As the story goes, the first ever New York Fashion Week was created by industry press director Eleanor Lambert in 1943 as a way to generate more attention for US designers and draw the focus away from Paris, which had successfully dictated trends up until that point. Launched as Fashion Press Week in New York, Lambert’s event was able to thrust the American fashion scene into the global spotlight as Europe was still in the thralls of World War II. Seven decades later, Fashion Week is now the most important event in the fashion apparel industry, primarily in the big four cities of New York, Milan, Paris and London.
The week-long showcases are essentially the Super Bowl for the fashion world, with high-end designers and global brands vying to steal the stage and set the trend for the coming seasons. But the fashion industry, for all its powers of dictating the next big trend, has been, well, quite old-fashioned when it comes to adapting to a rapidly evolving technological world.
Fast Fashion is Not Slowing Down
Historically, Fashion Week was geared toward more of an exclusive crowd of industry members, influencers, and the media, leaving ample lead time to get the styles into stores two seasons later. More recently, however, the prevalence of social media and increased media coverage, as well as the generally expanded profile of the events, has opened up the entire process to a lot more eyeballs.
But therein lies the problem. Once consumers see designs they like coming out of Fashion Week—in most cases, instantaneously—they want to get their hands on it as fast as they can. The industry just isn’t built for that kind of efficiency. Fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M can beat the luxury retailers to the punch, with products “influenced” by what consumers see on the runway that hit stores well ahead of the very brands setting the trends in the first place.
So it’s no surprise that among the big news coming out of this year’s New York Fashion Week was the notable decision by major designers like Tom Ford, Burberry, and others to buck the tradition of presenting their fall and winter collections as doing so would show their hand six months before they can actually get their product to consumers. It’s at least an acknowledgement that the industry needs to shorten the gap between runway and retail.
Fashion on Demand
For all the artistic and creative virtues of fashion, it’s still very much a business, and a hyper retail-oriented one at that. For those paying attention, it’s very clear that consumers have grown quite fond of the on-demand model in recent years. Whether its transportation services, food and groceries, entertainment, or just about anything else, consumers have been conditioned to being able to buy what they want as soon as they see it.
In that regard, the fashion industry may have been its own worst enemy. Brands have been very effective in showcasing their latest styles and products by leveraging certain technologies, particularly social media platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and more. Of course, they’ve also historically been very savvy in using celebrities and high-profile events like award shows and movie premieres to do the same. This ends up creating a lot of immediate demand, but there’s been very little urgency to meet it with supply. By the time the clothes hit stores six months later, consumers’ tastes have moved on, ironically probably in large part due to the marketing and messaging of the same brands.
Modernizing the Fashion Industry
So while top brands are now opting to delay the unveiling of their seasonal collections in hopes to shorten the runway to retail gap, they should also focus on more innovative ways to get their products to consumers faster.
But there’s really no need to recreate the wheel. There have been a number of startups in recent years that have developed creative models that better reflect how consumers shop for clothes–and it’s increasingly happening online. Canadian-based Shopify (SHOP) has had success helping small and medium sized businesses establish their direct-to-consumer ecommerce presence online, via mobile, and on the major social networks. But they aren’t the only ones. But it certainly isn’t the only one. Magento (which spun off from eBay last year), Wix (WIX), Bigcommerce, and even Etsy (ETSY) have grown in popularity, albeit mainly with entrepreneurs and startups.
But in order for it to be scalable, the companies need to take a hard look at their entire supply chain process to try and get with the times. Delaying when products hit the runway and providing more digital shopping features may help companies adapt to the new realities of their business, but it’s very clear that the fashion industry has a lot of catching up to do.
DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer