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US 'fast fashion' trend losing ground with consumers, ISU
May '11
Elena Karpova says U.S. consumers are increasingly interested in "fast fashion" -- more frequent replacement of inexpensive clothes that become obsolete several weeks after they're purchased. And the Iowa State University apparel, educational studies and hospitality management assistant professor reports that the U.S. apparel industry has responded in kind with its product lines.

But according to a new study that Karpova collaborated on with ISU graduate student Juyoung (Jill) Lee, the U.S. industry's fast fashion focus has resulted in diminishing returns on market share -- both at home, and abroad in Japan.

"These findings confirm empirically what scholars have been speculating about," Karpova said. "There was a very strong push in the 1980s from the apparel industry and associated interest groups to make American consumers buy 'Made in the USA' apparel. The industry went this route in the hope that U.S. consumers would support the industry. And they didn't. They just didn't see value when they compared the quality of U.S. apparel with imports."

Lee and Karpova's study, "The U.S. and Japanese apparel demand conditions: implications for industry competitiveness," appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management. The ISU researchers used government trade and consumption data from 1995-2004 from both countries in their analysis.

Price-conscious consumers shape U.S. market
Based on calculated price and income elasticities, they report that price sensitivity of U.S. consumers shaped the nation's apparel domestic market to keep product price low rather than increase its quality with respective price. They found that U.S. consumers were primarily price-conscious in purchasing clothes. By contrast, Japanese consumers increased their purchases of higher quality, domestically produced apparel, but decreased the purchase of low quality imported apparel when its price increased.

Census data shows that domestic output of U.S. apparel producers dropped by 40 percent between 1995 and 2004, even though the overall market expanded -- fueled by a 50 percent increase in imports. At the same time, the Japanese market shrank by 50 percent, but Japanese apparel firms held their domestic market share during that decrease. Lee says the U.S. now ranks third among apparel importers to the country.

The researchers contend that the U.S. apparel industry's focus on lower quality, low cost clothes -- an attempt to compete with inexpensive imports -- was a reason for decreasing industry competitiveness amid a booming U.S. market.

"I think because U.S. consumers have been price conscious, they generated the whole trend in the industry called 'fast fashion,'" Karpova said. "American consumers want styles to change quickly and they want to see new merchandise in their favorite stores almost every week -- and at affordable prices. And that has meant that U.S. companies producelower quality items that last a shorter period of time."

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