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Tough times call for drastic measures. In the face of shifting consumer habits, the rise of fast fashion and influence of social media, designer labels are moving to a ‘See Now, Buy Now’ business model. The 4-week sartorial circus, otherwise known as fashion month, has now come to an end and while the different hues of yellow for S/S 2017 were up for discussion, so too was the introduction of aligning the runway and retail calendar. Previously, innovation was centred on the use of social media and live streaming shows, opening up the once private and exclusive event to the world. This year, those watching the show beyond the glistening catwalk could purchase what they saw, online and immediately. Although prestigious luxury brands, such as Gucci and Prada, remain devout guardians of traditional buying cycles and exclusivity, the more accessible labels such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry are paving the way for more agile retail strategies in luxury. As ready-to-wear becomes more readily available, what impact might this have on mass apparel brands?
Given the extensive resources ploughed into creating a catwalk show, it makes sense that brands would seek to capitalise on the buzz surrounding the event and create a sense of urgency among consumers, encouraging them to make an impulse purchase. Consumers, particularly millennials, prefer to be able to purchase what they see; if that option is not available, they quickly move on to the next thing. Capturing consumers’ attention is essential, but monetising this is vital, and see now, buy now adds an element of excitement into the shopping process that has long been lost. Furthermore, this concept insists that brands take a season-less approach to design; if the consumer is unable to wear the item at the time of purchase, it fails to meet the need for instant gratification. In many ways, this structure may prove more lucrative for brands, given the weather dilemma many apparel players have fallen prey to over the last season. And perhaps more importantly, season-proof designs acknowledge a global audience; a S/S collection in one hemisphere has very little relevance for consumers experiencing the start of winter in another.
The apparel and footwear industry as a whole has moved into a continuous stream of product. Fast fashion has taken centre stage in the majority of core markets, and the sheer influx of trend-led garments at reasonable prices has placed increasing pressure on designer labels. Developing a more agile retail system could be viewed as direct competition to the likes of Zara, which previously capitalised on initial demand after a fashion show, while fashion houses released designs six months later to a consumer base that had moved on.
It is not only fast fashion brands that rely on catwalk shows to dictate the direction of trends, but also traditional players that adapt trends into more commercial designs. Without a glimpse into the future provided by fashion shows, apparel brands may resort to playing it safe and remove what little remains in the way of trend-led products in stores. Although see now, buy now will certainly not make fast fashion obsolete, it will implicate its overall strategy for being the first to produce the latest catwalk trends.
Although this new way of operating enables luxury brands to better cater to the in-demand millennial generation, it not only poses considerable logistic and planning issues but threatens the foundations upon which the luxury industry was built. The transition into instant fashion risks commoditising designer clothing and removes its exclusivity and esteem. Navigating this system while retaining a luxury status will prove challenging.
Initial indicators, however, have been positive, with many brands selling out of items within a matter of days, potentially benefitting from the novelty of the model; however, it does beg the question as to whether this strategy will simply condense sales into one short period, or whether it will impact bottom line performance; only time will tell. Nevertheless, ready-to-wear is entering a new era, where its name is being taken quite literally.