Mapping the Rise of Fast Fashion in Manchester: What Does the Future Hold?

Before online retail dominated, the UK fashion industry was based largely in the capital for proximity to the right circles, talent, and simply the prestige of the postcode.

In today’s democratic retail landscape, however, the industry is much less London-centric. As fast fashion has grown, not only has it become possible for everyone to appropriate catwalk trends without having to wait until payday, but also for anyone to make fashion their business. Now, there is a shifting focus to Manchester, which has become the base of numerous leading online fast fashion brands.

Of the UK’s top-performing fast fashion brands from 2016-17 (6.8%), Manchester brand Boohoo has the fifth-biggest market share. Missguided, also based in Manchester, is in eighth place with 4.62%, as well as Pretty Little Thing completing the Mancunian quota at eleventh place, with 3.52%. Not only that, but the biggest emerging brand was Manchester’s Pretty Little Thing, which had a 663% increase in visit shares from March 2014-March 2017. Even more impressive is that three more of the top five emerging brands are Manchester-based; In the Style, Little Mistress and AX Paris.

Online fast fashion brands in Manchester

Priced Out of the Capital

Ever since Zara became the benchmark for reproducing catwalk trends with an unprecedented turnaround, fashion has become much more inclusive. Low-cost, wear-once, Instagrammable clothing has become the new norm.

The fast fashion business model therefore requires sensible overheads to facilitate such a need for speed. With lower rents and salaries, a fairly easy commute between Manchester and London for meetings and remote working on the rise, it is becoming more attractive than ever for brands to base themselves in Manchester.

Additionally, the crowded fashion market in London means that as well as the financial advantages, Manchester has become a place for brands to carve out their identity and make themselves known. There is also the advantage of being able to attract talent up north with fewer competitors on the doorstep to tempt them with better offers; as well as making it easier for employees themselves to enter the industry with fewer candidates to go up against than in the capital.


The Northern Powerhouse

Manchester has, of course, historically been highly significant to the apparel industry. Its rich industrial heritage birthed its alias of Cottonopolis, a proud moniker still touted today in honour of the city’s reputation as a textile powerhouse during the Industrial Revolution. The city has now seen a resurgence in the textile industry, which has been predicted to create thousands of jobs in the next few years.

Manchester’s prevalence in the UK and world economy has also seen the city become recognised as a serious player in Europe. An increasing number of Manchester areas have now become hubs of creativity, including Salford Quays, the Northern Quarter, Cheetham Hill and Ancoats. They have become go-to locations for the creative and digital industries, bolstered by the BBC’s ever-growing presence at Media City which gives increasing cachet to the area. We’ve created a fast fashion map (top) of the various online womenswear retailers located around Manchester.

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The Retail Experience

It was thought just a couple of years ago that the high street was rapidly on its way out, with the threat of online retail too much for bricks and mortar to compete with. However, as Amazon blaze a trail opening their first ever physical bookstores, omnichannel has become the valuable new retail challenge in 2017. So as brands look for more ways to connect with consumers and stand out in a crowded online space saturated with similar messages, some Manchester e-tailers are giving added credence to the belief that there may be a reverse or slowing-down of that threat.

Missguided and Glamorous both started out online and then used their profile to open physical stores. With the power to attract incredible PR opportunities with launch events and in-store parties which can unite shoppers with the influencers they look up to (or rather down to) via Instagram, stores become destination experiences which can cut through all the noise of brands competing for attention from the heads-down generation. Various Manchester sites provide prime opportunities to test this move; Missguided and Glamorous both have presences at the Trafford Centre, as well as in the city centre’s Selfridges store.

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Understanding the Audience

The owners of Manchester’s most prevalent brands are forces to be reckoned with. They understand their audience inside out; the generation Z shoppers who have a sound grasp of the technology they grew up with and a natural affinity with the glamorous, uncomplicated influencers they want to emulate, from bloggers to reality TV stars. They want a shortcut to the latest trends without having to wait long enough to be over them or part with much of their cash. Umar Kumani at Pretty Little Thing is the son of Boohoo co-founder Mahmud Kamani, who previously founded a multi-million-pound textiles business, and has demonstrated a similar knack to his father for building an online brand for the twenty-something market.

Nitin Passi of Missguided is also part of a fashion dynasty, his father being the owner of a design house which supplied high street brands including Topshop. In The Style’s Adam Frisby started the brand from his bedroom after working in a bank and capitalised on the opportunity to work with the new breed of reality TV influencers, taking a social media-centric marketing approach to build a customer base which has now been adopted by many other brands who have followed suit.

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Going Global

For some of Manchester’s online fast fashion brands, conquering the UK market is no longer enough. Boohoo recently bought out US fast fashion behemoth Nasty Gal and their shares soared, having also acquired a stake in Pretty Little Thing at the end of last year. They were subsequently announced as one of the fastest-growing fashion businesses in the world, and with projected sales of £3 billion within seven years, their plans for international expansion seem to know no bounds.

Pretty Little Thing have used partnerships with Kylie Jenner to aid them in their bid to break into America, while Missguided now owe 40% of their revenue to overseas sales and In The Style have confirmed plans to target the American and Australian markets, after recently receiving heavy investment from a private equity firm.

With so much success from these market leaders already, the potential seems limitless. This in turn makes Manchester look ever more appealing to the fast fashion industry.

At Return, we understand fast fashion. Whether you need to drive sales though paid search and social, increase your organic visibility or raise brand awareness, we can help. Contact us today for a chat.

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