The fashion industry is going through restructure, just like the music industry did few years ago. As fashion brands become more digital, it gets harder for the old rules to work. Collections, seasons, fashion weeks, buyers, magazine editors – everything and everyone are challenged these days, and inevitably many processes will be redefined, and many positions will lose their power. Despite the threat on the traditional industry establishments (magazines, department stores), I think the restructure is a healthy thing and eventually will lead to enhanced productivity, which in turn will leave fashion brands and houses with more time and resources to innovate. Here is what will need to happen in order to allow that.
No more seasons. The chase after Spring, Fall, Resort and Pre-Fall seasons is pointless when you have chains like H&M and Target coming up with collections every week or so. Many of them cross the lines between winter and summer, and their pieces could be mixed and matched. Examples: Jimmy Choo for H&M, Rodarte and Zac Posen for Target – all included dresses that could be worn both during summer and winter, not to mention open sandals sold by H&M in December… Dividing collections by seasons might not make much sense in this fast paced environment. Although the way we dress is still influenced by the weather outside, it doesn’t mean designers have to introduce them all at the same time, twice a year during their regional fashion week.
No more full collections. Most fashion collections are consisting from basics, which don’t change much from season to season, and trendy staple pieces, which change according to seasonal trends. It’s not very efficient to start every season from scratch, creating basics and staple pieces. Sportswear companies are a great example to a more effective approach: take Adidas which has the same basic sneakers available from year to year, and releases special limited edition, themed sneakers few times a year. Designers could adopt similar approach and keep their best selling basics from season to season, and this way save on production. This will also allow them to focus all their energy on the most creative items, which truly express who they are. In addition, just like people stopped buying music albums and instead now purchase individual songs on iTunes, consumers today are not necessarily shopping for the entire look, but rather are looking for that one special piece to add to their wardrobe. Therefore designers should be focusing on creating best selling pieces which can stand out on their own, instead of worrying about making a cohesive seasonal collection which will please fashion writers. Online retailers like Net-A-Porter already are experimenting in this direction of smaller item-focused collections, by inviting designers like Roland Mouret, who launched six limited-edition mini dresses with the e-tailer last December.
Runway shows as marketing tools. The transformation of the fashion shows into highly publicized events is happening already, but it’s not very clear today who the fashion shows are staged for. Right now many of them include buyers, editors, online press, celebrities, important customers and people at home who watch them live on their computer screens. Each of these audiences have their own agenda/ reason to see the fashion show, and as more designers start using their runway shows to create buzz around the brand, they will have to redefine who they stage them for to make the most return on this huge investment. Perhaps we could learn from Melbourne Fashion Festival, Australia’s largest public consumer and retail driven fashion event, happening every year to get the general public excited about fashion and shopping. Pieces shown on Melbourne runways are available for immediate purchase, making the shows a very effective marketing tool. In addition, there is an industry only fashion week in Sydney Australia focusing on buyers, agents, stylists and other fashion industry representatives.
Computerizing the buying process. This point is directly related to the redefined role of the runway shows, where buyers are no longer the center of attention. There is lots of innovation waiting to happen in the buying process. I recently met few startup companies launching in the space, so hopefully they will start influencing the industry soon. Major challenges in this space include connecting designers and buyers, streamlining the orders, and managing the inventory – all these can be easily solved with cloud computing. Of course you might argue that buyers still need to see the clothes in person, and no computer screen can replace the touch of a fabric, but the more shoppers move online and trust their computer screens to pick their latest fashions, the more it proves buyers could use a similar but perhaps better equipped system. Besides that, the growing trend of more brands adopting e-commerce on their own, challenges the role and importance of the buyers in general.
Opening of the two way street. For the last few decades fashion brands pushed the product at the consumer, shooting in the dark, praying for the support of fashion editors, and then hoping the consumers will listen. If consumers didn’t listen – there was always another season… In the age of social media brands finally have the opportunity to listen and adjust their product accordingly. By acquiring more Twitter followers, Facebook fans and subscribers, brands are basically building their own focus groups. These focus groups could be a huge advantage for smart brands who are willing to change dramatically the way they work and utilize consumer’s feedback into the product in the early stage. It could be as radical as designers sharing the sketches online and asking consumers for voting and feedback. This connects directly to the importance of building brand loyalty. Those who fear for their ideas to be stolen should focus on building a stronger brand following instead, so their customers will never buy a fake or look-alike somewhere else.
Whether some of these ideas turn reality or not, the fashion industry will be definitely witnessing metamorphosis in the next few years, and I’m curious to watch and document here the changes. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on Twitter @yuliz.