New etailers and expanding international brands are nipping at the heels of fast fashion’s big players, eager to grab a share of the lucrative market
Manchester was once known as “Cottonopolis”, a nickname given to the area at the time of the Industrial Revolution as it rapidly became the centre of Britain’s textile trade. Centuries on, the city is at the forefront of another revolution in the industry: the unstoppable rise of fast fashion etailers.Boohoo, Missguided and PrettyLittleThing, all born in Manchester, have shaken up the high street for good with a laser-like focus on speed, digital prowess and affordability.
Fast fashion is booming: data from insight provider Hitwise shows the market grew by 21% over the past three years. This, coupled with the success of fast fashion’s biggest players – Boohoo is on track to hit turnover of £1bn by 2020 and revenue at Missguided soared by 75% to £206m in the year to March 2017 – has inspired a new wave of etailers from around the UK to seek to tap into the magic formula of social media and speedy, trend-led product.
“New retailers are all targeting the same kind of customer because there is such demand for on-trend product,” says Charlotte Pearce, retail analyst at Global Data. “The sector is getting crowded, but it is still growing because trends change so quickly, particularly in the value clothing space.”
Manchester’s Missy Empire is one of the burgeoning etailers taking advantage of the interest in trend-led, affordable fashion. The business was started by brothers Ash and Ish Siddique in 2015, who had spent 15 years working as knitwear manufacturers before switching to launch their own brand. It launches 100 new pieces online every week and prices are kept competitive, ranging from £7 for a basic short-sleeved cropped top to £52 for a fake suede jacket and £53 for an embellished mini-dress.
“We come from a manufacturing background, so we always used to make the clothing rather than sell it,” explains Ash Siddique. “When production started moving to China [at a faster pace] around 2000 and prices started dropping, it became tougher for UK manufacturers to compete. Being a retailer now, I understand why businesses were so adamant about sticking to a certain price point, but we couldn’t carry on manufacturing, so we shut the business.”
He argues this experience in has proved invaluable for Missy Empire, and has allowed it to get products to market as quickly as possible.
“The beauty of coming from the same background is that we can speak to manufacturers on their level,” he says. “We can get products turned around in five to 10 days because we know what we want and can cut down on toing-and-froing. We can negotiate and change products to make sure they are affordable for us and our customer, but also for the manufacturer.”
Building on your background
A background in manufacturing has also proved useful for growing womenswear etailer Nobody’s Child, which is stocked on Asos and Topshop. The brand was started by family-run manufacturer Misfit Fashions, which has its own factories in the UK, Europe and Asia. As a result, it says, it can respond quickly to trends and keep prices low, while also cutting down on waste and producing ethically. Prices range from £10 for basic T-shirts to £35 for an embroidered Bardot dress.
Social media has made starting your own fashion business so accessible
Beth O’Donnell, Fearlesss
Social media has removed many of the barriers that previously hampered budding entrepreneurs who were interested in fashion, but lacked funds or previous experience. Womenswear etailer Fearlesss focuses on feminine styles for the 25-to-35 demographic. It first started life in 2011 as a Facebook page, when founder Beth O’Donnell began selling dresses from a wholesaler on the platform as a way to make extra money while raising three small children. The business now has a standalone website and employs a team of 14.
“Social media has made starting your own fashion business so accessible to people,” she tells Drapers. “I’d take photos of dresses and post them on Facebook, and customers would comment with which size they wanted to buy. I’d always been interested in fashion but never hoped to be in the industry or own a fashion business ten years ago – social media changed that.”
However, O’Donnell warns changes to social media platforms algorithms have made it harder for new entrants to the fast fashion market to attract attention, particularly as the sector gets more competitive: “Nowadays, Facebook posts don’t get seen by anywhere near the same amount of people – when I started Fearlesss, if you posted something it would be seen by everyone who followed you. Social media has changed and even paid posts are not getting out to as many people as they used to. I started Fearlesss before a lot of people realised what you could do online, and it is getting a lot harder.”
A DIY approach also worked for Cheshire-based womenswear etailer Want That Trend. It was launched in 2015 and reached £7m in sales before the end of its first year. Victoria Molyneux started the business after she struggled to find flattering clothes after having children, and it now has more than 1.5 million Facebook fans and 80,000 Instagram followers. Rather than using professional models, Molyneux takes selfies wearing Want That Trend product.
“I’ve always taken product pictures myself since we started and it is part of our success – it helps us stand out in the market,” she says. “People recognise me in them because I’m not a size eight model and they can picture what it will really look like on them. You could have a photo of a gorgeous dress on a beautiful model in an expensive photoshoot but that often doesn’t feel very real.”
British shoppers’ seemingly unlimited appetite for fast fashion has also piqued the interest of international giants looking for a slice of the action. As Drapers revealed last month, Chineseheavyweight Urban Revivo will move into Westfield London in March 2018 and Polish retailer Reserved, which has 1,000 stores in its domestic market, is set to open on London’s Oxford Street in early September.
As the sector gets more and more crowded, quality and delivery will become bigger concerns for customers, Global Data’s Pearce warns: “To reach a certain level and compete with the larger players, new etailers have to have a good product offer but also a strong delivery proposition – quality is also going to become more of a concern for customers. They will need to have all the right elements to compete.”
If these up-and-coming brands tick all the essential boxes, the sector’s established players could feel the impact as the combination of smaller competitors and newcomers from overseas starts to bite.