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From Regrams to Racks: Can Supply Chains Capitalize on Viral Fashion Trends?

Call it the Meghan Effect. Or the Kate Effect. Or even the El Chapo Effect. At this point, it isn’t an anomaly: a high profile person wears a piece of clothing, and suddenly brands are scrambling to keep the design in stock, or even bring it back from retirement.

This week it’s the Nancy Effect.

The red Max Mara “Glamis” coat that Nancy Pelosi wore following a meeting with President Trump on Tuesday became an endlessly gif-able moment and gained a wave of admirers on Twitter. Glamour has since reported that Max Mara will reissue the coat, originally from the company’s 2013 collection, early next year. However, there’s no telling if the demand will still exist by the time the brand can produce a new run.

“Most brands have the capability of getting back into a popular style, but not in time to capitalize on the popularity,” said Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D at NGC Software, which offers the cloud-based Andromeda PLM platform. “People will buy substitutes from other brands in the time it takes them to produce.”

The timeframe to capitalize on a viral moment like Pelosi’s, said Burstein, is days or weeks. Max Mara’s announcement said the coat would be reissued as part of the 2019 outerwear collection, but according to Burstein, that nebulous date might not fall within the necessary window to profit from the unexpected surge in demand.

Case in point: Pelosi’s coat, correctly identified by The New York Times as Max Mara, was originally misidentified on Twitter as a piece from the Carolina Herrera Fall 2017 collection. That coat is sold out on the Neiman Marcus website, but in the suggested products carousel below, there are a number of substitutes, in the same silhouette and color—all in stock.

Reissuing popular designs is commonplace, especially when those collections are viewed through nostalgia goggles. Marc Jacobs reissued the 1993 Perry Ellis grunge collection in November 2018. Also in November, San Francisco-based Dolls Kill revealed a 70-piece revival of the brand Delia’s, bringing the early ’90s mall staple to stores and online four years after it declared bankruptcy.

Bringing back a retired or sold-out style, hot from the headlines is a bit different though.

“If something hits, and it’s selling out, you need to be able to communicate with everyone in the supply chain ecosystem instantly,” Burstein said. “You need the materials and the production capacity,” said Burstein. “If you have those two things, you can get the product.”

Key to capitalizing on Pelosi’s coat will be for Max Mara to get more of the reddish-orange textile that made the look pop. That’s why it’s important for textile manufacturers to have viable substitutes on hand in case a brand has a sudden influx of orders, said Anatt Finkler, creative director at denim mill Global Denim.

“If you want to capitalize on those quick hits, you have two options,” Finkler said. “Either offer brands the closest and most similar fabrics you have in stock, or create a wonderful new product that will work and cater to that need.” The challenge, Finkler said, is both how fast a fashion brand is able and willing to act, and how close to the desired look they’ll be able to get with the materials on hand.

Materials producers stay prepared for the viral fashion loop by having certain fabrics in stock at all times, Finkler said. At Global Denim, the team keeps many fabric styles in the archive, including basics, top sellers, newest developments and performance fabrics, in order to predict and meet the needs of consumer demand.

Both Burstein and Finkler indicate that the rapid-reissue trend isn’t going away anytime soon, so the best thing brands can do is prepare for it. That means employing technology that removes guesswork and miscommunication from the supply chain, and working with materials producers that are ready to provide a trendy fabric at a moment’s notice.

“In the denim industry, brands use nostalgia pretty often,” Finkler said. “A piece, a look, a fit can become a hit again in minutes. No one wants to be left behind.”

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