Analysis: Fast fashion catches consumer fancy in Asia

Thu Jun 30, 2011 10:05am EDT
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By Ploy Ten Kate and Victoria Thieberger

BANGKOK/MELBOURNE (Reuters) - As pop music blares from a Zara store in Bangkok, Suthip Nanthavong jostles with others for bargains that might disappear in days -- from stylish thin-strap t-shirts selling for 490 baht ($16) to racks of blue-denim jeans.

"When you're in the store, there's little time to think. What's here today might be gone tomorrow," said the 30-year-old flight attendant, clutching two pairs of shorts and a dress.

Some call it "fast fashion" retailing -- the apparel sector's equivalent to fast-food. Across Asia, global brands are setting up shops as U.S. and European shoppers cut discretionary spending, burdened by rising prices and a weak economic outlook.

U.S. teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co and clothing maker Gap Inc, which operates the Gap and Banana Republic brands, are among them. They plan to open their first stores in Hong Kong's central business district in a few months.

Expansion plans by Abercrombie and other big names could hurt established Asian brands such as Giordano, Esprit and Bossini, rather than high-end clothiers.

Although Asian shoppers still aspire for luxury brands, many are embracing specialty stores with higher inventory turnover and better value, especially as a new middle class emerges with more disposable income and fickle fashion tastes.

"Cheap chic" brands are known for a limited run of new designs in as little as two weeks, a model that limits the surplus of unwanted clothes on shelves.

"Consumer confidence is very high in Asia, especially China," said Shaun Rein, managing director of Shanghai-based China Market Research Group, forecasting fast-fashion retail would grow as much as 15 percent a year in Asia.   Continued...

<p>A woman carries clothes to try at a Zara shop in Siam Paragon shopping mall in Bangkok June 29, 2011. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom</p>