U.K. Business Summit: The Digital Future of Fashion
Fashion is tough. What now and where next?
That was the underlying theme at the Drapers Fashion Summit held in London earlier this week. Both the High End and High Street are taking some hard knocks.
Consumers have changed and to stay in the game, brands and retailers too. It’s either adapt or die. It’s just that simple, even if the reality of fashion is no longer simple.
Fashion is as much about the brand as it is a retailer, one cannot survive without the other. But even more, fashion is about the consumer and when it comes to fashion as a business, being fashionably late is so passé. You have to be the first to arrive, capture your consumer, peak their interest, grab their attention and earn their loyalty.
Today’s consumer wants “choice, convenience and speed” and the forward thinking brand and retailer embodies these in their culture. It is not enough to tell your consumer, you have to take them there. Nothing validates fashion like consumer experience.
For the fashion industry, the challenge now becomes understanding the new consumers and the future consumers, and satisfying their needs. Traditions are born out of practice and brands must be willing to learn from old traditions and cultivate new practices. Peter Williams from ASOS says: “Brands can often find the answer to the problem by looking back at the time of their inception and the peaks of their success, what the elements were and they can often play on this.”
To understand the future consumers, fashion has to speak their lingo and their dialect is tech. What’s so important about technology? Well, everything. Technology is the cornerstone of innovation and without evolvement in technology brands face obliteration.
Innovation is absolutely fundamental because as retailers we are as much in the entertainment business as we are in selling the product – Peter Williams, ASOS
In December, Vogue U.S. chronicled the rise of the Asian models. Yiu Wen, a Chinese model, was not only a Victoria’s Secret Angel, but also an Estee Lauder spokesperson. Professor Danny Quah of LSE stated that fashion has a new face, and the next stop is East. Quah pointed out that:
- The Asian market is growing by 25 percent each year.
- By the end of 2011, it will become the 2nd largest luxury market in the world, valued at $17 billion.
- In three years, the Chinese market alone will be worth close to $40 billion.
- 627 million people in China have been brought out of poverty.
These are staggering figures but a reflection of what is going on in the wider world from a fashion perspective. Asia looks to be the next big thing. With more than a billion people in India and China alone, there will be a rise in disposable income and this will be a significant attractor of investments, including fashion. Hermes and its Sari lines is only the first step.
This radicalizes the fashion industry in its quest for expansion and “glocalisation”–not globalization–is the way forward. It is no longer effective to sell the West to the world.
In 2009, YOOXGROUP became a public company and entered the Asian market through its luxury brand site TheCorner.com. In order to succeed in Asia, it used a different strategy: it got educated by the locals and when it opened its Shanghai office in October 2010, it hired a full staff of local talent and this asserted its position within the Asian community. China is a market that demands and expects luxury, “super luxury”, therefore the group has tailored its service to the taste of the Chinese consumer. They use different and special packaging, a butler service in partnership with Fed-Ex that delivers goods to the customer the same day and offers same day try-on and return service, anti-fraud and anti counterfeit measures and more.
Brands can be different, retailers can be big, fashion can have the loudest voice but at the heart of it all…it’s got to keep its cool and be “cool by association” says Ed Burstell of Liberty. Burstell added that the only the brands who take risks will be able to keep their cool. And cool isn’t about trend, it’s about a signature style and being niche. Also, according to Burstell, “there’s never been a better time to build a brand.” it’s about making the risk worth the take and if you are willing to do this right, consumers will gravitate towards your brand.
Taking Burstell’s thoughts into consideration, stylists are no longer enamored by popular brands any more than consumers are influenced by popular culture. The “celebrity” culture of today where everyone is an icon and every reality TV regular a celebrity cheapens rather than enhances the allure of a brand. Like the law of diminishing returns, in fashion terms, when you see too much of something you become numbed by it and as Rebekah Roy puts it, “it can become meaningless…and do the brand a disservice.”
Consumers are smart. They know when the fit is not right. It has to be about more than someone popular throwing on your garment. There’s even more onus on brands to have integrity, much like the way Reiss handles its association with the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton. They don’t harp on about it, she was a customer prior to becoming a royal and they respect that association. In essence, it gives them more credibility.
And on that note, here’s to fashion remaining essential. Cheers.
Guest Post By The Madam Editor: I’m a 21st century woman trying to figure out how to do it all. I live in London and am in love with New York. I love to write, eat cupcakes and handbags in no particular order. I love social media, I’m inspired by the interaction with people I don’t know and getting to learn their stories and sometimes I live a little too long in it. I love fashion as much as the next girl, maybe sometimes a little too much, I’ve been know to adopt the Carrie Bradshaw ethic forgetting sex and the city is fiction and my paycheque is nothing like theirs…I’ve recently become a blogger solely for an outlet to share my random thoughts and loves…You can follow me on Twitter @TheMadamEditor.