Can it adapt to changing times?

Executive Summary

The global fashion business is going through a period of intense change and competition, with disruption coming in many colors: global online marketplaces, slower growth, more startups and consumers who now seem bored by what once excited them. Many U.S. shoppers have grown tired of buying Prada and Chanel suits and prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than clothes. Questions about fashion companies’ labor and environmental practices are leading to new policies, although some critics remain unconvinced. Fashion still relies on creativity, innovation and consumer attention, some of which comes from technology and some from celebrities.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • High-fashion brands must now compete with “fast fashion,” apparel sold on eBay and vintage sites.

  • Risk factors for fashion companies include China’s growth slowdown, reduced global trade, Brexit, terrorist attacks and erratic commodity prices.

  • Plus-size women are a growing segment of the market, yet critics say designers are ignoring them.

Looks like you do not have access to this content.

Please login or find out how to gain access.




Agins, Teri, “Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers,” Avery, 2014. A fashion writer explores the growth of celebrity fashion brands and their impact—much of it negative—on the rest of the business.

Callahan, Maureen, “Champagne Supernovas: Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the ‘90s Renegades who Remade Fashion,” Touchstone, 2015. A journalist explores a “creative brew of art, decadence and genius” at a defining moment in the industry as change blows hard through fashion.

Chaney, Lisa, “Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life,” Viking, 2011. This biography goes beyond the creative business person to profile a woman who feels love, loss and the sting of changing expectations and economic conditions.

Cline, Elizabeth L., “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” Portfolio, 2013. Fast fashion leads to overfull closets and enormous waste, according to a journalist, who looks at how and why this is happening.


Bernard, Katherine, “Paris Couture Week Cheat Sheet: A Fashion Dictionary from Atelier to Pret,” Vogue, July 9, 2014, This article provides details on some mostly French words of fashion and what they mean today.

Binkley, Christina, “Why Do Women Spend Less on Fashion after 45?” The Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2016, Women in prime earning years, who are often ignored by fashion brands, can find advice and apparel on a new website, Appré

Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly, “A Brief History of Unisex Fashion,” The Atlantic, April 14, 2015, From ponchos to jumpsuits to tuxedoes, fashion starting in the 1960s generated styles for his and hers—and theirs.

Daneshkhu, Scheherazada, and Mark Vandevelde, “Clothes buying goes out of fashion in the UK,” The Financial Times, Sept. 24, 2016, In Great Britain, shoppers are no longer wowed by fashion clothing and sales have slumped.

Givhan, Robin, “Luxury fashion brands are going green. But why are they keeping it a secret?” The Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2015, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other high-end fashion brands adopt environmental-friendly practices—quietly.

Givhan, Robin, “New York fashion exhibit examines the influence of gay designers,” The Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2013, An exhibit in New York City examines the influence and history of gay fashion designers from the 1800s to now.

Gunn, Tim, “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace,” The Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2016, The co-host of Project Runway explores the huge hole in fashion: a lack of appealing clothing for larger women.

Holmes, Elizabeth, “Where Luxury Fashion Is a High Speed, High Volume Business,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26, 2016, At Farfetch, speed and efficiency are in fashion at its photo studios.

Kowsmann, Patricia, “Fast Fashion: How a Zara Coat Went from Design to Fifth Avenue in 25 Days,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 6, 2016, An article gives a detailed look at how Zara discovers new fashion ideas and executes them, much faster than its competitors.

Trebay, Guy, “Why Is the Men’s Fashion Industry in Such Turmoil?” The New York Times, April 13, 2016, Top designers are leaving or are being forced out of several men’s fashion houses, as suits fall out of favor and men get creative in dressing.

Wicker, Alden, “Fast Fashion Is Creating an Environmental Crisis,” Newsweek, Sept. 1, 2016, The rapid rise in fast fashion means a huge glut of used clothing heading into landfills or resold in Eastern Europe or Africa.

Zargani, Luisa, “Miuccia Prada Talks Men’s Wear, Revolution and History,” Women’s Wear Daily, March 23, 2016, Prada gives a long interview on fashion’s relevance, history and political role.

Reports and Studies

“Fashion,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2012, The government provides an array of data on the global fashion industry, the cities where employment is concentrated and spending on fashion.

“Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study, fall winter 2016,” Bain & Company, 2016, The consultancy delivers its annual global report on luxury goods, from cars to travel to clothing and accessories.

“Wages and Working Hours in the Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Footwear Industries,” International Labour Organization, September 2014, This international report looks at where textiles and clothing are produced, top export countries and employment and wages.

Amed, Imran, et al., “The state of fashion,” McKinsey & Company, December 2016, The consulting firm looks at the challenges, trends and growing sectors of fashion, based in part on a survey of fashion executives.

Bennie, Fionna, Ivana Gazibara and Vicky Murray, “Fashion Futures 2015: Global Scenarios for a Sustainable Fashion Industry,” Forum on the Future, February 2010, A report gives four very different future scenarios on fashion, based on different views of socio-economic trends.

Raustiala, Kal, and Christopher Springman, “The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design,” Virginia Law Review, December 2006, Unlike science and film, fashion accepts copying and piracy as a way of life; yet it continues to innovate. This paper looks at that paradox.

The Next Step

Embracing Disruption

Cartner-Morley, Jess, “Karl Lagerfeld electrifies Chanel by embracing digital disruption,” The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2016, Chanel’s creative director Karl Lagerfeld used the fashion house’s Paris fashion week show to make a statement about the fashion industry’s relationship with technology, specifically with data centers and servers.

Laws, Nancy, “Can This New Industry Disrupt Fast Fashion?” The Huffington Post, March 2, 2016, A new industry, “Agile Retail,” emerging in the fashion world will see companies doing online-only sales, using smart data to predict and target trends and producing and distributing in-house.

Task, Aaron, “How Rebecca Minkoff Keeps Disrupting the Fashion Industry,” Fortune, Sept. 6, 2016, Designer Rebecca Minkoff has used technology to disrupt the fashion industry, including broadcasting her show in virtual reality and introducing a “buy now, wear now” format.

Online Buying Economy

Chambers, Sam, “Faster Than Zara? Boohoo’s Online Fashion Fuels 260% Return,” Bloomberg, Dec. 28, 2016, Online fast fashion retailer’s shares increased about 260 percent in 2016.

Halzack, Sarah, “Online shopping grows robustly during the holiday season,” The Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2017, Retailers increased holiday sales by 11 percent in 2016 from the previous year, bringing in $91.7 billion in digital sales.

Wolfe, Nandini, “Shopping for Vintage Fashion: How the Internet Has Transformed It,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2017, The vintage fashion industry has found renewed success on e-commerce sites that market directly to secondhand clothing consumers.

Sustainable Brands

Bhasin, Kim, “The Future of Fashion Is Mushroom Leather,” Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec. 22, 2016, The chief executive of Kering, which owns 16 fashion brands, is on a mission to make his company more sustainable through a set of goals to address the supply chain, the use of new biotechnology and eliminating some toxic chemicals.

Christian, Scott, “Can H&M Really Make Fast Fashion Sustainable?” Esquire, Dec. 20, 2016, Fast fashion brand H&M has begun collecting unwanted clothes from its stores to “create a closed loop for textiles” so they can be made into new ones, in the company’s latest effort to be more sustainable.

Harilela, Divia, “How Mongolian cashmere is helping sustainable fashion,” South China Morning Post, Dec. 13, 2016, A collaboration between luxury brand Maiyet and four Chinese designers seeks to raise awareness about issues in fashion production through its capsule collections, which use the world’s only certified, ethical and environmentally sustainable cashmere yarn.

Trending in 2017

Friedman, Vanessa, “What to Watch for in Fashion in 2017,” The New York Times, Jan. 3, 2017, There will be upheaval on the runways, changes in the style of D.C.’s powerful elite and lots of cultural action off the runways, according to a reporter from The New York Times.

Munzenrieder, Kyle, “The ‘80s Will Be The Biggest Trend of 2017, For Better or Worse,” W Magazine, Dec. 13, 2016, Two analytical trend forecasts predict that 2017 fashion will be all about 1980s styles, including mules, political t-shirts and ruffles.

Yotka, Steff, “Meet the People, Trends, and Items That Will Rule Fashion in 2017,” Vogue, Dec. 28, 2016, Athluxury will take over athleisure, shades of pink will be hot on the catwalk and phone cases are the new must-have accessory for the New Year, according to Vogue’s fashion news editor.


American Apparel & Footwear Association
740 6th St., N.W., 3rd and 4th Floors, Washington, DC 20001
Trade association for 1,000 brands, providing professional development, best practices and intelligence on global apparel trends.

Clean Clothes Campaign
Postbus 11584 1001 GN, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Researches and campaigns to improve conditions for garment workers by bringing together companies, unions and non-government organizations.

Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)
65 Bleecker, Floor 11, New York, NY 10012
Influential organization that grants awards, runs a fashion incubator and supports the growth of the American fashion business.

Ethical Fashion Forum
50 Brook Street, London, W1K 5DR
Gathers best practices and information for ethical choices in fashion sourcing, manufacturing and more.

Fair Wear Foundation
World Fashion Centre, Koningin Wilhelminaplein 13, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Works with factories, non-government organizations, unions and brands to improve working conditions in apparel factories. Gives a Best Practices award to clothing company at annual conference.

The Fashion Group International
8 W. 40th St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10018
Established in 1930 by prominent women in the fashion business, it focuses on fashion business and careers with chapters in many cities.

The Fashion Jewelry & Accessories Trade Association
25 Sea Grass Way, N. Kingstown, RI 02852
Represents 225 member companies that make, supply and retail jewelry and accessories and “bring science to bear on regulatory issues.”

Fashion Revolution
19 Dig St., Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 1GF UK
Nonprofit organization that seeks to support better fashion jobs and create more sustainable practices.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680302.n1