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Fast fashion is becoming a family affair

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer

Step aside, H&M, there’s a new fast fashion king in town, and it’s not just for teens and 20-somethings buying $8 crop tops and $18 skinny jeans.

Primark, an Irish retailer owned by Associated British Foods, is the latest European so-called fast fashion brand to dive into the U.S. market. The retailer will open its first U.S. store on Sept. 10, 2015, in Boston and it has confirmed the opening of a second store in King of Prussia, Pa., this fall, with plans for seven more over the next two years.

The chain, with more than 285 stores across Europe – and amazingly, no e-commerce presence – is set to compete with other fast fashion European brands that are household names in the U.S., including Sweden’s H&M, Spain’s Zara, and U.K.-based TopShop.           

And Primark’s prices are a cut below its competition, a fact likely to appeal to cost-conscious consumers. Let’s do a quick price check: At Primark women’s tops start at £1.50, or $2.30, and its priciest outerwear item, a tweed coat, retails for £35.00, or just under $54. In the same category, H&M’s cheapest option is $5.95, and its most expensive is a suede jacket that costs $349. TopShop is selling a top for just $2, while its most expensive outerwear piece is a leather jacket for $600.

Cheap and plentiful

According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Americans will buy 70 garments this year. The average American bought 40 garments in 1991, and 62 garments in 2012. More and more, clothing falls into the category of disposable, rather than collectible, purchases. 

Quartz, American Apparel & Footwear Association

No doubt the need for instant gratification, peer approval and obsessions with outfits of the day (#OOTD) have been big contributors to fast fashion’s unstoppable appeal. In 2007, total U.S. in-store fast fashion sales were $88.1 million, according to market intelligence firm Euromonitor International. Last year, they were $95.5 million, an 8% increase over seven years.

But what might propel the industry forward – and provide Primark with a prime opportunity to compete in this market – is taking fast fashion to the whole family. Indeed, fast fashion retailers – whose and cheap and trendy merchandise is frequently updated – are expanding the scope of their target demographic beyond the 20-something consumer to the whole family. 

Primark, which saw its annual sales up 17% in 2014 from the year prior, focuses heavily on children’s wear and “increasingly, we’re seeing entire families engaging in fast fashion shopping,” says Anne-Charlotte Windal, senior retail analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, an investment research firm.

Fast fashion is also appealing to the needs of young adults growing into full-fledged adults with families of their own they need to shop for. Some retailers, like Forever 21, are adjusting their styles and sizes to accommodate older consumers with more grown-up tastes, according to a Wall Street Journal story on the evolution of millennial fashion. The chain launched a children’s line in 2010.

Old-line retailers getting fast

Fast fashion seems to be a bright spot within Gap (GPS) as well. In last month’s earnings report the retailer said that while company-wide quarterly sales fell 2% to $3.9 billion, its more affordable Old Navy unit proved to be a winner, logging 3.3% year-over-year growth.

In addition to being able to quickly respond to trends and consumer preferences, Old Navy has mastered the family-friendly shopping experience, Windal says. “Old Navy is doing well because it has an appealing price point that provides good value for the entire family,” she says.

On the earnings call, Gap CEO Art Peck highlighted Old Navy’s success, noting the brand gained $1 billion in market share over the last three years, and praised Old Navy for “becoming faster and faster in responding to consumer needs.” Peck said that he intends to mimic the fast fashion model by quickly restocking best-selling items at a select number of Gap stores next spring.