Episode 176: Fast, Cheap, & Always Something New, How fast fashion changed everything (part 2)

In part two of now THREE, Amanda explores fast fashion 1.0 and 2.0 through the lens of her career.  In this episode we will break down all of the acrobatics brands did to bring their customers more and more newness, faster and faster.  
  • How fashion got faster with some help from social media and the normalization of shopping online.
  • How retailers began to commodify every holiday and occasion, creating products we didn’t really need for every and any “event.”
  • Why fast fashion retailers started to carry a lot of new things that weren’t clothing.
  • How small online-only retailers like Modcloth, Nasty Gal, Lulu’s, and Dolls Kill were able to offer even more steady newness without a huge in-house design team. Get ready to learn about the San Pedro Apparel Mart.
  • How fast fashion 2.0 brands like Fashion Nova and Boohoo could keep prices low while creating product faster than anyone else. 
Additional reading:
“Barnardo’s calls for people to think ‘pre-loved’ before buying new clothes”
Planet Money, Episode 765: The Holiday Industrial Complex
“Is Urban Outfitters Phasing Out Its Indie Athleisure Brand?,” Adele Chapin, Racked.
“From the San Pedro Wholesale Mart, a Brand Rises,” Kari Hamanaka, WWD.
“Boohoo’s business model is as cheeky as a bikini paired with chaps,” The Economist.
“Inside the lavish lives of the billionaire family behind Boohoo, the fast-fashion giant called out in an investigation into workers being paid just $4 an hour at suppliers’ factories,” Mary Hanbury, Insider.
“Boohoo booms as Leicester garment factories are linked to lockdown,” Archie Bland and Annie Kelly, The Guardian.
“Dark factories: labour exploitation in Britain’s garment industry,” Sarah O’Connor, Financial Times.
“Boohoo opens first owned factory in ‘new chapter’ amid international market challenges,” Emily Hawkins, City A.M.
“Three graphs revealing how Fashion Nova disrupted the fashion industry,” Edited.
Fashion Nova’s Secret: Underpaid Workers in Los Angeles Factories,” Natalie Kitroeff, The New York Times.
FTC Announces Refund Claims Process for Fashion Nova Customers Affected by Deceptive Review Practices

Special thanks to this episode’s sponsors:

Soft Work, intuitive garment construction for beginners. Registration open until 9/22!

Osei-Duro! Find them on Instagram as @oseiduro.
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If you want to share your opinion/additional thoughts on the subjects we cover in each episode, feel free to email, whether it’s a typed out message or an audio recording:  [email protected]
Or call the Clotheshorse hotline: 717.925.7417


I always say that every fast fashion brand out there should be sending an Edible Arrangement to Instagram every week for the rest of time, because nothing helped fast fashion expand, make billions off of selling us more more and more clothing than Instagram, outfit of the day posts, and influencers.   


Fast fashion democratized style, right? It made it accessible to a lot more people (obviously not people who were larger, taller, shorter than what fashion deemed acceptable, but still, a lot more people). And Instagram let us all believe that WE were style icons and influencers in our own right.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable to look back and see all of the widespread consumer habits that ultimately began on Instagram:


  • The whole “new outfit for every occasion, photo, etc” phenomenon. A 2019 survey by UK Charity group Barnardo’s found that 25% of those surveyed would be embarrassed to wear the same outfit to a wedding or other special occasion more than once. And 37% of people aged 16-24 felt that way.  And guess what? Retailers were there to send you emails with suggestions for every wedding, Valentines Day date, birthday weekend, office holiday party, Mother’s Day, Halloween, Friendsgiving, 4th of July, Brunch, and so much more.  These are literally emails and social media campaigns that I worked on as a buyer. Often the buying team was pulled into these projects to curate a product offering for every possible occasion in which one might want/need a new outfit.  One thing that always struck me about the endless array of collections we put together for these “events” was how if everyone started buying from the same new collection of stuff, it became more and more likely that you would show up to the event wearing the same outfit as someone else.
  • And really, over time this almost escalated into a “new outfit for every single day of life” line of thinking, as influencers rarely if ever posted the same outfit twice.  Yes, we can all take a step back and realize that influencers are literally making a living off of wearing different outfits, it doesn’t apply to our lives, we don’t need a new outfit every day or week…but alas, it gets into our subconscious and it normalizes always needing a new outfit! 


What we didn’t realize, as we fretted over finding something new for every Instagram post, was that the system that was creating all of those new outfits was fundamentally flawed, frequently unethical, and super wasteful.  We were just trying to fit in, or stand out, or at least, live our best lives.  But that desire for something new that we all seemed to be feeling all at once…well, retailers made a lot of not-so-great decisions in pursuit of profiting from our collective hunger.  And of course, because this is Clotheshorse, we’ll be talking about that today.

Welcome to episode 176 of Clotheshorse. As always, I’m your host, Amanda and today we will be continuing our conversation about the evolution of fast fashion. So I should just tell you now…I told you last week that this would be a two part situation. And it is now officially a three part situation.  I just kept adding stuff to my outline this week! Next week, I swear we are going to conclude this series and share some of your audio essays about secondhand..but this fast fashion series just has a lot of stuff to discuss! So let’s jump back into it!

I don’t even know where to begin with how fast fashion–well really, fast everything– commoditized the ideas of “self care,” “retail therapy,” and “treat yourself” into reasons to buy more stuff.  


And going back to holidays: every holiday–no matter how small–became a reason to shop. 

  • National Cat Day? Take 15% off the whole site! This is a great time to tell you that one of MY favorite episodes is Planet Money because it digs into so many elements of consumer behavior and capitalism (seriously, there is an episode about the value of dinosaur bones) and they did a great episode about all of these random holiday/not holidays. I’ll share the link in the show notes.
  • But even with regular holidays: Did you have one of those moms who had special Christmas dishtowels, pot holders, and hand towels? It always kinda made me laugh, but I also kinda got it? It’s fun to be festive, right? Brands who never cared about Halloween are now literally selling costumes and pajama pants, socks, purses, underwear…all just for use on Halloween.  Christmas means selling brand new “ugly” Christmas sweaters (which totally misses the point of the original THRIFTED ugly Christmas sweater trend). Valentine’s Day means lingeries, dresses, shoes, purses, makeup, candles, new sheets.  Easter means pastels and new spring capsule.  Suddenly my employers were dropping 4th of July collections, dresses for Mother’s Day (along with lots of gifts), outfits for wearing AFTER Thanksgiving dinner, new workout clothes for January…


Oh yeah, that’s another thing: in the era of fast everything, every fast fashion retailer was thinking of new categories to sell, because as we know, everyone had raced their way to the bottom on pricing. The only way to be more profitable year after year, to increase revenue and make shareholders happy was…finding new things to sell! By 2015-ish, retailers had already expanded into shoes, jewelry, basically any kind of accessory. But it wasn’t enough. So we see lots of hype over and over again for new “emerging” categories that fast fashion retailers were quick to jump on:

  • Activewear and “athleisure”–omg we worked on super really horrible attempts at activewear at Nasty Gal. Urban Outfitters did its own failed attempt at a new activewear/outdoor brand “Without Walls.”
  • Cosmetics, fragrance, and skincare: suddenly Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters and many more were selling their own “private label” cosmetics brands, while also expanding floor space and even doing “shop within shop” setups. What is private label? It is when brands/retailers use another manufacturer (who specializes in a category) to develop and  manufacture an item, collection, etc and put the retailers own branding on it.  A lot of clothing is made that way, along with shoes, accessories, jewelry, etc. In the realm of beauty, most of these retailers were working with the same set of vendors who would “create” a line of fragrance, nail polish, makeup etc, but the packaging would differentiate from the same products they were making for other brands.
  • Intimates and lingerie: we’ve talked before about how few retailers own their factories (put a pin in that for when we get to fast fashion 2.0), so you won’t be surprised to hear that the same factories and vendors are making underwear for Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters, and so on. 
  • Home goods: the same “private label” situation here, too.
  • The interesting thing about all of these is that they require a different manufacturing base and often (especially when we talk about activewear, beauty products, and intimates) a lot of research and development/expertise to execute them properly.  And to be clear: no one did that.
  • Also, important to call out here: you know how these brands could have made a lot of money without trying new categories of products? By extending sizes. Sure, doing that right would require some investment in fit and design…but well, they didn’t want to actually spend any money on any of that, right?

Okay, so here’s something else that fueled fast fashion even more than Instagram: ecommerce, aka, shopping online.


As I mentioned in the last episode, in the pre-online shopping world, everything we bought had to fit inside an actual physical space: the store! And had to look non-chaotic and hoarder-y, right? So there was a very real ceiling on the number of styles we could buy every month. In the first few years after the the 2008 financial crisis, when my employer (like every other retailer) was beginning to lean into the fast fashion model, we kinda struggled with how to balance the constant newness dictated by the fast fashion model with the real problem of fitting that steady flow of new styles into a store every week.  


At first, the stores did look kinda chaotic.  So we escalated our markdown cadence.  This was the beginning of the “if you paid full price at this store, you would feel a little embarrassed” era.  If you recall in the last episode, in the beginning of my career, we bought most items to live in the store at full price for ten weeks (about 2.5 months). The idea was that if they hadn’t sold out by then, we would mark down whatever was left, and theoretically, almost all of that would sell out in 2-4 weeks. So effectively the store would see a complete turnover every three months.  That was the goal, right?


Well that didn’t work when we were suddenly offering twice as many new styles every month. It certainly didn’t work when we were delivering FOUR times as many styles every week. So we shortened that window that something sold at full price. First it was 8 weeks, then it was 6 weeks, and eventually it moved to four weeks.  We were doing markdowns multiple times a month. The first week would be new markdowns. The second week would be further markdowns, taking things to a lower price. The third week would be jobouts–things we pulled from the sales floor and sent off to jobbers to resell on the off-price market. Fragile items would just be destroyed (meaning smashed, broken) by the store staff and dumped into the dumpster. Sure, we didn’t want to have it in the store any more, but we didn’t want anyone to have it without paying for it!


In fact–let’s talk about those jobouts.  Once upon a time the volume of items that made it to that “job out” point was very small.  Extremely manageable on a store by store basis. So stores would donate to a local charity of their choice: shelters, thrift stores, etc. But over time the volume was just too high to manage that.  No one wanted THAT much stuff from us.  And furthermore, since so much stuff was selling at markdown in the first place, it was imperative that the company recover as much of the cost of that stuff as possible.  So that was when stores started boxing it up and shipping it back to the warehouse, where it would be sent to jobbers. Once again, anything remotely large (furniture, throw pillows, quilts) or fragile (candles, glassware, ceramics, most jewelry, fragrance, beauty products) would be destroyed by the staff and tossed in the dumpster.


Yeah, the fast fashion model is at the root of a lot of wasteful and frankly shitty phenomena out there, right?


To be clear, this is all still happening BUT ecommerce allowed retailers to offer even more new products:

  • Online exclusives: new stuff that was only available online.
  • More sizes/colors: this meant that they could send less units of every size to every store and if a size was out of stock, the store staff could just order it for the customer to be shipped to their house.  Having to house less of every style meant that MORE styles could fit in a store space.
  • As shopping online became the norm and rapidly eclipsed shopping IRL (ask me how many think pieces I’ve had to read about the retail apocalypse), many retailers actually started fulfilling orders from stores.  Meaning: if you ordered a few things online but they all arrived separately…it’s probably because each item shipped from a different store location.  Nevermind the waste of all of that extra packaging, because it allowed retailers to save money on inventory!

To make things more complicated for all of the regular retailers with stores who had adopted the fast fashion model of cheap, fast, and always new, new brands were popping up who didn’t have the financial (and planning) burden of actual stores.  These brands only sold online, so they could offer even more new stuff all the time.  The first one that comes to mind for me is Asos, with its practically infinite offering. But I worked at TWO other ones that were playing that game, too.

When I was working at Modcloth we literally launched new items every day at noon. And guess what? Customers would show up every day at noon to buy them, sometimes placing multiple orders in a week.  Launching 20-30 styles every day meant that we were constantly looking for something new.  Yes, we had our own in-house line with designers and fit techs working hard to create the best final product, but they would never be able to create the 600-900 new styles we needed to launch every month.  I mean, we would have needed a team of 100 to execute that.


But fortunately we had another resource at our disposal: the San Pedro Apparel Mart in downtown LA. Imagine about 300 different showrooms of inexpensive, high profit,0  fast fashion clothing, with new arrivals every single week.  And everything you find there could ship to your warehouse in two weeks or less! 


It’s hard to describe the Mart to someone who has never been there. One showroom after another, with names like Hot & Delicious, Cotton Candy, Virgins Only (for real). “Showroom” is kind of a generous description for spaces crammed with rolling racks of new arrivals and stuff in the works.  People are rushing around with racks and boxes full of shipment. Every showroom has a bowl of M&Ms.  Most of these “brands” are really acting as the middle man between factories overseas and the boutiques and retailers that shop there.  In my early days at Modcloth, a big chunk of business at the Mart was coming from Forever 21.  In fact, that’s where a lot of the early Forever 21 inventory came from. But over time Forever 21 elected to cut out the middle man (meaning these showrooms at the Mart) and go factory direct for lower prices, more selection, more exclusivity, and faster delivery).


I found a great 2018 WWD about one showroom, Honeypunch,  that made the leap from the Mart to actual brand.  I don’t think that’s still happening for them because the IG hasn’t been updated since 2019, but I remember Honeypunch well.  We bought from them at both Modcloth and Nasty Gal.  And I knew back then that they were doing a bunch of private label stuff for Need Supply (RIP). Basically manufacturing stuff for Need Supply but rather than sewing in Honeypunch labels, the labels had the names of Need Supply’s new “house brand.”


Marina Chianese, Honeypunch’s VP of Sales told WWD, “San Pedro, downtown was like a secret to some people and not everybody knew that and the people who knew about it were killing it and making a lot of money because the consumer had no idea what that San Pedro cash-and-carry business was. So buyers would fly down, fill up their stores, go back and make a lot of money on this stuff.…You had all of these Korean-owned brands that were from here. They started doing the trade shows and that educated the buyers all over the country, ‘Oh, these brands are something’ and then they all started buying it.”


So who shopped at the Mart? Boutique owners for one.  Boutique owners from all over would fly down to LA, go to the Mart, and buy a few months worth of inventory on the spot.  Other shopkeepers would go to MAGIC–the big fashion trade show that happens twice in a year in Vegas–and place the orders with these Mart brands there.  And in the years that I was working for Modcloth and Nasty Gal, more and more of these online-only retailers were shopping there in a major way: Lulus, Dolls Kill, Modcloth, Nasty Gal.  The Mart was great for these smaller online retailers who needed a ton of newness all the time, but didn’t have the buying power or budget for a full on design team.


And this Mart clothing was profitable. Why? Because customers just couldn’t google it and find it for a cheaper price. This meant that we could charge as much as we wanted for it! At both Modcloth and Nasty Gal, everything we bought and sold came from three different sources:

  • In-house designed product: This was our least profitable product because we had the expense of a full design and production team. It also had the longest timeline, with many stages along the way for concept creation, sketch review, sample review, and fittings. We’re talking months, 3-6 months usually.
  • Branded product: this would be stuff that came from outside brands that were “real” brands: For Love & Lemons, Sister Jane, Lazy Oaf, Unif. This stuff was not incredibly profitable for us.  Why? Because we couldn’t charge more than anyone else for it and the markup wasn’t great. Furthermore, we had to mark it down at the same time as every other retailer to ensure that we weren’t stuck with it. The assistant buyers took turns every week googling each item to see if it was on sale anywhere else.
  • And then…stuff from the Mart.  Most of these bore the labels of the original brand (like Hot and Delicious or Honeypunch) but some of it was private label, meaning it would have a Modcloth or Nasty Gal label sewn into it.  This stuff was so profitable and so plentiful, that it really propped up the rest of our business. We actually had goals in terms of how much we had to buy from the Mart each month.  And so at both Modcloth and Nasty Gal–this part of our business became bigger and bigger. We had a lot of bestsellers from the Mart, which we would recolor, offer in new prints, or create updates of down the road. The quality was mixed–TBH the stuff we chose at Nasty Gal was always worse quality than the items we chose at Modcloth–and the sizing was often very limited, usually XS-L or S-L. But you could find ANYTHING at the Mart: clothes, lingerie, shoes, accessories, jewelry, cosmetics, and home goods.


A typical trip to the Mart meant walking around—often for a full 8 hour day–from showroom to showroom, looking at the new arrivals. You might find half a dozen new styles at this one, twenty at the next, and so on.  After a while, it would start to feel kinda boring, as you saw essentially the same thing over and over again. At that point, pricing becomes the deciding factor: who has the lowest cost. Still, we would trudge along, visiting 20, 30, or more places in one day. Each visit just a quick pop in to browse the racks, and then off to the next spot. The vendors would drop off samples of everything at our office the next day and we would make our picks.  We might be sifting through 100-200 different items, trying to find the best ones.  Then we would write the orders and they would deliver a few weeks later.  We did this at least once a week, if not more. 


The San Pedro Apparel Mart still exists and I still see “brands” I recognize from there in just about every boutique I visit.  There are online retailers who sell exclusively product from the Mart, like Dressed in Lala. 

And over time, online platforms arose that made it easier for online retailers and boutiques alike to order these “brands” directly, either from the vendors in the Mart or directly from the factory.  


Story about job interview

One last thing that I want to call out here: we already know that clothing manufacturing is really opaque…like most companies have no idea who is making the stuff they sell, much less the working conditions of the people making these clothes.  At least when we were making stuff using our in-house production team, they had an idea of who was closest to the factory because we were working with the agent who was kinda the middle man of it all.  Working via the Mart made it even more confusing, because often the people we worked with in those showrooms had no idea who was making the clothes, either. So we had even less visibility. There were like three more people standing between us and the factory. Some of this stuff may have been made in LA, but most of it was probably made overseas. We had no idea. And any brand or boutique who is selling these items to you, doesn’t know either, no matter how good their intentions might be.  


Making the fast fashion model profitable is all about saving every penny anywhere you can. We’ve already seen that play out in a lot of ways:


  • Squeezing factories on cost
  • Underpaying everyone involved in making, selling, and shipping the stuff we buy.
  • Cutting the quality and fit of every item.
  • And spoiler: this is going to get worse as we get closer to 2020 (just wait).


It was hard to see how anyone could make things faster or cheaper.  I mean Zara was literally finishing garments on ships as they crossed the Pacific Ocean. Everything else was shipping on airplanes. 


How could it possibly be faster and cheaper?


What if you could get closer to the factory…or maybe even OWN it?

The story of the Kamani family is often lauded by British tabloids as a “rag to riches” story.  A “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” story come true.


The patriarch of the family, 55 year old Mahmud Kamani, is worth more than $1 billion, thanks to the wild success of his retail company, Boohoo. He got his start in sort of the UK version of the San Pedro Apparel Mart system, selling low price clothing to stall vendors and high-street brands like H&M and Primark.  But he wondered, how profitable could clothing be if you cut out the middle man and just sold directly to the customers? After all, he was selling these clothes at 25-50% of their retail value. What if he could sell them for 100% of the retail value?


He and designer Carol Kane founded Boohoo in 2006.  And Boohoo from moment one was all about being the fastest and cheapest: launching about 3,000 items each week, with an average retail price of $17. It’s infamous for its 1 pound (the currency, not the weight) bikini.  And its partnership with influencers and Love Island.


In many ways, what Boohoo was doing wasn’t much different than anything anyone else on the fast fashion landscape was doing: selling lots of new stuff at low prices. But what made it more successful than its competitors was the speed! While Zara could bring stuff from mere concept to inventory in stores in about six weeks (which is wildly fast), Boohoo could do it in TWO WEEKS.  This my friends, is fast fashion 2.0, a somewhat short lived and highly shady business model that SPOILER: involves a lot of forced labor, wage theft, and exposure to Covid.

Everything Boohoo sold was designed in house in their headquarters in Manchester (where it was also photographed and launched on the site) and most of the product was produced about 100 miles away in Leicester. Boohoo was saving so much time (and money) by not shipping the product overseas. Anything that wasn’t made in Leicester was made in London or Manchester.


Of course, there is a reason why very little fast fashion is made in the US or the UK, and that is price. These countries have a higher minimum wage that cannot compete with the minimum wages of Bangladesh and China (also: the US and the UK have more intense laws protecting workers).  Yet somehow Boohoo was able to make this work, growing at an exponential rate while supposedly being super profitable. It acquired other brands, like Pretty Little Thing, Coast, and even…Nasty Gal!


Industry publications cited Boohoo as this genius company, that was able to somehow (magically) produce tons of product domestically and still sell at low prices.  I don’t know why anyone thought that made sense? But by 2019, about 80% of its inventory was being produced in Leicester.  Meanwhile (and once again, no one seemed to question this for a while) competitors like Asos and Missguided had pulled out of factories in Leicester over concerns of unsafe working conditions, tax fraud, forced labor, and illegally low wages. 


Well, I said no one was questioning it, but actually more and more people were starting to question how Boohoo could make so much product, so cheaply, and so fast and still adhere to labor laws. Well that’s because they weren’t! 


If you’re unfamiliar with Leicester as a big clothing manufacturing hub, don’t feel bad because you would only know if you were really deep into this stuff and/or had read as many articles about Boohoo as I have over the years.


I found a great Financial Times article about the issues with clothing production in Leicester, which I will share in the show notes, but I’m also going to read you a few bits from it.  The title itself tells you a lot about what you will find as you read it: Dark factories: labour exploitation in Britain’s garment industry:


How is it possible to make cheap clothes in a country where the minimum wage for over-25s is £7.83 an hour? Online retailers’ nimbleness and lower overheads allow them to pay more for products while still giving consumers a good price. In addition, there are manufacturers that use technology to make clothes more efficiently. But factory owners in Leicester say some take a different route, one more reminiscent of the 19th century than the 21st. They call these places “dark factories.”


Part of Leicester’s garment industry has become detached from UK employment law, “a country within a country”, as one factory owner puts it, where “£5 an hour is considered the top wage”, even though that is illegal. Doshi (not his real name) says he has worked in places with blocked fire escapes, old machines and no holiday or sick pay. There are garment factories that follow the law, but a “perceived culture of impunity”, as a 2018 government report puts it, has created a bizarre microeconomy where larger factories using machines are outcompeted by smaller rivals using underpaid humans.

And while some retailers blame unethical factory owners, the factories say retail’s relentless push for cheap prices makes it impossible to improve. 


Perhaps the strangest thing about this labour exploitation is that it is an open secret. Central government knows; local government knows; retailers know. “When I came to the UK and I discovered what was going on in Leicester, it was mind-blowing,” says Anders Kristiansen, who was chief executive of high-street retailer New Look from 2013 until September last year. “This is happening in front of your eyes and nobody’s doing anything?!” he remembers thinking. “How can society accept it — not even society, how can government accept it? It’s so sad, I’ve not spoken about it for a long time because it frustrated me so much.”


Seriously, go read this article because it talks about all of the external factors that are allowing this situation to continue: pressure for low prices from retailers, consumer pressure for low cost clothing, the government sort of overlooking it to protect jobs…


Ultimately, Boohoo was busted a bunch of times around 2020 when news emerged that the factories it was using were forcing employees to work without covid protections in place, even if they were sick, and for paying below minimum wage or straight up committing wage theft and using forced labor.


Every time one of these revelations would emerge, Boohoo would kinda be like “oh, we didn’t know.” But here’s the thing: Boohoo does know in one way or another. They want product so fast that workers can’t socially distance themselves or take sick time. They want product so cheap that factories can only pay workers below minimum wage or commit wage theft. By asking for so much, so cheap, and so fast, they are complicit in the abuse of the humans making their stuff. And they know it.  Last year, Boohoo finally bought its own factory in Leicester of course…and made a lot of promises to do better from a human rights and workers rights perspective. I’m not so sure they can make that work without raising prices. 


Furthermore, their sales were not good for 2022 and 2023, and they are dealing with a ton of returns cutting into their profit margin.  They are promising a better year by cutting costs, which Hmmm, I don’t know about that. My guess is that they are figuring out that their business model can never successfully involve ethical domestic production. 

Which brings me to the US version of fast fashion 2.0: Fashion Nova.   A glowing 2019 piece on website Edited declared “There’s fast, then there’s Fashion Nova fast.” 

Fashion Nova–based in LA–can design a product and have a sample within the same 24 hours. Within the next 24 hours, it is photographed on a model and launched on the site.


Fashion Nova–get ready for a familiar story here, or at least a story filled with intense foreboding–relies on a network of 1000 manufacturers in LA to make most of its product.  This domestic manufacturing means that product can be available for sale in just a few days after it is a mere concept.


Fashion Nova is all about cheap, new and fast, just like Boohoo.  And also like Boohoo, it relies heavily on social media marketing and partnerships with celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B.


The brand was founded in 2006 by Richard Saghian, and yeah, in case you were wondering, he’s a billionaire now.  In an interview in 2018, he declared that $200 jeans were over, saying of his customer, “They need to buy a lot of different styles and probably only wear them a couple times so their Instagram feeds can stay fresh.”  The jeans that sold best for Fashion Nova at that time? They retailed for $24.99


Now–much like with Boohoo–we have to ask ourselves: how could someone make jeans in LA that sell for $24.99 and are profitable enough to make a billionaire out of the founder of the company in a relatively short period of time? Like, the math just doesn’t math, right? Because the minimum wage in California is $15.50. Labor costs more money there, period.  And all of the fabric and trims would have to be imported from overseas, which adds a lot of cost, too. So how is  this working out?


Well surprise, surprise…it’s not working out!  In 2019, the US Labor Department revealed the findings of an investigation it had been working on since 2016: Fashion Nova owed more than $3.8 million in back wages to the workers making its clothing during the period from 2016-2019. 

The factories that Fashion Nova was using were paying their workers as little as $2.77 per hour to make clothing.


Of course representatives for Fashion Nova feigned shock over this revelation, but c’mon…when you’re asking for prices so low, you are knowingly asking for people to not be paid. Or work in unsafe conditions. Or work too many hours.  And Fashion Nova could have at any time visited any of the facilities where their clothing was being made, to ensure that everything was on the up and up.  After all, it wasn’t like they had to get on a plane to see the people making their clothes. They could literally catch a ride across town!


Fashion Nova has promised to do better in the future and claims to back legislation that will ensure garment workers in LA are paid the minimum wage (at minimum). It also started a toll free hotline that workers can call to report wage theft.  But it still remains kinda sketchy.  This year, it was fined $4.2 million by the Federal Trade Commission for blocking/deleting negative product reviews on its website.  And customers who bought these poorly reviewed products can be reimbursed via the fund created by that fine.

So what have we learned so far?

  • Fast fashion 1.0 and 2.0 are very similar in many ways, most notably that both versions of the business model kinda buy and sell product the old fashioned way: the company places an order, the product arrives in its warehouse, and then it is shipped out to customers or stores from there.  
  • What makes fast fashion 2.0 faster is the quicker turnaround time in production, from Zara’s six weeks to the 2 weeks (or less) time frame of Fashion Nova and Boohoo.
  • These companies were able to pull off this short time frame because they produced domestically. But that became problematic because the low prices they offer customers don’t make sense when you have to pay the legal minimum wage in LA or the UK. So naturally, that didn’t go well.


This opens the door for fast fashion 3.0, which will figure out how to make the math math with a very short timeline and low low prices.  And we are going to get into that next week. We’ll be talking about the wall that fast fashion hit in the years leading up to 2020, and all the things they tried to get us to buy more stuff: greenwashing, cause marketing, rental, resale, and so much more. And then we’ll brace ourselves for the arrival of the Shein business model. And we’ll talk about the implications that fast fashion 3.0 has for all of us, regardless of where we live, how much money we have, or what we wear on our bodies.


I’ve been making Clotheshorse for more than three years now. And sometimes I’ve had to cover some really grim, depressing, infuriating, frustrating, depressing things. It’s a lot of work and to be honest, this work occupies a big portion of my time each day.

So why do I do that when I could be rewatching Strange New Worlds and finally learning how to crochet? 

Because we have to talk about fast fashion (and once again, it’s really “fast everything.”)

Forget “have to,” it’s more like we must talk about fast fashion.

It’s never just clothes or shopping.  In this real life version of Mall Madness that we’re all playing, we are in the midst of an environmental and human rights disaster, that would only get worse if we ignore it.

The fashion and retail industry intersects with so many important issues:

environmental and social justice

climate change

the global plastic pollution crisis (remember, 65% of clothes made and sold right now are made of synthetic fibers aka plastic)

workers rights

income inequality

water consumption and pollution

and so much more!

Sure it’s a lot to think about. It’s a lot to tackle.  It would be way easier to say “oh, well there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism so I’m gonna go ahead and just keep doing what i’m doing” or “my impact will never be as huge as Amazon” or “sorry, don’t put the responsibility on individuals.”  And just carry on as normal.

Or we could just pretend we don’t know what’s happening and just carry on.

But when we ignore it, things get worse.  We can’t let big business or the fashion industry operate on the honor system—without our involvement—because it just doesn’t work.  That’s how you get to where we are now.

Here’s the magic about talking about fast fashion: when you talk to the people in your life about it, they start talking to other people they know. And those people talk to the people they know. And it spreads and spreads.  When a lot of people are talking about it, major change starts to happen, via both government policy and the rise of new social trends involving a shift in our consumption habits.  But nothing happens if we don’t talk about it. Nothing ever changes because no one ever knows. No one is talking. 

When we aren’t talking about it, people assume we don’t care, that it’s no big deal.

So talk about it! And don’t be afraid to be repetitive, because humans generally need to hear things a few times before it really sinks in. And share your own personal stories. Sharing our personal stories allows others to see the true impact of fast fashion, and it helps them understand how it impacts them. Our personal stories unlock doors and open ears. That’s why I share so much about my own experiences working in the industry, from my early days as a retail sales associate, through all of my years working in buying.   

Studies have shown that when we are telling a story, our brain waves start to synchronize with the listeners.  And that’s how true connections are built. Our experiences and stories build trust, evoke emotion, and get change started! 

So talk about fast fashion with everyone you know. I know I’ll be continuing to do it!


Want to Support Amanda's Work on Clotheshorse?

If you want to share your opinion/additional thoughts on the subjects we cover in each episode, feel free to email, whether it’s a typed out message or an audio recording:  [email protected]

Clotheshorse is brought to you with support from the following sustainable small businesses:

Thumbprint is Detroit’s only fair trade marketplace, located in the historic Eastern Market.  Our small business specializes in products handmade by empowered women in South Africa making a living wage creating things they love like hand painted candles and ceramics! We also carry a curated assortment of  sustainable/natural locally made goods. Thumbprint is a great gift destination for both the special people in your life and for yourself! Browse our online store at thumbprintdetroit.com and find us on instagram @thumbprintdetroit.

Picnicwear:  a slow fashion brand, ethically made by hand from vintage and deadstock materials – most notably, vintage towels! Founder, Dani, has worked in the industry as a fashion designer for over 10 years, but started Picnicwear in response to her dissatisfaction with the industry’s shortcomings. Picnicwear recently moved to rural North Carolina where all their clothing and accessories are now designed and cut, but the majority of their sewing is done by skilled garment workers in NYC. Their customers take comfort in knowing that all their sewists are paid well above NYC minimum wage. Picnicwear offers minimal waste and maximum authenticity: Future Vintage over future garbage.

Shift Clothing, out of beautiful Astoria, Oregon, with a focus on natural fibers, simple hardworking designs, and putting fat people first.  Discover more at shiftwheeler.com

High Energy Vintage is a fun and funky vintage shop located in Somerville, MA, just a few minutes away from downtown Boston. They offer a highly curated selection of bright and colorful clothing and accessories from the 1940s-1990s for people of all genders. Husband-and-wife duo Wiley & Jessamy handpick each piece for quality and style, with a focus on pieces that transcend trends and will find a home in your closet for many years to come! In addition to clothing, the shop also features a large selection of vintage vinyl and old school video games. Find them on instagram @ highenergyvintage, online at highenergyvintage.com, and at markets in and around Boston.

St. Evens is an NYC-based vintage shop that is dedicated to bringing you those special pieces you’ll reach for again and again. More than just a store, St. Evens is dedicated to sharing the stories and history behind the garments. 10% of all sales are donated to a different charitable organization each month.  New vintage is released every Thursday at wearStEvens.com, with previews of new pieces and more brought to you on Instagram at @wear_st.evens.

Deco Denim is a startup based out of San Francisco, selling clothing and accessories that are sustainable, gender fluid, size inclusive and high quality–made to last for years to come. Deco Denim is trying to change the way you think about buying clothes. Founder Sarah Mattes wants to empower people to ask important questions like, “Where was this made? Was this garment made ethically? Is this fabric made of plastic? Can this garment be upcycled and if not, can it be recycled?” Signup at decodenim.com to receive $20 off your first purchase. They promise not to spam you and send out no more than 3 emails a month, with 2 of them surrounding education or a personal note from the Founder. Find them on Instagram as @deco.denim.

The Pewter Thimble Is there a little bit of Italy in your soul? Are you an enthusiast of pre-loved decor and accessories? Bring vintage Italian style — and history — into your space with The Pewter Thimble (@thepewterthimble). We source useful and beautiful things, and mend them where needed. We also find gorgeous illustrations, and make them print-worthy. Tarot cards, tea towels and handpicked treasures, available to you from the comfort of your own home. Responsibly sourced from across Rome, lovingly renewed by fairly paid artists and artisans, with something for every budget. Discover more at thepewterthimble.com

Blank Cass, or Blanket Coats by Cass, is focused on restoring, renewing, and reviving the history held within vintage and heirloom textiles. By embodying and transferring the love, craft, and energy that is original to each vintage textile into a new garment, I hope we can reteach ourselves to care for and mend what we have and make it last. Blank Cass lives on Instagram @blank_cass and a website will be launched soon at blankcass.com.

Gabriela Antonas is a visual artist, an upcycler, and a fashion designer, but Gabriela Antonas is also a feminist micro business with radical ideals. She’s the one woman band, trying to help you understand, why slow fashion is what the earth needs. If you find your self in New Orleans, LA, you may buy her ready-to-wear upcycled garments in person at the store “Slow Down” (2855 Magazine St). Slow Down Nola only sells vintage and slow fashion from local designers. Gabriela’s garments are guaranteed to be in stock in person, but they also have a website so you may support this women owned and run business from wherever you are! If you are interested in Gabriela making a one of a kind garment for you DM her on Instagram at @slowfashiongabriela to book a consultation.

Vagabond Vintage DTLV is a vintage clothing, accessories & decor reselling business based in Downtown Las Vegas. Not only do we sell in Las Vegas, but we are also located throughout resale markets in San Francisco as well as at a curated boutique called Lux and Ivy located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jessica, the founder & owner of Vagabond Vintage DTLV, recently opened the first IRL location located in the Arts District of Downtown Las Vegas on August 5th. The shop has a strong emphasis on 60s & 70s garments, single stitch tee shirts & dreamy loungewear. Follow them on instagram, @vagabondvintage.dtlv and keep an eye out for their website coming fall of 2022.

Country Feedback is a mom & pop record shop in Tarboro, North Carolina. They specialize in used rock, country, and soul and offer affordable vintage clothing and housewares. Do you have used records you want to sell? Country Feedback wants to buy them! Find us on Instagram @countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl or head downeast and visit our brick and mortar. All are welcome at this inclusive and family-friendly record shop in the country!

Located in Whistler, Canada, Velvet Underground is a “velvet jungle” full of vintage and second-hand clothes, plants, a vegan cafe and lots of rad products from other small sustainable businesses. Our mission is to create a brand and community dedicated to promoting self-expression, as well as educating and inspiring a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle both for the people and the planet. Find us on Instagram @shop_velvetunderground or online at www.shopvelvetunderground.com

Selina Sanders, a social impact brand that specializes in up-cycled clothing, using only reclaimed, vintage or thrifted materials: from tea towels, linens, blankets and quilts.  Sustainably crafted in Los Angeles, each piece is designed to last in one’s closet for generations to come.  Maximum Style; Minimal Carbon Footprint.

Salt Hats:  purveyors of truly sustainable hats. Hand blocked, sewn and embellished in Detroit, Michigan.

Republica Unicornia Yarns: Hand-Dyed Yarn and notions for the color-obsessed. Made with love and some swearing in fabulous Atlanta, Georgia by Head Yarn Wench Kathleen. Get ready for rainbows with a side of Giving A Damn! Republica Unicornia is all about making your own magic using small-batch, responsibly sourced, hand-dyed yarns and thoughtfully made notions. Slow fashion all the way down and discover the joy of creating your very own beautiful hand knit, crocheted, or woven pieces. Find us on Instagram @republica_unicornia_yarns and at www.republicaunicornia.com.

Cute Little Ruin is an online shop dedicated to providing quality vintage and secondhand clothing, vinyl, and home items in a wide range of styles and price points.  If it’s ethical and legal, we try to find a new home for it!  Vintage style with progressive values.  Find us on Instagram at @CuteLittleRuin.