What Does Topshop's Voluntary Administration Say About The Future Of Fast Fashion?

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 weeks ago | Features

Image: Lily Jean Harvey in Topshop’s Spring 2017 campaign. Image source

This week one of the world’s major fast fashion retailers has gone into administration in Australia, which could mark the beginning of the end for fast fashion. Despite turning over $90 million dollars a year, Topshop announced its voluntary administration last week, after failing to rectify its slide into multi-million dollar loss-making territory. Although administrators say the retailer will continue to trade on Australian shores for the time being, a restructure is currently in the works and the future of Topshop hangs in the balance.

All of which seems like a pretty far cry from the “great fanfare” to which Topshop first opened its doors on Melbourne’s Chapel Street back in 2011. Hilton Seskin — who brought the brand to Australia — described this launch as Topshop’s most successful franchise opening ever. And that buzz was sustained for a little while, too, as a subsequent Sydney launch continued to garner queues around the block. But retail analyst Peter Ryan says he could have predicted the brand’s Australian demise.

“Topshop has never really translated well outside of the UK,” Ryan explains. But even more than this, he says, the retailer’s “substandard” product quality is also to blame. Because this is something he believes that other fast fashion retailers are doing better than the UK giant. Then again though, Topshop’s decreasing popularity could also have something to do with greater customer fatigue over fast fashion in general.

Topshop has nine stand-alone stores and 17 Myer concession outlets in Australia, which means that it’s had “plenty of coverage” in prime, high-traffic locations. So why is this not converting into sales then? According to Myer’s most recent financial results, Topshop/Topman’s earnings have fallen by $3 million — which is a fact that’s likely to make the department store rather concerned, considering it owns a 25% stake in Topshop Australia. What’s more, the Topshop announcement follows a number of other folded retailer shocks in the last 12 months, including those of Herringbone, Marcs, David Lawrence, Pumpkin Patch and Payless Shoes.

So could the tide really be turning on fast fashion then? There is certainly more information available now than ever about the negative impacts fast fashion can have on both people and the environment. So it’s difficult to ignore a sort of pattern emerging here. And, as the ABC’s recent series War on Waste illuminates, Australians are the world's second largest consumers of textiles, so there’s no time like the present to start addressing our consumption habits then.

Perhaps Topshop’s Australian demise is just the beginning. While Peter Ryan believes that other fast fashion majors like Zara are doing better in the quality department, it may only be a matter of time before they too come under fire. And if we think of Australia as the smaller test market (a market that’s generally pretty well-informed as far as ethical considerations go), other nations may be quick to follow. Unquestionably, there has been a recent groundswell towards more responsible consumption of late.

Take the Business of Fashion’s State of Fashion Report 2017, for example, which found that one of the key upward-moving trends in consumer behaviour right now is an increasing tendency towards responsibility. In fact, 65% of shoppers in new markets now actively seek out sustainability as a value factor. Of course disposable fashion was never going to go away overnight, so this ethical trend is still unfortunately competing with a very fierce and prevalent discount culture. But if Topshop’s Australian demise is anything to go by, it could only be a matter of time before other fast fashion giants start to follow in their cheaply made footsteps.  

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