The fast-fashion sector, which was built on low-priced, in-and-out collections that have been perceived almost as disposable, has been one of the most distressed in all of retail. Not only were many chains impacted, like the rest of the apparel industry, by consumers turning away from fashion during the COVID stay-at-home orders. They also face long-term challenges as young adults put a premium on sustainability and are increasingly opting for well-made, more expensive items that will last, rather than the latest “it” product.
The struggles of many retailers playing in this segment are illustrated by the bankruptcy and subsequent purchase of Forever 21 by Authentic Brands Group, Simon Property Group, and Brookfield Property Partners (which later sold its share) earlier this year, as well as the purchase of Topshop by ASOS in 2020, after Topshop’s parent Arcadia Group went into administration. Topshop closed its standalone bricks-and-mortar stores and has become a brand within the ASOS ecommerce ecosystem and in stores such as Nordstrom and Selfridges. Forever 21 continues to have a bricks-and-mortar presence, albeit with 25% fewer stores than in 2019, and is planning to open additional locations. Its strategies for survival include raising apparel quality with “good, better, best” tiers, continuing to offer collaborative collections, and widening its beauty selection.
Recent indications suggest some fast-fashion retailers may be looking to enter or further emphasize the home goods category as a way to become less reliant on their core apparel businesses:
- Gap entered the home arena for the first time through a deal with Walmart announced last week. It took the unusual route of launching its branded home goods exclusively through the mass merchant’s ecommerce platform, rather than in a department in the Gap flagship stores or in dedicated branded home stores, as some of its competitors have done. The collection launched with more than 400 items from tabletop to bed and bath to décor, with limited-edition drops planned throughout the year. When Gap signed IMG as the licensing agent for its Gap, Banana Republic, and Janie and Jack brands last spring, it mentioned home goods as being a primary goal.
- Mango launched its first home goods line earlier this year, focused on Mediterranean-inspired textiles for bed, bath, and living room. Products—which, like the Gap collection, stress the inclusion of sustainable materials—include bathrobes, bed linens, blankets, cushions, duvet covers, pillows, scented candles, and towels. The items are sourced from the brand’s headquarters country of Spain and other nearby territories. In the fall, the retailer will add tableware and kitchen products to the assortment, which is sold on Mango’s ecommerce sites across Europe and the U.K.
- H&M Home’s situation is somewhat different, as it launched back in 2009. But this year brought the retailer’s highest-profile collaboration in the category to date, and its first with a fashion designer, as it debuted a widely promoted 31-SKU limited-edition collection with fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg. Previous collaborators for the home category at H&M have included model Poppy Delevingne and interior designer Jonathan Adler. The Von Furstenberg collection translates some of her well-known patterns, many of them made famous on her wrap dresses, into the home. Products, which became available in mid-April both online and in select stores, ranged from cushion covers, robes, and wool blankets to candles, trays, and glass vases. The partners stressed the timeless nature of the designs in speaking about the collection at its launch.
Like H&M, some other retailers classified as purveyors of fast fashion have been active in the home goods sector for years, and typically feature collaborative goods as part of the mix, at least on occasion. They include Zara Home, which most recently launched a collection with design expert and founder of the EyeSwoon lifestyle site, Athena Calderone; Urban Outfitters, whose home-goods collaborations have ranged from the Architectural Digest spin-off website Clever to artist CatCoq; and Primark, which has collaborated on home goods over the years with the likes of Disney for Mickey Mouse and Mulan, Warner Bros. for Friends, and lifestyle influencer Gabriella Lindley.
A long list of other brands, meanwhile, from Old Navy and Forever 21 to Uniqlo and Topshop and beyond, have had little to no presence in home goods to date. It will be interesting to see if they follow Gap, Mango, and more established players such as Zara, H&M, Primark, and Urban Outfitters into this sector.