In 2012, Swedish brand H&M was a big deal on the local fashion scene. When they opened their flagship store in Lot 10, Bukit Bintang, 1,500 fans and enthusiasts lined up for over eight hours outside in anticipation of their grand opening at 11am.

With its trendy togs priced at affordable prices, H&M allows us to swap out our entire wardrobe every season if we cared to, helping us wear runway trends almost before they have left the catwalk. And when they team up with haute couture folk like Balmain or Kenzo, this allows fashionistas of any budget to grab themselves a luxury item.

But interest in fast fashion is waning. Malaysia recorded a 1% drop in sales over the quarter, Singapore saw sales fall by 10% and globally, the first quarter of this year saw H&M’s first monthly sales drop in nearly four years. It’s parent company Inditex SA also saw profitability drop to an eight-year low. Furthermore, the company reports that there’s a US$4.3 billion stockpile of clothing and accessories accumulated in thousands of warehouses and stores around the world.

And sure enough a quick check around the office confirms that no one has purchased anything in H&M in the past year.

Here are some possible reasons why:

Fierce competition

The local fashion scene is incredibly dynamic and it is flourishing online. Not only do customers have the option of buying from e-retailers like Zalora and Asos, but we can also feasibly buy clothes from anywhere in the world through the internet. There are also tons of young, independent labels that offer affordable, good looking pieces catered to local tastes – the fact that they are made in small batches is even more appealing because it means that fewer people will be wearing the same thing. There are even stores that specialise in one basic item, like the classic white button down.

Quality over quantity

H&M has acquired a reputation for clothes that don’t last – both in terms of material and in style. Customers want quality and don’t mind paying more for it. Timeless pieces are now more en vogue. Labels like Cos and MUJI and even Zara and Uniqlo may have a higher price point, but they are preferred for better quality offerings that can withstand the test of time.

A Fashionable Conscience

We now know more a lot more about of the impact fast fashion on the environment and on labour forces. Cheap clothes equal cheap labour and H&M has been accused of using prison labour in China, employing children in Myanmar, firing Cambodian women who got pregnant, suppressing unions, and causing environmental damage. Clothes that wear out after a few washes simply mean more waste and more burden on our planet. Fast fashion is incredibly damaging to the environment, sending 26 billion pounds of textiles to landfills every year.

The retail giant is aware of its predicament and is currently taking steps to revamp itself for the new fashionista. Only time will tell if fast fashion will regain its footing. On the other hand, if you’re a small, indie, local fashion label this may be a great time to make your move.

What is your take on the future of fast fashion? 

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