Two Of A Kind: Cheap Cheery Clones

And TikTok users are delighted to compare them side by side. Fashion has a new form of entertainment. Its future looks bleak

On TikTok, they love comparing their favourite brands. Left: Beatriz (Bstyle). Right: iam.awilda. Screen grabs from respective TikTokers

By Pearl Goh

Is it still flattery when a piece of clothing is a likeness of an unoriginal? Okay, we’re living in confusing times and fashion is totally stupefying. Who is able to tell brands apart these days when, for example, Gucci is hacking Balenciaga (and vice versa)? Or, Prada is looking like Adidas? But, however blurred the lines have become, surely there is no kick in buying a knock-off of a knock-off? Or has the consumption of fashion become this perverse? Something is going on that is baffling. TikTok has been sending me notifications of “versus” videos. These are of women wearing identical pieces from Zara and Shein. No, I have not been searching any of these brands and I am not on TikTok. Yet, strangely, I have been receiving notification of the existence of these lurid, goofy comparisons.

The women in these videos seem to get some kick out of juxtaposing the identical clothes, and posing as if they have found the greatest joy of life. Did they actually buy two identical garments to make these enlightening TikTok videos? I do not know. But I was burning with curiosity. Are there that many Zara lookalike clothes by Shein? When I Googled ‘Zara versus Shein’ one afternoon, the first result read: “Discover zara vs shein ’s (sic) popular videos | TikTok”. Splendid SEO at work! There was a list of ten TikTokers’ posts to look at that has already attracted a whopping “25.9B” views! I was clearly late for the show. These women know what they’re doing. Instagram has caught up too, with one Dupes Nation offering a predominance of Zara-versus-Shein photos-only posts.

Are they creating content that is deliberately not like the “haul” videos of other TikTokers?

It is hard to make out why these girls are doing this, or what they’re hoping to achieve. Are they creating content that is deliberately not like the “haul” videos of other TikTokers? Are they doing their followers a favour by showing the latter the cheaper option to buy (prices are often put up)? Are they exposing something that could be detrimental to one brand? I can’t tell. I wonder if this comparison is a real exposé when we already know that Shein has been accused of plagiarism (the TikTok hashtag #sheinstolemydesign has received 6.4M views!) and the Chinese brand has been facing copyright disputes with Dr Martens and Levi’s, according to news reports. Even smaller, indie brands are not let off the hook. Dead-ringers of Marine Serre and Cult Gaia were also shared online.

While it’s rife among some fast (and ultra-fast) fashion brands to be ‘inspired’ by others, the problem at Shein, as widely reported, is particularly more acute. Never mind that these are litigious times. The brand’s big-data approach to design means they need to also consider what sells well for others, or what styles are trending on social media. This is no longer some high-low, looking-at-the-stars product development to better position a brand—that’s so yesteryear; this is looking at one’s peers to exceed. And better still, with a lower price for the end product. These days, as fans of Shein and company will say, there is no shame in buying cheap and dressing cheap. Not at all.

Zara Closed

…its Ngee Ann City store

The entire shop front, about 30-metres long, on basement one of Ngee Ann City is boarded up. The messages on the hoarding, printed against a pink background, read “business as usual while we reignite your experience”, offering no information to what (or who) will come next. Inside, workers can be seen dismantling fixtures. On NAC’s website, the store is no longer listed in its directory. It’s the same on the in-mall digital directory. Zara’s own homepage still shows the existence of the NAC store, but when you click on “opening times for the next few days”, you’ll see “closed” indicated on each of the next seven listed. Google Map still shows the NAC store, and states that it is open and will close at 9.30pm. A call to the accompanying phone number went unanswered. The line is not disconnected yet.

In front of the former Zara, a security guard walked past. We asked him what happened to Inditex’s star brand. He grumpily told us the store “was closed on Sunday”. Which Sunday? “Last Sunday.” Verifying that were the salespersons of the MAC store opposite. “They closed four or five days ago,” we were told. Were they not doing well? “Don’t know, leh.” Could they be closed for renovation? They had no answer to that either. At the information counter, the cheery attendant said that the “store is closed permanently.” Do you know why? “Don’t know. Maybe they have too many stores in Orchard.” Then she helpfully told us to “go to either 313 or Wheelock”.

Screen grab of Zara’s homepage showing the opening times of their NAC store

Zara was one of the earliest fast fashion brands to open here—in 2002, 47 years after its debut in the port city of Coruna in Spain. (Topshop opened earlier—in 2000, but they exited the market here earlier too—last year). Inditex entered the Asian market with the first store in Tokyo in 1999. We were the first in Southeast Asia to have a Zara store, then operated by Royal Clicks, formerly Royal Sporting House (it reverted to RSH in 2003). It was at NAC that the first Zara store welcomed delighted fans as well as the many who thought Zara’s arrival to be late. The space was originally a single unit until it doubled (it was originally the unit adjacent to Guess), with a separate menswear store. It would become the go-to store for reasonably-priced, on-trend clothes. At last count, Zara had eight stores throughout our island.

In 2012, former owners of Robinsons, Al-Futtaim Group, invested in RSH for a sum never publicly disclosed. Four years later, they acquired the distribution rights to Zara (as well as RSH’s other brands, such as Mango and Bebe). Despite news emerging last June that Inditex was planning to close 1,200 stores globally, a spokesperson for Al-Futtaim Group told The Straits Times, “our stores are planning to open as usual in Phase 2 in line with the government measures.” Open as usual does not mean—especially with the end of the pandemic nowhere yet in sight—indefinitely. We saw that in Robinsons. Zara’s closure, even just one store, does not bode well for our shrinking fashion retail industry.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

There Will Be Fewer Zara Stores

Is the announcement of Zara’s impending world-wide closure of 1,200 stores a sign of more to come for fast fashion?


Zara Liat TowersZara at Liat Towers during the Circuit Breaker period 

Zara is downsizing. Ranked 46th last year by Forbes on their World’s Most Valuable Brands listing (highest among fast fashion/high street names), the Spanish label will not be keeping its current number of stores, believed to be 7,400 of them throughout the world. According to news reports, 1,000 to 1,200 of their stores will be shuttered between now and 2022. It is not yet known how many of the ten in Singapore will be affected. Could Zara’s plan be a stark warning of the actions to follow among other fast fashion labels?

Zara opened its first store here in 2002. It was a “cooperation agreement” between parent company Inditex and local retail and distribution firm Royal Clicks, now mostly known as RSH (which began as the more familiar Royal Sporting House), presently owned by the Dubai-based Al Futtaim Group. It is one of the earliest fast fashion brands (only compatriot label Mango was earlier, debuting here in 1995) to tempt consumers with affordable, quick-to-market, trend-driven fashion.

According to a Reuters report, Inditex—also owner of Massimo Dutti and Pull and Bear (and others)—has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between February and April, the company recorded a net loss of 409 million euros for the same period, compared to last year. In the same time frame a year ago, sales was 5.9 billion euros. It has now dropped to 3.3 billion euros. The losses, Reuters wrote, include those of other fashion labels under the company, not just Zara, the largest of Inditex brands.

Even before the current pandemic, some fast fashion brands have shown to be untenable. A combination of fluctuating economic conditions, global trade tensions, stretched lifespan of fashion items, inevitable rise of wokeness to sustainability and environmental issues, and displacement of apparel by food and travel (now persuasively known as “experiences”) has diminish the once-immediate appeal of fast fashion. As one magazine writer, speaking of the fast fashion customer, told us, “fast to adopt, fast to forget”.

Forever 21Forever 21 at 313@Somerset before the Circuit Breaker kicked in 

It is understandable why retail pundits are now painting a bleak picture of fast fashion. One of the earliest brands to lose consumer favour is Forever 21. In Singapore, they once operated four stores under the retail arm of UAE’s Sharaf Group. It filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in September last year. Analysts cited lost of relevance as one of the reasons behind the brand’s declining popularity. According to local reports, quoting shop staff, Forever 21 won’t close its sole surviving store at 313@Somerset.

British clothier Topshop has not fared too well either. It announced last year that it’ll close all its US stores, a decade after its foray into the States. In Japan, they opened in 2006 and closed all stores in 2015. Its businesses in Australia were shuttered last year. According to The Guardian, the Arcadia Group—owner of Topshop—“could permanently close some of its shops (that also includes Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge).” Here, Topshop, which opened in 2006 and is run by Wing Tai Holdings (usually linked to the Hong Kong brand G2000), made no announcement of closure, but shoppers have noticed how “sad” the stores was beginning to look, even before the start of the Circuit Breaker lockdown.

The world’s second largest clothing firm by sales after Inditex, Hennes & Mauritz, isn’t looking especially rosy either. Back in 2018, Bloomberg reported that H&M was “embarking on one of its biggest store-closure programmes”, with plans to shut 170 stores that year. It added that the company had “struggled to cut inventory”. Reacting to the pandemic, H&M temporarily closed all its stores in Germany—their biggest market for sales—and all 590 in the US, their second largest market. It is not known if there would be permanent closures.


Conversely, Uniqlo, it appears, isn’t scaling down. In Japan, they have, in fact, opened stores—two in Tokyo alone, one in Harajuku and one “global flagship” in Ginza, both this month. All this happening while the launch of their first face mask made of their proprietary Airism fabric is scheduled for this Friday in Japan. It is expected to sell out. Uniqlo, opened here in 2009 and whose parent company Fast Retailing is the third largest fashion company in global sales after H&M, has been especially active on social media and, through their PR agency, regularly sending members of the media updates on new merchandise, such as the recent Billie Eilish by Takashi Murakami UT collection.

It’s hard to say if our appetite for Zara and the rest will return when the Circuit Breaker is eventually lifted, or when what is known as Phase 2 kicks in. Even before COVID-19, some of the fast fashion brands did not appear to maintain especially commendable shop keeping and visual merchandising. At H&M’s flagship on Grange Road, just before the Lunar New Year, the store looked deplorably in need of revitalising, with racks of tired merchandise in a setting that was far from what was becoming increasingly vital to brick-and-mortar retail: excitement.

Similarly, at Topshop in ION Orchard, the store has more in common, visually, with a clearance outlet than one that, in its heyday, had a street-facing flagship in the now-defunct Knightsbridge shopping centre (the Apple store today), where the Kate Moss X Topshop collection was launched in 2010. Since the closure in 2015 of what was touted as “Asia’s largest Topshop”, an impressive three-storey space spread out over 11,500 square feet (1,068 square metres), the brand has whittled in physical presence and barely registers among shoppers who are responding to the swankier Zara and the more-fun Uniqlo.

Going forward, it is hard to know which direction fast fashion will take or if it would continue to appeal when consumers are taking note of the staggering surfeit of clothing they own and, at the same time, discard. Lockdown has allowed us to ponder: Do we need clothes to express ourselves when there’s social media? Sure, influencers still use clothes as content on the likes of Instagram, but how many actually buy their own threads? Is fast fashion still an appealing retail concept and would it shine if retailers operate primarily online? Is ‘fast’ speeding inexorably towards a certain end? As with most quagmires, it is complicated.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Official: The Dad Look Is The Look Of 2018

Not your boyfriend’s jeans, but your dad’s jacket that made the cut


Zara Check Blazer AW 2018.jpg

This dad is no dud. What was initially a term to describe a shoe style that should have existed with regrets, dad has moved to a look for men (thank you, Balenciaga). It has also now inspired women, and aroused mass curiosity, if not outright adoption. According to the Year in Fashion report by the e-commerce site Lyst (also the compiler of The Lyst Index), dad the look is the “unlikely fashion icon of 2018”.

This is amazing considering that boyfriend (from jeans to T-shirts to sweatshirts) didn’t come close, even when it has been, for many years, the go-to aesthetical choice of women who don’t want to dress up. The dad look requires considerably more effort, and not literally what your father used to wear (although his old Zegna, custom-made blazer may help), unlike the boyfriend style which could be anything as long as you look like you had jumped out of bed in your guy’s rags.

The figure is astounding. According to Lyst’s search data, there has been a staggering 439% rise in views of “slouchy cardigans, fleeces, and ‘ugly’ shirts”. And, may we assume, oversized jackets. It isn’t clear if these views equate with women who actually shopped the look, but these days, proof of interest (or ‘likes’) constitutes a trend, which may explain why many brands, from Asos to Zara (above), have variations of dad to tempt.

Perhaps it’s a passing cloud, as with “nomcore”, which could have paved the way for what Vogue called Balenciaga’s men’s wear spring/summer 2018: “dadcore”. However long more the trend will exist, let’s hope that it won’t continue to be what girls will never think of their fathers: ugly.

Photo: Zara