During a Decoded Fashion NYC discussion last week, titled “Up Close & Personal: Fast Tech, Fast Trends and Fast Disruptors,” panelists talked about some of the challenges facing retailers today.
“If I think back on where the fashion industry was prior to the rise of sites like Refinery29 and social influencers, brands had a lot of control about the cadence of the delivery of goods and a lot more information on the pricing of goods. What’s happening now is we’re having this shift in power and information,” said Carla Dunham, vice president of brand marketing at Equinox and formerly of VP of global brand strategy at Kate Spade & Company. “When brands have powerful, emotional stories to tell and if they are thinking through their points of delivery with digital- and social-first mindset, people still want to shop.”
That’s why Gucci, under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele, has been so successful of late.
“I’ve been really fascinated to see this resurgence in high-fashion product at a time when a lot of people are pooh-poohing the luxury industry,” Dunham said. “And if I look at the success there, it’s fundamentally the product that has a story to tell, that’s highly differentiated, that translates well to a mobile screen. It’s colorful product, it’s detailed product that invites you to zoom in and look more closely and I think brands that are thinking about their story as a commodity need to re-shift their focus and pay attention to driving a connection through the points of discovery.”
Miriam Gassel, senior vice president and general merchandising manager at multi-channel jewelry seller Baublebar, agreed.
“We used to design for summer and fall and winter and that’s disappeared because the customer is always open for discovery,” she said. “It’s about the trend and the emotional connection and less about specifically the new color palette, or crystal for holiday or neon for summer. That’s all gone out the window. And any product that creates an emotional connection and differentiates from the marketplace will immediately sell regardless of the season.”
Gassel explained that despite Baublebar’s once-ironclad rules about what sells in what month, some customers began buying neon jewelry in winter and berry in the summer, prompting the company to stop thinking about color palettes in terms of season.
Topshop’s Topman offshoot has undergone a similar change.
“People do not just buy T-shirts in summer and then knitwear in the winter anymore, particularly in the U.K. where we seem to have this endless autumn or spring and that’s all we have, no summer or winter,” said Gareth Rees-John, global digital director at Topman, explaining that instead of seasonal collections, the store offers pieces that act as building blocks that a wardrobe can be built around. “You can’t always be cutting edge. You can’t be expecting every guy to be wearing denim boiler suits but you need to have the denim boiler suit there to have a point of difference, to differentiate us from the European fast-fashion businesses that are more about volume, more about easy access.”
Dunham added: “Brands are in a challenging space right now. If you go back 10 years all touchpoints were owned by the brand and increasingly points of discovery, points of commerce are digitally normalized sites, whether it be Facebook or Instagram,” she said. “Brands are increasingly trying to slot in their storytelling abilities in technology formats that they don’t control… And if you do it badly it’s way worse than never having done it at all.”