Just like everyone predicted at the end of the previous year, 2016 is ludicrous. It is only the beginning of March, but the changing fashion system is on everybody’s lips. Fashion week season is on, and media cannot stop publishing new articles on the matter of the changes, that are taking place in the fashion industry right now. “See now, Buy now” is the goal of those, who are leading these changes, but there are others, who do not agree, that it is a good idea. Though a number of designers in New York and London are among the pioneers of this change, Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode and Camera Nazionale della Moda have already made official statements, that they are not planning to make any such changes in the schedule. Representative of both organizations have pointed out that both France and Italy have always valued craftsmanship and this is going to stay, and will not be negotiated in a new and more immediate system.
However, in this mess, where people can’t seem to agree on one way of doing things, everyone seems to have forgotten, that the fashion industry does not consist of big houses only. Yes, maybe Gucci can make a collection in 5 days in extreme cases, as Marco Bizzarri, president and CEO of Gucci, said in his interview, but it is surreal for a smaller house, and unimaginable for emerging designers. Those, who are only starting their careers and making first attempts in building businesses, and who lack everything but ideas; how can they become a part of this change? I am not talking only about fresh graduates but also about people, who have been in the industry for 5-10 years, but who have not yet found big investors and enough media attention to have bigger realities, and therefore bigger scale of production etc. How are they supposed to find money to pay for the production of a whole collection up front, that is supposed to go on sale right after the show, having no idea which pieces will be the most desirable ones?
After John Galliano told about his challenging times at Dior and his mental breakdown, and then Raf Simons left Dior as well, and told about his desire to lead a calmer life, the industry could not stop discussing the fact that we are driving ourselves insane, and we do not know how to stop.
Therefore we need changes. This made sense. Yes, we need changes, we need to slow down, as well as producing less products, and products people want to buy. However, from my point of view, this new idea of “See now, Buy now” will only make things worse and speed everything up even more. We continue to produce as much as before at a moment in time, where research show that Generation Z are consuming fashion in a different way (read more about that here), and there’s a general feel of Overload – of information, goods, and availability. Furthermore producing upfront and risking not to sell would only increase the amount of products being destroyed – a thing the fashion industry is not very proud of and seldom speaks about. Perhaps we should simply stop a moment and ask ourselves the question, if there really is a genuine demand for all the goods and business we wish to make (money on).
So what can independent designers do in order not to be cut out? How are they going to answer to these changes? A solution could be offering the ‘See now, Buy now’ but in smaller quantities, which their business and cash flow would allow. This could either be sold in own stores or online. An issue here would be that if something was very successful, it would be strange to produce a 2nd batch with a delivery 1-4 months later to satisfy the actual demand, or choose not to do so and miss out on the business. On the other hand, you could say that this happens in the existing fashion system too, where popular products are offered again the following season with small changes. If retailers were going to sell the products, they would need to be integrated already in the design process, and place orders based on prototypes, before the actual sample would be ready for the fashion show/presentation. How the supply chain of materials and production would respond to that, and who would take the risk – designer vs. supplier – is a really good question. Probably the complexity of the production pipeline is going to give us the solution of what will happen to the fashion system simply because of restrictions with the changes of ‘See now, Buy now’ being very gradual. Perhaps it’s rather an elimination of seasons that matters and will get the system back on a healthy track together with availability in smaller quantities.
Alternatively, the independent designers could ignore the changes and continue to work in the traditional way, which also leaves room for talented buyers to choose what they know, the consumer will like, and which in consequence is a great benefit, and where production is made based on orders. Then we are back at the original challenge of not having instant availability and social media overload. This could be risky, as we all know well enough that when significant changes take place, you cannot simply ignore them. Especially, when you are in competition with fashion power houses. But again, are we really sure that what the consumer always wants is instant availability?
A third possibility would be to go back to the old system, before the Information society took over, and a solution The Row and Proenza Schouler have bought into (read more about that here). They present to the fashion industry only with no revelation of the next season to the public, before it hits the stores.
“I can show my collection and sell them and give people the time to make their choice, to order them and to make them beautifully produced and editors can photograph them. If not, that’s the end of everything,” – said Karl Lagerfeld after the Fendi show. Karl is known for being innovative and forward-thinking, but this time he is not in, and I agree with him for 100%. Fast fashion and slow fashion are different categories, so why mix it all up?
“More than ever, today, the spoils will go to those who aren’t afraid to change” – wrote Imran Amed, founder and editor-in-chief of Business of Fashion in his weekly review. However, history shows that breaking does not equal to building, and I see many challenges in the changing fashion system. Asking critical questions and thinking long-term will provide the basis for coming up with solutions. It’s a global business, and one not very prone to innovation, and exactly because of the international set-up, there is a need of agreed ways of doing things. It perhaps doesn’t have to be one system only, but there is a need for structure.
I have to say that I am extremely curious to see what will happen next – what the reactions and moves of fashion designers all over the world will be, and how it all will affect the market. Let`s see!