Fast Fashion Is Making Some People Very Rich

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Amancio Ortega, Stefan Persson, Tadashi Yanai
Amancio Ortega, Stefan Persson, Tadashi YanaiPhoto: Getty Images

Owning a luxury conglomerate isn’t the only path to riches in the fashion industry — the lucrative business of cheap clothes continues to boom. Quartz has published a report about how fast fashion has built up the fortunes of some of the richest people in the world. That list includes Stefan Persson of H&M — the richest person in his native Sweden, with a net worth of $20.2 billion — Uniqlo’s Tadashi Yanai, and Inditex founder Amancio Ortega, whose company owns Zara. (At one point last year, Ortega surpassed Bill Gates as the world’s richest person, though he quickly dropped back down to No. 2.) The heads of Primark and C&A also number in the fast-fashion fat-cats list.

The (highly unsurprising) reason why these companies have been able to reap such big profits: They make clothes quickly and cheaply. They manufacture overseas and don’t typically pay their workers much. However, Vicki Cantrell, senior vice-president of community and executive director of Shop.org, told Quartz that social media’s omnipresence and our overwhelming need to feed our feeds with new, exciting products — what she calls “temporary treasure[s]” — have also helped fuel fast fashion’s rise. (Thus why more high-end brands are running scared and adopting tactics like see-now-buy-now and consumer-facing shows.) “In the old days—not being that long ago—if you were a woman you would go and spend the right amount of money on a really perfect little black dress,” she said. “You would be able to use it many times.” Now you might drop a Tubman on some Zucci and call it a day.