When discussing the business of fashion, common sense suggests to first focus on designing a collection and then figuring out ways to sell it.
This is undoubtedly a reasonable logic, but it’s not without its holes. First and foremost, the foundations of marketing tell us that ‘no product is an island’ or in other words, no product should be conceived on its own, but always within a marketing mix.
A marketing mix is an analysis framework where four distinct dimensions of business are taken into account synergically. A successful marketing mix requires managers to think simultaneously about the product, its price point, its distribution and promotional strategy.
To some extent, as we discuss in more detail in this post: Why Jobs to Be Done Theory Matters for your Business eventually, it’s up to each of us to decide whether we want to pursue a product orientation or market orientation.
In the fashion industry, however, things often tend to go a little differently, and this is no exception. If until a few decades ago, a viable creative idea seemed to be somewhat subjective, now there are so many variables at play that firms lost any sense of internal compass to steer their creative endeavours and this has happened at the cost of creativity.
As for many other business areas, the responsibility lies with a variety of stakeholder, the firms on one side are responsible for having pushed the fashion cycle to the extreme by speeding up the ‘time to market’ on the other hand; also end-consumers have a role which cannot be downplayed.
In this post, we are going to delve further into this issue to understand how macro-trends in the fashion business have impacted the most core element of fashion: it’s creative output.
- How Fast-Fashion Vertical Retailers Affect Design
- How Consumer Behaviour Affects Design
- How To Avoid the ‘All Form No Substance’ Issue
1. How Fast-Fashion Vertical Retailers Affect Design
Up until the second half of the 20th century, the fashion cycle was structured around 2 collections per year, the Spring-Summer and the Fall-Winter collection. Each collection was conceived over a two-year period previous to its release during a fashion show. In this time, any element connected to a garment’s style, quality, material and heritage was discussed and reviewed in depth to provide not only a piece of clothing but a true societal statement. It’s during these decades that luxury brands were able to identify their recognisable stylistic identity and create those iconic pieces that to this day have never gone out of fashion.
For more information on the fashion cycle, we have an article which delves in greater depth into the topic entitled. A Brief Introduction to the Business of Fashion. Since then, fast fashion retailers have adopted an increasingly faster pace in order to mimic the luxury brands and bring to market similarly-looking garments sooner and at a lower price point. If on the one hand, the disruptive nature of this approach allowed to access a much wider target pool of customers, that up until that point were not able to afford on the other fast fashion retailers do not actually create garments according to a particular stylistic code. As a result, their brand symbolises convenience rather than style, to the point of actually downplaying the brand promise of higher-tier fashion firms, when comparing it with the value of a lower price point.
So in this context where does the value of creativity lie? It’s hard to say, fast fashion is a global phenomenon, as products are sold in a variety of countries to the mass market. In this context, as we previously anticipated the variables to take into account during collection development are so many that the only reasonable approach is to look back at what sold more rather than look into the future for what may innovate and overdeliver on customer expectations. Once the decision to pursue convenience has been clarified, then many additional strategies can be implemented to counter the issues typically associated with brand dilution. With this term, we often indicate how the excessive number of items with the same label tends to impact the value of the brand negatively.
Again the solution to manage a diluting brand lies not in fashion design as much as in creative management. Limited editions are a typical approach to ignite a sense of urgency and contingency in the consumer. All in all the figure of the designer involved in fast fashion is valued more as a strategic alliance or a joint venture rather than as an opportunity to delve into the mind of a visionary. Creative directors need to orchestrate a series of managerial challenges that derive from data collection and analysis rather than instinct and vision, making the creative professionals, somewhat more of a glorified project manager rather than anything else. The corporate fashion world may have its own responsibilities, but ultimately it’s also the end-consumer who plays a role. In the next section of this post, we will see how consumer behaviour is contributing to creating a more shallow creative dimension in contemporary fashion.
2. The role of the designer Vs. the role of the brand
Despite the influence exercised by the corporate world of fashion, we cannot underestimate the importance of consumer behaviour. Consumers in contemporary fashion can be easily confused if, on the one hand, the number of brands, styles and designers has never been higher, on the other, there seems to be a stark polarisation between convenience items and luxury items, making the label count more than anything else.
To empower the designer end-users should be able to better appreciate the role of the designer, actually valuing the human component of the work more than the value of the brand. This is a challenge as many fast fashion companies do not disclose information regarding the designer’s influence on a collection unless the designer’s name is so popular to be considered a brand in its own terms. Moreover, in larger fashion brands, the designer is no one person as much as a collective of individuals.
Finally, as we look into the brand experience fashion firms are willing to deliver we can look in more depth at the motivation for purchasing fashion garments. As we also discuss in this post: Experiential Branding and the New Horizons of Retail Management the relationships established between a brand and a consumer starts with a product, but it carried out through the service component of the purchase experience. It becomes apparent that the designer can only fulfil one side of the purchase experience, the creation of the product, but in light of what we’ve discussed so far, we can see how in reality the success experienced by fast fashion companies relies instead on the consistency of the shopping experience rather than the quality or durability of the items purchased.
3. How To Avoid the ‘All Form No Substance’ Issue
So how do we fight back? How do we counter the prevalence of the brand over the quality of the creative?
The figure of the designer is the one which should most of all contribute toward the brand’s DNA and recognisable style. Certain designer names are so embedded in the history of a label, that it’s hard to detach them. In the 1990s Tom Ford and Gucci were entwined, being different building blocks of the same business model. Now fashion firms are more likely to invest in company proprietary assets more than human resources. This is why brands, are starting to devote most of the media exposure to the heritage of a brand rather than to the stylist. Focusing on the heritage a company can allow to draw more attention to the history of the founding family, to the values of the company and overall to a few, iconic, elements of style capable of making the brand instantly recognisable.
All in all, the role of the designer suggests how we may want to humanise a fashion corporation by finding values in the brand which resonate with us terms of human engagement. We can conclude that it’s up to the customer to recalibrate the relevance of the designer and make consumer-aware choices regarding our shopping preferences.
Here at 440 industries, we don’t see this a conflict, as much as an opportunity to re-define a relationship. In other terms, brands and designers should meet half way.
A designer can:
- Understand the pipeline of the fashion industry in order to create collections that take into account some of the business dynamics that bring clothing to stores. This can be seen as a limitation, but it does not affect the creative output as much as the process of garment creation.
- A designer should push a fast fashion brand towards identifying its own stylistic identity, so as to create an appeal which does not lie exclusively in shopping convenience.
A brand can:
- Work with its designers towards sustainable efficiencies creating an overlap between designer values and brand values which support human, socially equitable values.
- A brand can acknowledge the role of the designer and show the human talent which is sometimes hidden below the label.
This is no easy feat, but it’s the way to go if new fashion companies want to lead the way to a new generation of brands which find an authentic compromise between the corporate and human factors involved in the fashion pipeline.
With no intent to exhaust a complex topic we’ve discussed this topic to share with brand managers and designers ideas on how to better connect with their customers on a more human level leveraging the role of the designer.
The fast-fashion business model has been very successful as it has been actually very disruptive, by the drive of efficiency and cost reduction only goes so far. The allure and influenced exercised by visionaries and innovators go so much further than convenience, making a designer the true gravitational pull of a brand. For as much as a company will have its own distinctive story, the uniqueness of the life of a designer is something that cannot be forged, or even conceived by the most brilliant marketing minds.