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The trouble with retail: we must adapt to move forward

It’s no secret that retail is going through some really difficult times. In previous posts I referred to the uninspiring product offer, the lack of VM vision, and the plague of constant discounting as a few of the reasons retail got to this point. Add to this toxic mix international unrest, economic downturn and most recently Brexit, and there aren’t enough plasters to patch up this problem …

It is true that our industry has faced challenges in the past and managed to overcome them and grow. But continuity and growth did not come from repeating same old. Revolutionary and innovative ideas were employed; adaptation became the only way to secure a future.  For those who were too slow to react, or too scared to take action the only way was out, out of business that is.

When the first department stores opened, and our high-streets were filled with chains selling the same stuff we lamented the death of the independent. Many independents did disappear en masse but some didn’t. Those who managed to survive did so by choosing product wisely; product that was relevant to their clientele and different from that stocked by the chains. They survived because they figured out that what made them different were their personalised services, and the in-store experience they were offering. Shops such as 14 oz. Berlin and Goodhood London stood out, became reference shops, and they flourished.

Goodhood shop front: image courtesy of ben

Do you remember how many people condemned online sales to sure death because “consumers wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t touch or try on”? Yes, some people did say that back in the 90s! How wrong they were. Consumers were so exposed to product, that associating image to touch was as easy as evoking memories of the hand-feel. Fit was a big issue with returns, but a few brands invested money in experts to help them with fit inconsistencies and reducing return numbers. E-tailing turned profitable. Those brands that have not adapted and did no invest in their online sales are now suffering.

Whatever the price point, all brands have one thing in common; they are trying to sell goods to a customer who is quickly changing. The new consumer is informed, savvy and consciously decides how and why they will spend their money. Old marketing tricks do not work anymore. Let’s face it; a pouty tall blond model does not have the same effect now.

Whatever the problems, there are changes than can be made to turn this ship around. It is so obvious what needs to be done, and it baffles me why not everyone is on it. Below I discuss 5 possible steps.

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The revolutionary Elsa Schiaparelli

Lately there has been a revived interest in the revolutionary Elsa Schiaparelli by designers around the world. Not many of them are eager to advertise it, because they want to avoid people accusing them of copying. But the signs are out there; the return to opulence (i.e draping, over-the-top hardware), handicraft techniques, experimentation with fabrics, eye catching playful prints and embroideries (lobsters, sea creatures, everyday objects, and other Instagram-ready images), and the list goes on…

An Elsa Schiaparelli Portrait

But who was Schiaparelli? Born in Italy in 1890, she was the first to show that fashion and art can coexist, and that when they do magic is created; her clothes are a great example of how Dadaism / Surrealism can inspire breath-taking fashion.  She revolutionised fashion by using traditional techniques such as the double stitch knit created by Armenian refugees, together with innovative fabrications and avant-garde pattern making. Through her privileged upbringing, her education in Philosophy, her rebellious and fantasy-prone character, and her mixing with artists, such as Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, Leonor Fini, and Meret Oppenheim, and by socialising with the it-crowd, she learned how to see things differently, and how to re-imagine clothes.

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Brand Britain: Will Brexit damage it?

It is official, 51.9% of British voters want to leave the EU. They ignored warnings of “economic meltdown” and years of uncertainty, ignored the experts who they obviously do no trust, and decided that their country will be better off outside the Union. But what we have learned is not only that half the population in the UK has lost its faith in political institutions and those in charge. We have also learned that the majority of the old voters mistrust anything remotely suggesting a lax attitude towards national borders (majority of 65+ voted to Leave), and that on the contrary, young voters are more positive with the idea of an open world even if this means the gradual loss of sovereignty and national law creation (75% voted Remain). On a more positive note, some people did learn that their vote does count and once dropped inside a ballet box it will be considered ‘A’ vote…

Depending on which side of the argument you are on, you will be perceiving the outcome of Thursday’s vote differently. The drop of the value of the GBP, the knee-jerk reaction in stock markets across the planet, and the decrease of footfall, and the reduction of spending documented by MasterCard, will be seen either as a blip, or as the beginning of the end. I am not here to debate this, as I am sure many experts, with better knowledge than me, will flood the internet with their interpretations. However, what I would like to discuss here, is something very important that no one has picked up. Something I believe will influence our industry both in the short term and the long term; will Brexit damage brand Britain?

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Fashion Revolution: #whomadeyourclothes ?

On 24 April 2013, more than a thousand people lost their lives, and over two and a half thousand were injured in what is now considered the deadliest clothing-factory disaster in history. The Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka Bangladesh, housed garment factories, a bank, and many shops. All commercial stores were closed when cracks appeared on the walls, but the garment factory owners refused to accept the telling signs, and ordered the factory to continue production, threatening the factory workers to return to work. The following day the building collapsed.

Courtesy of fashionrevolution.org

It was the day we all realised, that in the very long and complicated process of garment development, brands do not always know how and who is making their clothes. It took a long time for a few well-known international fashion brands to establish whether they had placed orders with those factories in Bangladesh. Even when their labels were found in the rubble, the brands struggled to discover the contracts or determine their relationship with the factories in question.

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