T-shirts for about $6, dresses for $9: “ultra fast fashion” brands are pushing the boundaries of low prices by producing more and more at the risk of catastrophic environmental impacts, while targeting 25 and older.
The English Boohoo, the Hong Kong brand Emmiol or even the very fashionable Chinese brand SheIn present themselves on the same model: 100% online clothing sales companies with unbeatable prices, often accompanied by promotions.
It is “ultra fast fashion”: every day a huge number of items and new references, new collections in record time, even faster than the giants of fast fashion such as H&M or Zara.
At the risk of multiplying practices that are not very ecological. “Much of this cheap clothing ends up (…) in huge landfills, burned on open fires, along riverbeds and thrown into the sea,” in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, environmental NGO Greenpeace denounced in April.
Despite the opacity of a sector that remains extremely discreet about its results, its success is undeniable.
For example, SheIn saw its turnover increase by 60% in 2021 and, according to Bloomberg, turnover rose to 16 billion dollars, following H&M, which recorded a turnover of 199 billion Swedish kronor in the same year.
Lola (18) orders two to three times a month on SheIn, for an average basket of about 70 euros and about ten articles. For the Nancy, this very popular brand in its entourage makes it possible to follow the trend “without spending an astronomical amount”.
Low prices are at the heart of the success of these companies among young people, whose limited purchasing power leads them to “seek quantity over quality,” emphasizes Valérie Guillard, a professor at the University of Paris-Dauphine.
There’s also the appeal of a product that’s never been worn, which is “made for you,” while second-hand, which is also inexpensive, is more aimed at an “engaged” audience, the expert said. Generally “at equal price, we prefer new”.
In order to remain indispensable among young people, the brand is ubiquitous on social networks. The format of the swipe — videos in which consumers unpack packages and try on clothes facing the camera — has mainly contributed to its popularity on TikTok, a network popular with teens and young adults.
Margot, 25, says she chooses not to watch these types of videos, but they appear in abundance in the content offered to her. “It necessarily made me want it at least once,” she admits.
To take advantage of expanded exposure at a lower price, brands rely on “micro-influence”: partnerships with people who are followed on social networks by a small number of subscribers, but who benefit from proximity and increased trust in their communities.
But the flip side of low prices is these social or environmental scandals.
For example, the Swiss NGO Public Eye found in a study published in November that workers at factories in China outsourced 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 traffic combined, according to the Transition Agency.ecco (Ademe).
For example, Greta Thunberg, the muse of the youth movement for the climate, denounced on Instagram last year a sector that “makes a huge contribution to the (…) ecological need”.
Authorities are also beginning to investigate the practices of these brands and the UK Competition Authority (CMA) announced on Friday the opening of investigations into Boohoo and Asos in particular, over fears of “greenwashing”, i.e. false environmental promises on certain products.
Charlotte, 14, has chosen to stop the SheIn and Emmiol orders. “At the time I was happy to have new clothes, but then I felt guilty,” she explains.
The teen admits to being tempted again. But now, “when I see nice things on SheIn, I look for them on Vinted,” she says, a site that sells second-hand clothing.