Back in August, I boldly declared that retail as we know it is dead, and I still hold true to that sentiment. For anyone who doubts me, take a stroll through your local shopping center or favorite stores this weekend to witness the overwhelming presence of winter sales. Racks and bins and tables are stuffed to the max with the casualties of the unsuccessful holiday season. While it's a great time to shop ($40 topcoats, anyone?), one can't help but wonder what this means for the industry. It seems like a lot of retailers are in BIG trouble right now with no potential end in sight. But perhaps there's one disruptive element that could change the tide.
In October of last year, Versus Versace opened a new boutique in Soho just ahead of its fall fashion show. Shoppers could pick up select SS16 pieces from the show right away. Banana Republic plans to make 6 pieces available immediately following its upcoming Feb. 13 presentation. And brands like Burberry and Moschino have been toying with the concept for a few seasons now. However, the major Fashion Weeks in New York have always served as a spectator sport and a time-honored tradition. Designers show their collections to an exclusive group of editors, buyers, celebrities, and influencers. Then buyers head to markets to select what they will carry in their stores. From there, it could be anywhere from 6-12 months before these collections are fully produced and available for sale.
While this model has always worked, the culture surrounding it has changed tremendously. One thing that fashion fans have now is access. Social media has introduced fashion of all levels (luxury, mid-market, and discount) to everyone who's willing to look. Consumers want to tap for brands and immediately find out where they can buy the items in their favorite looks. A photo of a strong look may garner thousands of likes and comments today, but it will be severely forgotten a year from now. In a culture of instant gratification and ravenous consumption of all things art and media, designers and brands cannot afford to follow the traditional model anymore.
Will this save retail? That remains to be seen. Fashion Week is typically a luxury game full of avant garde attitude, risk, and loaded price tags. While society's upper echelon would certainly take advantage of shopping directly from the designer runway collections, the rest of the industry still has a few things to figure out. When it comes to mid-market, there isn't a heavy presence during Fashion Week. With collections that are often predictable or too reliant on trend, there really isn't a purpose for mid-market fashion during these weeks. But more and more accessible brands have started popping up. Consensus may show that these brands don't reap the benefits of Fashion Week hype and exposure, but adding in an immediate shopping component for consumers could make it worth their while. Imagine the foot traffic that could be gained if a retailer presents a killer collection during Fashion Week and makes the whole thing immediately available for sale? We're talking game changer here. A complete disruption of the old fashion model that wouldn't have to carbon copy fast fashion brands or reduce quality. Here's looking at you, J. Crew.
This strategy could really work wonders to get people back in stores for a reason other than big sales. But in order for it to work, the collections have to be phenomenal. The anticipation for these pieces needs to reach a fever pitch. Whether it's a designer collaboration a la Balmain x H&M, or a celebrity creative director, or a total brand revamp, it's the clothing that will ultimately drive the fashion industry in this new direction. Make clothes that people want, sell them in an inspiring and unique way, and watch the records break.
Old retail may be dead, but new retail is just getting started.