When Forever 21 officially filed for bankruptcy in September, critics were quick to point out the reasons for its downfall: an aggressive expansion of physical stores that eventually lost foot traffic; losing focus on actual fashion trends and becoming over assorted; and a lack of awareness when it comes to evolving consumer habits. So while Forever 21 was declining, other adaptable, faster retailers were on the rise, combining social media with e-commerce and focusing on celebrity partnerships and influencer marketing.
Fast fashion may be dead at the mall, but it's thriving online and won’t be going away anytime soon. It's always been a part of our industry's history — as early as the 1800s. As businesses evolve their production cycles and tap into new marketing tactics and social media strategies, a new generation of online retailers are starting to take hold of young consumers, with some even catching the attention of investors, too. Read on to learn more about the fast-fashion shops to know now.
With decades of experience from such high-street apparel businesses as Topshop and ASOS, founders Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane branched off on their own to launch Boohoo in 2006. The retailer's Manchaster headquarters can add up to 300 new products per day to Boohoo's website, thanks to a well-oiled machine of in-house photography studios, design, production and marketing teams, as well as local production facilities in the U.K. In 2017, Boohoo bought Nasty Gal for $20 million, causing the then-failing online retailer to cancel its bankruptcy auction. In September, revenue at Boohoo topped one-billion British pounds over a 12-month period for the first time, according to the Financial Times.
Forever 21 walked so Fashion Nova could run. As one of Google's top trending fashion brands of 2018, the Los Angeles-based retailer was founded by Richard Saghian as a retail chain offering "going out" clothes in 2006, followed by an e-commerce launch in 2013. With co-signs by the likes of Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian, Fashion Nova's fame skyrocketed and has become the go-to brand for the ultimate "thirst trap" 'fit. But its quick rise has come with a backlash, such as multiple accusations of copying indie designers, controversial apparel and even public disapproval from Kim Kardashian West for its "rip off designs."
Lulus first began as a vintage boutique in Chico, Calif., founded by mother-and-daughter duo Debra Cannon and Colleen Winter in 1996. By 2008, they pivoted their business online and decided to offer fast, affordable fashion for customers in their 20s, and over the years, Lulus has heavily invested in social media and online marketing. (It was one of the early adopters of featuring shoppable products on Instagram.) The strategy has paid off: In 2018, Lulus raised $120 million from VC firm IVP and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board with plans to help grow its fulfillment center on the East Coast, launch new categories and hire more employees. While Lulus's offerings run the fashion gamut, it seems like its specialty is dresses and bridal, since those are specifically highlighted on the site's homepage.
Based in Manchester, Missguided was founded by Nitin Passi in 2008 with little business experience, but the retailer has steadily found success through celebrity partnerships with Sofia Richie, Anastasia 'Stassie' Karanikolaou, Nicole Scherzinger, Pia Mia, Amber Rose and Pamela Anderson, as well as strategic product placements on "Love Island." Recently, however, Missguided has experienced a few, dare we say, missteps: In January, the company reported a loss of 47.7 million British pounds, though executives say it's due to a "year of transition." In February, Kim Kardashian West filed a $2.7 million lawsuit against Missguided for using her name and profile to sell clothes, which she later won in July. Lastly, in September, Boohoo poached Missguided's brand director to take on the CEO role of its newly acquired sister brand Miss Pap.
Pretty Little Thing
Also under the umbrella of Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing was co-founded by Mahmud Kamani's two sons, Umar and Adam Kamani, in 2012. (Their father's company was sold a major stake of the brand five years later.) What sets the two retailers apart is PLT's push into the American market, including a new U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles and its first-ever New York Fashion Week runway show in September, which presented a collaboration with rapper Saweetie. PLT also relies heavily on a long list of celebrity partnerships and influencer ambassadors, which boasts Richie, Kourtney Kardashian, Chantel Jeffries, Hailey Bieber, Olivia Culpo, Ashley Graham and, most recently, "Love Island" reality star Molly-Mae Hague.
Husband-and-wife Wez and Eirin Bryett started Princess Polly as a boutique in 2005 in Australia's Queensland and launched its e-commerce site five years later. Since then, it's become a go-to retailer for teens and young women around the world, debuting up to 100 new pieces weekly. In 2018, the business was expected to make $15 million in earnings, a jump from $10 million in 2017; it also sold a 50% stake to San Francisco-based Elevate Brand Partners with plans to expand in the U.S. Considering that the site has a section dedicated to "Homecoming" (or we do we all call it "hoco" now?) dresses under $100, it seems like it'll fit right in with American shoppers' needs.
According to People.com, "millions of people are obsessed" with "Instagram-loved clothing brand" Romwe. (A few years ago, however, Buzzfeed and Observer investigated the quality of its clothing and customer service.) At first glance, Romwe's website, which has been around since 2010, isn't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing or intuitive user experience, but what likely catches shoppers' attention is the fact that the site's prices are mind-blowingly low. Rarely do you spot an item that costs more than $30 — though, occasionally outerwear can hit close to $60. (Plus, it's sold on Amazon, providing even more convenience for consumers.) Add on the fact that one of the most-followed Gen Z'ers Emma Chamberlain partnered with Romwe for a campaign of her favorite pieces, and you've got a winning formula for teens' cash.
A University of North Texas student once described Shein as, "a cheaper version of Forever 21 without the cringe-worthy phrases and Ross if it were on steroids." Founded in October 2008, the self-proclaimed international fast-fashion e-commerce platform has been aiming to increase its style cred as of late: In September, Shein teamed up with "Riverdale" star Madelaine Petsch as the face of Shein's Fall 2019 collection, and in October, the retailer held its very own runway show in Paris. The collection featured new, trendy pieces — colorful faux leather, animal-printed tops and checkered tweed, name a few — that ranged in price from $5 to $65.
Founded in 2011 and based in Korea, Storets prides itself on offering in-house designs alongside a curated selection of items from other Korean brands, like Letter From Moon, More Jude and Nuvo10. Some of the prices for these on-trend, Instagram-ready items are similar to contemporary brands, like a vegan leather trench coat for close to $400, but the site offers free shipping for orders over $100, and 24-hour flash sales are constantly being promoted on Storets's homepage. Plus, the majority of the inventory — which totals just above 1,800 — fall within the $50 to $100 range.
One of the older sites of the bunch, Australia-based Tiger Mist was founded by sisters Alana Pallister and Stevie Cox. (The duo is also behind the influencer-favorite brand I.Am.Gia.) Tiger Mist originally started out as a boutique in Melbourne, but has since expanded and evolved into a global online retailer that adds new offerings — mostly form-fitting, cropped and under $75 — three times a week. Much like every other site we've mentioned, Tiger Mist's success is rooted in social media and its feeds feature a lot of its clothing on a particular group of people who all seem to share the same "Instagram face."
Based out of Hong Kong and founded in 2014, Zaful aims to become "the leading online fast fashion brand." Not convinced? Check out the site's "About Us" page. The company is even putting a lot of effort online into making sure people realize that it's not, in fact, a scam. In September, Zaful hosted its first-ever runway show during New York Fashion Week, in an effort to promote diversity and inclusivity within the fashion industry. As for what's offered on the e-commerce site, there's a lot, like 16,000-plus a lot (in its women's clothing category alone) that are mostly priced at or under $50.