T-shirts for 5 euros, dresses for 8 euros, swimsuits for less than 10 euros: ultra-fast fashion brands are pushing the boundaries of low prices by producing more and more, targeting the 25-year-olds and under.
The English Boohoo, the Hong Kong brand Emmiol or the very fashionable Chinese brand Shein present themselves according to the same model: 100% online clothing companies with unbeatable prices, often accompanied by promotions. It is’“ultra fast fashion” : Every day a huge number of articles and new references, new collections in record time, even faster than the giants of fast fashion like H&M or Zara.
At the risk of multiplying practices that are not very ecological, already pointed out by the critics of fast fashion. “A lot of these cheap clothes end up (…) in huge landfills, are burned on open fires, washed down river beds and into the sea”in countries like Kenya and Tanzania, the NGO Greenpeace denounced in April.
But despite the opacity of a sector that is extremely discreet about its results, the success is undeniable. For example, SheIn saw its sales jump 60% in 2021, propelling its sales to $16 billion, according to Bloomberg, hot on the heels of H&M, which posted sales of SEK 199 billion (SEK 19 billion) in the same year.
Lola, 18, orders from Shein two to three times a month for an average shopping cart of around $70 and around ten items. For the young Nancy, this brand, very popular in her environment, allows her to follow the trend “without spending an astronomical sum”. Low prices are at the heart of these companies’ success with young people whose limited purchasing power leads to this “Looking for quantity instead of quality”, emphasizes Valérie Guillard, university professor in Paris-Dauphine. Added to this is the appeal of a product that has never been worn “was made for you”, while the second hand, which is also inexpensive, is aimed more at an audience “engaged”, according to the expert. Usually “If the price is the same, we prefer new”.
In order to remain indispensable among young people, the brand is omnipresent on social networks. The format of hauls — videos in which consumers unpack packages and try on clothes in front of the camera — has particularly contributed to its popularity on TikTok, a network popular with teens and young adults. Margot, 25, says she doesn’t seek out these types of videos, but they appear in abundance in the content she’s offered. “It definitely appealed to me once,” she admits.
It’s one of the ingredients for success. To benefit from a comprehensive presence at a lower price, retailers rely on the “Micro Influence”: Partnerships with people who have fewer followers on social media, but who benefit from greater closeness and trust from their community.
But the downside of low prices are those social or environmental scandals that brands would have avoided and dampened the enthusiasm of some customers. The Swiss NGO Public Eye therefore found in a survey published in November 2021 that employees of factories in China contracted by SheIn worked up to 75 hours a week, an illegal rate in the country.
Fast fashion, the third most water-consuming sector, is also responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, as much as international air and maritime transport combined, according to the Transition Agency (Ademe). The face of the youth climate movement, Greta Thunberg, was alarmed when she denounced a sector on Instagram last year “contributes enormously to the climatic and ecological emergency”.
Charlotte, 14, chose to stop Shein and Emmiol’s orders. “Back then I was happy to have new clothes, but then I felt guilty”, she explains and the teenager admits to being tempted again. But now, “When I see pretty things on SheIn, I look for them on Vinted” a website that sells second-hand clothes, she says.