The effects of the current global pandemic not only have completely disrupted the structure of our conventional everyday life, but it also shifted the structure completely in more ways than one. It also exposed how unsustainable long-term the fashion industry is in many of its different funnels. If it wasn’t already hard being a designer in this industry the pandemic made it so much harder. A large number of brick mortars and namesake brands had to either file for bankruptcies or cease operations completely which include household names such as Neiman Marcus, Totokaelo, Jeffery, Century 21, Sies Marjan, J.Crew, and even True Religion to name a few. A number of different factors before the global pandemic contributed to their financial problems. Many of it a being heavy reliance on wholesaling, overproduction, and unobtainable profit projections.
There’s no doubt in my mind that there is an overbearing pressure for designers to turn out 2-4 or more collections every 6 months in order to maintain a steady flow of attention and prestige that comes with following a traditional fashion calendar during fashion week. But there has been a recent resurgence in designers refusing to follow that script but instead creating a schedule and business model that works more optimal for themselves and their design teams. Designers such as Telar Clemens, Haeni Kim, Jerry Lorenzo, Emily Bode, Mowalola, Kerby Jean-Raymond, and Sean Oliver are some of the designers leading that charge. There are a number of ways brands get their products into consumers’ hands whether it’s direct to consumer sales through their own e-commerce channels such as their website or wholesaling through another party such a Dover Street Market or Nordstrom.
Each of these decisions come with their own specific hurdles that have to be understood before going forward. During the pandemic, a number of different retailers asked designers to delay deliveries, cancel orders, and cut prices at a wholesale level before collections even hit stores because they feared customers might not be willing to purchase specific items because they already had seen collections months in advance. Let keep in mind that wholesaling by its self is already at a discounted price, imagine being asked to slash prices while trying still to pay your overhead and your employees. The other aforementioned method was selling products via your own e-commerce channels which include your own website and social media platforms. When considering doing this route that means you have to put as much focus into your visual presentation as much as you did for creating the collection because what’s the point of putting together a solid collection but you cant present it in a way that gets people inclined to purchase it. You have to understand that they can only use their eyes to give context as to how pieces feel, fits, and moves based on these intrinsic values. This video shows ways the industry is trying to innovate to change this problem.
Now let’s talk about overproduction which is my favorite. As a designer, you tend to walk the line between where your making clothes that may or may not sell based on design concepts and storytelling you’ve created or via trend analysis conjured up by those at WGSN or beyond. When the pandemic came along it completely changed all of that, it scrapped and changed all potential preconceived ideas because it changed what was considered the everyday ‘essential’ and peoples day to day living. Do you think someone how saw a $3,500 Chanel mink coat before the pandemic was going to purchase one during the pandemic? That’s where pre-orders and made-to-order items come into play. Pre-orders and made-to-order allow smaller designers to safely scale the supply and demands in portion to their customer pool. People like Telfar and Haeni have realized how much more sustainable this process is because it minimizes waste and allows them to hone in on what their customers are looking to buy. It also provides more value to the brand name because it allows them not to stretch themselves too thin. Items become more like collector’s items to those who see the value of the brand and it also allows people to enjoy an item before more items get presented to them.
Once you understand what your customers want to purchase you can begin to continuously have a particular item in stock as a staple like a T-Shirt or an accessory like a bag that can continuously be made on-demand at a low-cost sort of how Telfar has established with his bags. Then from there, you can continue to produce more items that you want to put out. I always recommend watching the Kerwin Frost interview with Shayne Oliver of Hoodbyair to get a better grasp of how newer designers should maneuver with their brand and learn from those who have been battled-tested because allows you to put yourself in someones else’s shoes. Knowledge is more valuable than any dollar that someone can put in your pocket.