It's that time of year again, with autumn approaching and retailers keen to offload their excess summer stock, End of season sales are in full swing. But some retailers seem to be offering as much as 80% off all year round. Are these sales too good to be true?
The answer is resoundingly 'yes'. According to Statista, the fast fashion market grew by $23 billion from 2009 to 2019 - more than doubling in ten years alone. The likes of Shein, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing drive sales all year round by offering discounts continuously, and the growing popularity of sale events like Black Friday has created a worrying trend for the increase of throwaway culture in fast fashion.
But why do these retailers seem to be permanently on sale? And what's the problem with it anyway?
Fast fashion business models are built on buying in bulk at lower costs, resulting in overstock issues which mean they have no choice but to discount further or throw away.
The sheer volume of these cheaply produced clothes means these brands will never sell through everything, and the stock builds up in their warehouses, necessitating more sales and discounts to try to clear it. Eventually this excess stock is either incinerated or taken to landfill.
The Fake Sale
Some retailers, particularly online, entice customers by advertising sales that are too good to be true, including up to 99% off. These 'bargains' are items that already held little or no value to the brand, as costs are kept as low as possible during their production.
As many of these brands have transparency ratings less than 10% it is likely we will never know the true impact of the production of these garments, but it almost certainly involves exploitation of people such as slave labour, no proper wages, poor working conditions and the use of children as well as the huge environmental consequences of oil-based fabrics, harmful dyes and little to no wastewater treatment.
Social media influencers are complicit in the rising popularity of discounted fast fashion, posting daily changing outfits, and showing off their shopping hauls which are frequently gifted by retailers. The influencers also receive a commission on purchases made from their posts, and brands often provide discount codes to further incentivise customers. Hauls promote the idea of buying fast fashion in bulk, and contribute to the sense that we need to buy new products constantly in order to be up to date with fashion trends.
The sad truth is that most of these clothes will be discarded after one or two wears, and the majority will end up in landfill even if they are donated to charity, as charity shops struggle to cope with the volume of poor quality and poor condition donations.
As a small retailer with limited space for stock we also need to discount occasionally, and in this challenging period we fully admit we have done so more than usual. But we hope to return to the strategy of having the right amount of stock and only going on sale at the end of the season.
Rather than feeding consumers’ bad habits the industry needs to encourage better more sustainable behaviour.