Fast-fashion retailers reap the fruits of that creativity by capturing our preferences in successive generations of products and nearly synchronizing to our whims. Thanks to the rich data we generate as we select, reject, and recombine the items fast fashion offers, the companies need not develop their own brands so much as seize upon customers’ ingenuity, distilling their choices into easily replicable trends and rushing the resulting products to market. If fashion functions like a language, then the fast-fashion firms are mainly interested controlling the underlying system and leave the meaning of the “words” to interchangeable designers and individual consumers. As long as customers are willing to speak fast fashion’s language, the companies aren’t particular about the specifics of the vocabulary. They are concerned only with the rate and volume of change.

In some ways, the fast-fashion companies are developing into post-brands—the apotheosis of the democratization of the designer label and the ready-to-wear revolution. Their lasting contribution to consumerism may be that they have excused themselves from the increasingly clamorous public sphere, already teeming with advertising, to make way for the budding personalities of their customers. Fast fashion itself is perhaps best understood as a kind of social medium, a communication channel that the companies attempt to administer in order to extract regular profits.

n 1: The Accidental Bricoleurs via Imp Kerr and New Shelton Wet/Dry