunes of some of the planet’s richest people at the expense of its poorest. Chief among the billionaires is Amancio Ortega, founder of Inditex, whose position as the world’s largest apparel business stems largely from its ownership of the high-street behemoth Zara. Valued at $74.4 billion as of press time, Ortega is not only the richest person in Spain but also all of Europe. For one brief, shining moment last year, Ortega surpassed Bill Gates to become the richest man on Earth, though he quite comfortably holds court today at second place.
Their success, per Quartz, largely hinges on the fact that they’re faster and cheaper than their rivals. “Many manufacture in low-wage countries, where their clothes are made by some of the lowest-paid workers in the global economy, and have faced accusations of abuses,” it wrote.
With the constant barrage of advertising, plus the rise of social media, we’re also witnessing a complete 360-degree change in the way people consume clothing.
Vicki Cantrell, senior vice president of community and executive director of Shop.org, the digital division of the National Retail Federation, told Quartz that consumers, not wanting to be seen in the same outfit multiple times, have grown to regard garments as “temporary treasures” rather than long-term investments.
“In the old days—not being that long ago—if you were a woman you would go and spend the right amount of money on a really perfect little black dress. You would be able to use it many times,” she said. “And then comes the rise of social media and the complete change in how the customer interacts with technology.”
In other words, shoppers need to shoulder some of the blame, too.
“You can’t just say [fast fashion] got it smarter on the supply chain and offered it for a lower price,” Cantrell added. “It has so much to do with the mindset of the consumer.”