It's difficult to imagine a world without any textiles. Buying apparel and footwear has become cheaper, quicker, and easier over the last 20 years. Fashion is a rapidly growing industry and fast fashion is a big contributor to its growth.
In the United States alone, the fashion industry was worth USD 395 billion in 2018, according to the data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The apparel and footwear industry employs 1.8 million people in the United States, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Among them, 232,000 people work in the manufacturing of textiles for apparel, footwear, and accessories.
Most of the people in the fashion industry work for clothing retailers (about 79%). Popular and high paying jobs in the United States include fashion designers, computer system developers, and market research analysts. They increase innovation and productivity while benefiting many other industries, according to the report from the Joint Economic Committee (2016).
“The fashion industry across the U.S. - from New York City and Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio, and Providence, Rhode Island - is thriving. And the jobs being created demand a higher level of education and pay better than once was the case in this industry. The U.S. fashion industry has evolved from one based on manufacturing to one based on ideas and design.”
- Carolyn Bosher Maloney, U.S. Representative for New York's 12th congressional district
The global fashion industry's size
The global fashion industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. It's generating USD 2.5 trillion in global annual revenues before the Coronavirus pandemic, according to the McKinsey analysis (2020).
The fashion industry grew by approximately 5.46 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year. A peak growth rate of around 6.2 percent was forecast for 2020.
The global sports equipment and apparel industry is the clothing category with the highest growth. It gathered USD 470.4 billion in 2019 and is estimated to reach USD 817 billion by 2027, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.2% from 2020 to 2027, according to the report from Allied Market Research (2020).
The increase in consciousness about the benefits of engaging in sports activities is responsible for the growth of the sports equipment and sports apparel industry.
Plus, the rise in sports education and sports training in academics has massively expanded the awareness of sports and fitness, especially among children and school students.
According to the BEA, Americans alone spent USD 345 billion on clothing and footwear in 2011 in the United States. This represents an increase of about 12,6% from 2011 to 2018.
The largest clothing category is women's and girls' clothing with close to USD 187 billion market value in 2018. It accounts for more than 47.3% of the total U.S. apparel and footwear market size.
Three key players dominate value creation in the global fashion industry and make the highest economic profits: Nike, Inditex, and LVMH, according to McKinsey (2020).
The Inditex group, the largest fashion group in the world and Zara's parent company, made more than USD 3.6 billion net profit in 2019, according to its annual reports.
The Coronavirus outbreak has an intense influence on many economic areas, including the fashion industry. A lot of anxiety and concerns were present in the apparel sector, even before the pandemic.
The competition is more intense than ever and the global economic growth is overall slowing down. Consumers' behavior and shopping habits are evolving at a faster rate than ever before.
While innovation and new technologies create large opportunities in the fashion industry, they also transform the market radically and leave people and organizations that aren't capable or fast enough to adapt behind.
Read up my article on how fast fashion affects the economy to understand why the radical transformation of the apparel industry is only beginning.
The evolution of fashion consumption
One big contributing factor to the evolution of consumers' demands is the rise of the Internet, social media, and eCommerce. Companies in the fashion industry must evolve and revise their strategy quickly to survive in these new environments.
Total eCommerce sales for 2019 were estimated at USD 601.7 billion in the United States. This represents an increase of about 14.9% from the previous year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Buying and selling online offer various advantages for consumers, such as ease of shopping, wide availability of options, easy returns, and faster delivery, which supports the growth of online shopping.
Companies must adapt their marketing strategy to several sales channels to have success in the fashion industry and online commerce. They must formulate purchase arguments for a target group of buyers and make themselves known accordingly.
The multichannel marketing strategy is extremely successful to speak to women who still spend a lot more time shopping online than men. It blends different distribution and promotional channels such as a website, a retail storefront, new media platforms, and online marketplaces.
Sales on online platforms account for the largest market share in eCommerce (around 47%). But marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay were only able to increase their sales poorly in 2018 and have lost importance to the rapidly growing group of specialized online shops.
Search engine optimization and marketing, social media advertising and influencer marketing campaigns make it easier for new fashion brands to be found today.
Check out my other article on the top Digitally Native Vertical Brands (DNVB) for an overview of the methods used by big players to cultivate their online audiences.
Companies need to capitalize on customer loyalty with more user-friendliness (clarity, logical navigation, clear visual design) and reliable order processing (shipping options, punctuality, traceability of delivery).
And social media is now a very high-priority marketing channel for most audiences over traditional advert placements. On social media, potential customers can be addressed in greater detail and at a lower cost.
The largest issue in the fashion industry
Another word on everyone's lips in the fashion industry is sustainability. Fashion big players need to put profit and marketing aside to prioritize actions toward a more sustainable fashion future, taking massive action and measures to limit energy and water consumption, pollution, and waste.
Customers are becoming more environmentally conscious and ask for more eco-friendly clothing. The University of Cambridge reports that consumers consider sustainability to be the fourth most important criterion when shopping for clothing.
“Sustainability is gaining traction in the fashion world. Consumers, particularly Millennials and Generation Zs, are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges of sustainability, leading to changes in shopping habits and expectations for better, more sustainable products and new ways of consuming fashion.”
Due to increased awareness of climate change and scarce resources, sustainability aspects are becoming increasingly anchored in the minds of consumers, in addition to other purchase criteria such as price, style, accessibility, and quality.
Read up my other article on the fashion industry's catastrophic contribution to climate change to learn how the clothes we buy affect global warming.
The global apparel and footwear industry is responsible for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Fashion Transparency Index (2019).
In the United States, Americans alone generated more than 16.9 million tons of textile waste in 2017. This amount of waste is 10 times larger than in 1960 and doubled over the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
20% of the world's wastewater is produced by the fashion industry, during textile manufacturing processes such as washing, bleaching, dyeing, and treatments, according to the World Bank.
And only 20% of globally produced wastewater receives proper treatment, according to the UNESCO's fourth World Water Development Report.
Wastewater is highly polluting and contains residual pesticides and insecticides as well as cleaning agents. Cotton farming consumes 16% of all insecticides, as reported by the Global Fashion Agenda.
The fashion industry has a catastrophic social and environmental impact. It contributes massively to climate change.
The overproduction and overconsumption of textiles, apparel, footwear, and accessories aren't sustainable.
It's now necessary to rethink completely how we produce and consume clothes. We must prevent irreversible damage to the planet, the people, and the animal living on it.
As consumers, we can buy less clothes and higher quality. It's a great way to change the wasteful fashion industry into a more environmentally friendly and socially responsible industry.
Both large players in the apparel industry and the general public need to take a more sustainable approach to the manufacturing and consumption of apparel.
How do you see the fashion industry evolving? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.