Ellie Sanderson has long recognised the need for change in our industry and now, she says, more than ever before, a new approach is vital if we are to remain an industry of consequence
As London Fashion Week came to a close, the key question I had, with a big prize attached, was: who will get product from runway to consumer first?
Fast fashion outlets across online channels and in stores are working round the clock to churn out designs seen on the catwalk to waiting and eager consumers – consumers who have been sucking up all the finer details live. With social media running riot and influencers driving the level of demand, British fashion production is in total ‘busy meltdown’. As London Fashion Week’s spring edition ended the race to be first on the rail began.
It’s over a year since I wrote about Burberry streaming their collection launch live across social media and then having the product available for purchase immediately afterwards. At the time this was a game changer and a pivotal moment in fashion for mainstream retail. It also catapulted Christopher Bailey into the spotlight.
Somehow though, bridal retail has carried on as usual and totally missed this radical change, seemingly forgetting that the mainstream consumer is getting her fix of fast fashion and cannot understand why this doesn’t apply to her wedding dress. She can barely accept it takes
a few months.
We need to emulate mainstream retail now, and before we all jump to the old and rather safe conclusion, “that Bridal is different” we must remind ourselves of one very crucial thing – OUR CONSUMER IS THE SAME. So why should bridal be so very different?
Change? Did I miss something?
Bridal did see some change last year; the main trade exhibition was pulled forward to March from May. At the time I recall asking how this change would positively affect our consumer. I was left astounded that this change was made with little consideration to our consumer – the consumer was not the driver.
– This change did not ‘gift’ our supply chain an extra eight weeks production because the timing was ill-judged.
– This change didn’t mean the product was in store eight weeks earlier.
– This change did not consider the supply chain production cycles; suppliers confirmed it would make NO difference to new season delivery times.
– The big prize of reducing runway to retail was totally missed.
– This change was created for a self-fulfilling media goal to ensure that the UK had the first bridal market on the European calendar. The beneficiaries were not the retailer, the supplier, or our very precious consumer.
What this change should have engendered was a time reduction in the gap between runway to retail – the timing of the show was key, the timelines for the supply chain were key, and we missed a big opportunity for change.
Our Millennial consumer lives absorbing reality shows and live events on Instagram. ‘Influencers’ influence them and not always realistically.
Events like the Grammys and the Brits have the consumer clambering all over Instagram for live details of what is hot and current. Our brides love seeing red-carpet dresses made by their favourite dress designer, who in turn smashes social media for maximum coverage and fast commercial gain.
The name counts
The power of our celebrities on social is easily measured. Huge success stories like Marks and Spencer who used Holly Willouby to promote ‘Hollys Edit’ and then watched sales go through the roof says it all.
Last year also saw Megan Markle cause a £45 M&S jumper to sell out in eight hours after she was seen wearing it.
Phrases like ‘Runway to Retail’ and ‘See now, buy now’ are not new. However, now more than ever, they are defining our customers expectations and this has huge implications across the supply chain.
When our consumer sees an image on instagram her minimum expectation is that the item will be available somewhere to buy and it is… unless it’s a traditional wedding dress.
Imagery is out there for months before the product. Whilst my biggest concern used to be missing out on a sale, my concern now is that the product is dated before it arrives and the consumer is on to the next live event.
Retailers I coach are telling me that they are having an increase of brides changing their minds on their dresses because they saw “the next big thing” on Instagram.
It’s down to timing
Today’s brides can buy a wedding dress online with 48-hour delivery and a 28-day refund policy. I must stress that I am not talking here about terrible imported copies.
Bridalwear by Stella McCartney, Rime Arodaky, Temperley, Emilia Wickstead and Halfpenny London are available on Net A Porter with prices from £1,500 to £3,700. Then there is Ted Baker, John Lewis, Whistles and French Connection to name a few more, prices from £195 to £695, all with full refund policies and 48 hours delivery.
THE BIGGEST THREAT we now have is that they have supply chains built to deliver small collections in a depth of sizes. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and they move onto the next trend fast.
They can have it from runway to retail in two to four weeks and whilst our consumer is enjoying this we are left waiting six months. It’s no shock that the expediency of their operation means they win the bang-on-trend prize, too. I don’t want to go to print suggesting some of these dresses are very similar to some of our designers’ best sellers, (I think I just did!). You can be the judge of that. Another example of their speedy supply chain is that many of these labels had Megan’s wedding dress for sale six months ahead of anything I could buy.
Three years ago, I wrote an article similar to this fo a trade title and several people demanded I resigned my column. Today I sit here and re-iterate the same points and I hope now, that thoughts on my words have moved forward. I hope that there is a stark realisation now that unless we change our modus operandi we will be the next House of Fraser.
I hope for the following change…
Smaller collections delivered throughout the year…
– This will enable our designers to react to demand based on the instant feedback on social media.
– This will keep our collections fresh and up to date throughout the year.
– This will enable all suppliers to manage the production highs and lows more easily across the year.
– This will help retailers manage cash flow throughout the year.
Small and nimble is critical in our niche industry. I live by something my mentor often said to me at pivotal moments of change.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.”
Way to go
I find it interesting to look at other industries and how they are responding to a changing consumer.
In 2012, The British Motor Show closed after 107 years, Why? The show had become less important. It had little influence on the new car buyers who were watching videos on line, accessing all sorts of research and studying YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The car manufacturers were forced to re-focus their resources onto brand activities and influence the consumer differently.
Imagine if the same happened with bridal. Retailers buying product via video links, thus allowing the supplier to focus on production and brand building? Whilst the British Motor Show was a consumer event the message is the same.
As a consumer of products, I want to see a change, different methods, different and more cost-effective ways of buying product. I don’t want to go to London, Barcelona, New York and Harrogate. That is simply out of the question now.
We are all looking for change and its time to make IT happen. I no longer want what I have had for the past ten years, as it doesn’t work with my business model.
We have all embraced the seismic shift with social media and client engagement. We now need to embrace this supply chain shift – and now before it’s too late.
Retailers are looking for alternatives to the current approach and our shows, markets and supply chain will become totally fragmented and broken unless change happens soon.
Inevitably and undeniably, there will be a big slice of market share to be gained by the first brave, bold, and forward-thinking label that can make this change.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please leave your comments at the bottom of the page!