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How FOMO is fuelling fast fashion

Alistair Macauley, senior lecturer within Leeds Business School, is an expert in retail management, manufacturing and supply chains. Fashion one of many business sectors he explores with his students, and it’s an industry of major importance when trying to address climate change.

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Alistair Macauley

Our desire to wear the latest trends is having a devastating effect on the planet.

The price of FOMO

“There’s a massive race to the bottom on price”, Alistair explains. “Big fast fashion retailers acknowledge the problem around sustainability – some even design schemes to help people recycle. But fast fashion retailers profit off people’s feelings of FOMO, so in reality they’re unlikely to change their business model. Unless we change our shopping habits and stop fuelling the demand for cheap, on-trend clothing this will continue to be a major contributor to climate change.

We’re used to instant gratification. We’re made to feel that if we don’t get it now, it’s going to run out and we’re not going to be able to have it.

Over 100 billion fashion items are produced every year and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. Alistair puts this number into perspective: “Just think about that number – 100 billion fashion garments. It takes roughly 12 days for a person to count to a million. To count to a billion would take 32 years. The scale is staggering.”

“Understanding this issue is quite complex. There are two main areas to think about: manufacturing and consumption, as well as the other elements in the supply chain.”

High street with people walking holding shopping bags
"I have a problem with the term ‘fast fashion’. It sounds funky and like it’s on trend. Really it should be called ‘throw away fashion’."

Alistair has spent many years working in retail, specialising in retail management and improving different steps in the supply chain. He uses his industry experience and contacts to deliver engaging education which prepares students to become future business leaders.

“I explain to students that the reason fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara are so successful is that they know their target audience so well. They know that one of the best ways to engage with their customers is via social media.

“Consumer insight is key, spending time learning about customers in order to communicate with them effectively. This helps build a perceived personal relationship resulting in consumers responding to promotional activity, which leads to stronger sales, increasing consumer spending, resulting in greater profits.”

what you can do

  • Wear again and again – in 2019, UK shoppers spent an estimated £2.7bn on clothes they only wore once
  • Look at what you already own – most people wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time
  • Buy once, buy well – shop with brands who offer a repair service or product care
  • Buy vintage. Charity shops and vintage stores protect the planet and your wallet

Thinking critically

Alistair empowers his students to think about the issue from all angles, from business strategy, ethical supply chains, marketing tactics and corporate social responsibility, to name but a few. He explains, “It’s our job to make sure students question different areas. For example, what would happen if we stop producing fast fashion? What would be the implications on the supply chain? How would this effect the people in poor countries which produce fast fashion? What would the alternative look like?

Working with real brands

With this extensive experience and excellent industry connections, Alistair’s teaching immerses his students in the world of business, “I try to make sure everything I teach is linked to industry projects. Whether that’s giving students a chance to work on a project for a start-up business such as the Cosy Nook Candle Company or larger organisations such as John Lewis.

It’s really important that students work with the industry that they want to be part of. Companies want to work with our students because they know they get great results.

In recent years, Alistair’s students have worked on a whole host of live projects. These include the retail property giant Hammersons, researching new retail and leisure concepts, proposing visual merchandising ideas for John Lewis and working with the Kombucha (health drink) company Hip Pop to design a reward scheme that encourages existing customers to tell their friends.

Our ‘Business in Action’ module

As part of a module designed to help students develop an understanding of business concepts, Leeds Business School ran a mini lecture series called ‘how to run a …’, which featured lectures on everything from ‘how to run a charity’ delivered by The Prince's Hospice Trust, to ‘how to run a premium high-street store’ with an expert from SpaceNK. Other contributors included, The John Lewis partnership, the CO-OP, BASF global chemicals company and Enterprise rent-a-car. After the students had listened to guest speakers, they were set a challenge. For example, students were set tasked with coming up with an innovative marketing campaign using a (fictional) £50k budget.

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