Sustainability in the Fast Fashion Industry
47 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2019 Last revised: 8 Oct 2021
Date Written: November 13, 2019
A fast fashion system allows firms to react quickly to changing consumer demand by replenishing inventory (via quick response) and introducing more fashion styles. In this paper, we study the environmental impact of the fast fashion business model by analyzing its implications for product quality, variety, and inventory decisions. Specifically, we consider a two-period model in which a firm sells to fashion-sensitive consumers whose preferences are influenced by a random fashion trend. We then analyze the effect of fast fashion capabilities (quick response and design flexibility) on the firm's quality decision, leftover inventory and total environmental impact. Our results show that a key driver of low product quality in the fast fashion industry is the firm's incentive to offer variety to hedge against uncertain fashion trends. When variety is endogenous, quality decreases as consumers become more sensitive to fashion or as the cost of introducing new styles decreases. We further identify the conditions under which increasing fast fashion capabilities leads to higher environmental impact. To counter the environmental impact of fast fashion, we assess the effectiveness of three environmental initiatives (waste disposal regulations, consumer education, and production tax schemes). We show that waste disposal policies and production taxes are effective in reducing the firm's leftover inventory---but may have the unintended consequence of lowering product quality which may worsen the firm's environmental impact. We also find that education campaigns that increase consumers' sensitivity to quality strictly benefit the environment in the long run. Overall, our work establishes a much-needed understanding of the link between the fast fashion business model and its environmental consequences.
Keywords: fast fashion; quick response; sustainability; quality; product variety; environmental footprint
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