‘… we live in a world now where the weather is inconsistent. In a warm city like Hong Kong, it’s overly air conditioned. So you need a cashmere cardigan even in the heat. In a city like Moscow, you walk into a club and women are wearing sandals. So all of that has made me readjust to thinking about seasonless things that pack well and things that have versatility.
- Michael Kors On CNN TalkAsia July 8, 2014
The ‘broken’ fashion cycle has been a topic of much discussion in the last couple of years. The fashion calendar with its proliferation of seasons and pell-mell rush of fashion shows and presentations, advertising campaigns, seasonal drops and inevitable markdowns seem quite out of touch in the world of instant communication and the Internet. Considering that images straight off the runway are available the day after the show (or sooner) but then the clothes aren’t available to the public for another six or so months, it often feels a little bit backward. Talking heads from Suzy Menkes to Julie Gilhart and business of fashion aficionados like Imran Ahmed have debated the divide between production and communication and the importance of timing of sales and marketing in the fashion cycle.
However, what does this mean for Nigerian designers working in the domestic market? From my observations, regardless of designers labeling their collection ‘Spring/Summer’ or ‘Autumn/Winter’ – because of our lack of a centralized buying system or real commercial distribution infrastructure for designer fashion it appears that most designers either present, produce and sell in the same season or use their lookbooks and collection as a ‘taster/sample’ of what they can actually do. In the case of the former, this usually means speed-to-market focused production and a more fast fashion approach to sales and marketing, with an emphasis on creating new styles to supplement their collections as shown or ‘updating’ the looks from collections shown that season. By coincidence or design, brands in this category are classed as contemporary and have a more entry level pricing structure. Good examples of this approach include Rococo, Ilare, Grey & Obsidian.
In the latter category, there is a more made to measure, almost couture-esque model in place. Collections are produced mainly as an indicator and very often samples are sold straight off the runway/from the lookbook. This semi-bespoke category is arguably the largest chunk of our fashion industry at the moment.
There are notable exceptions in this category mainly because promotion and product availability are more in line with the international calendar, Lisa Folawiyo Studio and Lanre Da Silva Ajayi are good examples of this.
(A much smaller, but fast growing subset, is the rise of the truly ‘fast fashion’ brands like Eve & Tribe and Things Nigerians Love, who focus on mass producing in larger quantities and wide distribution – but they aren’t as ubiquitous enough to move the needle just yet).
So ..what’s the way forward? ‘Pre-tail’ a la Moda Operandi? Direct to Buy as espoused by Katie Smith? Natalie Massenet certainly thinks so, in an interview with BOF she stated:
There can’t be anything more frustrating than being shown something really beautiful and wonderful that you want, particularly if it’s weather appropriate, and not being able to get it.’
Or should we go with ex-Gucci maestro Tom Ford’s original plan? Stick with the cycle as is but limit the public’s exposure to runway images and only feature in editorial content when the product is actually available. Or his pivot in 2016 to align the show and retail schedules?
The buy-now approach has worked wonders for brands like Burberry who reported a 30% increase in sales in the first half of September 2011 and more and more brands internationally from Rebecca Minkoff and Burberry, to Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg and Proenza Schouler have adapted their retail and show schedules, either in limited or drastic ways to embrace the ‘see now, wear now’ model.
Immediate shoppability is even more important in the Instagram and Snapchat age, millennials and Generation Z drive over 30% of all fashion and beauty purchases worldwide (over $1.4 trillion) and 71% of millennials globally cite social media as the main driver of purchase intent – making direct to consumer more important than ever.
But what’s a Nigerian fashion brand to do about it?
Bringing it home – Africa, and Nigeria in particular, has mobile penetration rates above 90%, and recording mobile first digital commerce transactions over 70%. What does this mean for the average fashion entrepreneur?
We aren’t as tied to (if at all) the seasonal calendar but its undeniable that most lookbooks do not immediately translate to sales because of this retail /production gap.
Fashion entrepreneurs must bring consumers and data into the buying process and align their sales and production capabilities, so that demand for new designs and collections can be fulfilled speedily and with minimal waste.
As concepts direct to buy and pre-tail, they have their merits, but in the Nigerian context, executing either idea in its entirety will prove difficult. Veteran entrepreneur, ex-Jimmy Choo founder, Tamara Mellon’s eponymous label ‘produce in season’ experiment, had to file for voluntary chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015 to restructure and revive her business.
A mix and match approach may be our best bet, with some pieces being made available for pre-order/ sale immediately and a cascading approach to public relations and marketing – with a strong focus on social and Instagram. This will ensure that brands capture the ‘feeding frenzy’ around the launch of a new collection without completely sacrificing the time needed to plan production adequately. Coupled with a constant stream of updates as well as a social based approach to PR pre-, during and post- collection launch, it should go a long way in maintaining the ‘buzz’ around brands which, in an ideal scenario should translate to sales.
Of course, this is an isolated argument and there are several other factors ranging from the lack of CMT units for mass production and the inherent infrastructural problems, to the dearth of sales distribution points, lack of available capital et cetera that combined, make a formidable hurdle for any fashion entrepreneur, but as the saying goes – slow and steady wins the race.
FASHION INTELLIGENCE is powered by ZAZAII. Look out for tips, tricks and ideas for fashion businesses to stay ahead of the curve this year. ZAZAII is a multi-brand retail store specializing in African fashion, lifestyle and beauty brands. They drive discovery for new and emerging brands in the African space. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter @experiencezazaii . For more visit www.zazaii.com
Isoken has been in the business of fashion since 2009 as the Creative Director of Obsidian, and as half of the CEO Duo of leading lifestyle brands ZAZAII and LPM Nigeria. Isoken is multi-award-winning, multi-hyphenate entrepreneur committed to growing the fashion industry in Nigeria. Follow www.obsidianfashion.com www.lpmnigeria.com . Instagram & Twitter @experiencezazaii @theobsidianway @darified