The buzz phrase on the ground at Fashion Forward this season was that of ‘see now, buy now’.
To debate the finer points of the trend, which allows customers to purchase collections straight after they debut on the runway, FFWD staged a panel discussion during its three-day stint at Dubai Design District, which ended on Saturday.
Sharing their thoughts with a packed room of press, buyers and members of the public was Etienne Cochet, general manager at WSN Development, Bong Guerrero, chief executive of Fashion Forward, Firas Alwahabi of Faux Consultancy, and Rania Masri, general manager of Level Shoes for Chalhoub Group.
While consumer demand for immediate access to collections is sending shock waves through the global industry, worth more than US$3trillion (Dh11tn), there’s no consensus among professionals about how best to proceed.
Designers are voicing concerns about the industry’s readiness and whether the supply-chain management is in place to accelerate the distribution of collections from catwalks to shop floors. Meanwhile, high-street retailers are coming under fire for churning out copycat lines, or ‘fast fashion’, before the high-profile designers have a chance to sell their wares.
“If you only have fast fashion then some of the dream is lost,” says Cochet. “People like to dream about upcoming collections and can wait for up to six months for them in the stores. Fast fashion takes all that away.”
This year, Tom Ford turned his back on the instant fashion trend, having experimented with the idea for one collection last September. While sales spiked in the weeks following his runway show, they didn’t equate to profits traditionally generated on the back of a six-month marketing and press campaign.
The formula, on the other hand, has proved successful for others, including Burberry – pioneers of the immediacy trend – Paul Smith and Tommy Hilfiger.
“As a small brand, you don’t have the luxury of producing things you will sell a year later, you need your cash straight away.
“The monthly bills keep coming so it is impossible for me to operate any other way,” says UAE-based designer Katya Kovtunovich, who attended the interactive session at FFWD.
“There’s also no guarantee that any stores will pick up my pieces in six months to a year, so to wait is a tremendous risk.”
The frequency of apparel and accessory collections has quadrupled in recent years with micro-seasons being added to the original calendar of spring/summer and autumn/winter.
Compounding woes for designers and manufacturers are affordable clothing chains flooding shop floors with trends ‘stolen’ from the runways of the major players.
According to a Euromonitor report, the United States remains the leading market for fast-fashion in value terms, led by sales at H&M and Forever 21.
Over the past decade, Zara and Primark have also cemented themselves within the top-10 global apparel and footwear brands, taking share from specialist and traditional players.
Key advantages established designers have when it comes to weathering current turbulent market conditions are deep pockets and sound working capital.
“For some big brands it works for them to follow the seasons,” says Kovtunovich.
“They have strong relationships with retailers that allows them to show collections and supply them six months later.
“They’re OK with that as their main source of income. I don’t follow any calendar or industry rules because that’s the most convenient thing. As an independent designer I like the freedom of producing what I want, when I want.”
It’s not just runway clothes that consumers want immediately though, they also want the shoes to match. Seeking to harness the full power of shifting purchasing practices in the Middle East is the multibrand Level Shoes in Dubai Mall.
“We wanted to be the first to do it with shoes in the region,” said Rania Masri, general manager of Level Shoes for Chalhoub Group, during a panel discussion at Fashion Forward Dubai. “With Burberry, we had two styles of shoes and they sold very well.
“That taught us that if pieces are available to buy immediately after a show, they will sell.
“People want things now, but to start with, you can tease them with bits of the larger collection.”
Making select pieces, a pared-down range or exclusive few items available straight after a fashion week presentation would seem to be a way for designers to test the viability of the ‘see now, buy now’ model and measure client interest. Turbo-charging the design cycle, however, is an unwanted pressure for many and squeezes all fun out of an already intense production process.
“Some designers simply can’t keep up with having to constantly create,” says Masri.
“Unfortunately, today people want new things and they want them right now. It is all about giving them what they want.
“Also, a retail buyer, it is important for me to remember that the purchases made are about an emotional connection with the consumer. That’s why we in the industry have to remain passionate when choosing what goes into the stores.”