Making the Little Black Dress Green

Making the Little Black Dress Green

Environmental excesses are soiling the glamorous image of fast fashion.

The ability to bring the latest styles to the masses has made Zara a leader in the fast fashion industry. However, this success is leaving a sizeable carbon footprint. Determined to be a trendsetter on several fronts, Zara has vowed to become a model of sustainability in its industry by 2025. Some skeptics believe that goal may be unrealistic.


Video Spotlights: Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion and How to Make Fast Fashion More Sustainable


This post is based on the npr.org article, Can Fast Fashion and Sustainability Be Stitched Together?, by E. Bowman and S. McCammon, July 27 2019, and the YouTube videos, The Problem with Fast Fashionby Teen Vogue, September 21, 2018, and Making Fashion More Sustainable, by Bloomberg Markets and Finance, November 8, 2018. Image source: David Hughes/Getty Images.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is “fast fashion”? What are the reasons for its appeal to customers?

Guidance: Fast fashion is affordable, trendy clothing that is produced and distributed rapidly to mass markets. The availability of the latest styles at relatively low prices makes fast fashion very appealing.

2. What are the core competencies (cost, quality, delivery, flexibility) underlying Zara’s operations strategy?

Guidance: The core competencies are low cost, delivery speed, consistent quality, and mix flexibility. The clothes are affordable (low cost). The designs are moved from runways to retail stores rapidly (delivery speed). The garments are mass-produced, which is typically associated with consistent quality. With the release of 500 new designs per week, Zara demonstrates high design and mix flexibility.

3. What inventory model is most likely used in the fast fashion industry? Explain.

Guidance: The clothes are trendy and therefore have a limited shelf life. Garments that are not sold quickly are offered at reduced prices or are shipped to discount stores such as T.J. Maxx. Therefore, the single-period inventory model is appropriate for fashion clothing. It seeks to identify the order quantity that will minimize long-run excess and shortage costs.

4. According to the article, what is the downside of a rapid product life cycle at each stage of the supply chain?

Guidance: The downside is the impact on the environment. The designs go quickly from the runway to the retail store to the trash can to the landfill. Producing the natural fabrics (e.g. cotton) affects the soil, contributes to air pollution, and consumes water. Production of synthetic fabrics depends on the fossil fuel and chemical industries. Making the clothes themselves requires the use of multiple sources of energy. These effects are compounded when the product life cycles are short and inventory turnovers are high.

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