Challenges & Opportunities | The Future of Fashion Retail

Fashion retail is a multi billion euro industry with women’s clothing accounting for over fifty percent of total revenue. Once upon a time, fashion was strictly a seasonal business with most sales made in the run up to holidays or the start of school terms. Now the fashion retailing has become an year long booming industry with a constant and unyielding consumer turnover.

Now fashion retail is at a cross roads, facing certain challenges as well as many opportunities as it tries to negotiate the modern age. This week’s blog post will offer a brief look at some of these challenges and opportunities in the hope that we as members of the Galway Designers Network will be able adapt as we operate within the industry. 

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Challenges

1. Data Protection

The biggest challenge facing the retail sector today is protecting point of sale and customer data from security breaches. As stores interact with their customers online, data is being acquired by stores to ensure they meet their target market’s needs. This included vital personal information which must remain secure from hacking. In addition to this, retailers face the dilemma regarding the ethical consequences of selling this data to third parties for monetary gain.

2. Customer Acquisition

Retailers are struggling to continually drive traffic to their stores and keep returning customers. Now virtually all growth in consumer spending is being captured by e-commerce via online sales. Retailers need to stand out from not only their competitors but also from the online versions of their stores so as to ensure the store’s function in customer acquisition and retainment is relevant and successful.

3. Evolving Customer Profile

The contemporary consumer is highly informed, enabled by new technologies to access unprecedented amounts of information such as pricing, product reviews, newest trends etc. This means that retailers are finding it difficult to acquire loyalty or new customers altogether. Consumers expectations are higher than ever before; they want the best of everything – high quality merchandise, 100% availability, next-day delivery, free returns, excellent customer service – and they expect the best of everything.

Added to this, consumer class structure is evolving constantly as even the most affluent consumers find it strange to pay full price for most things, while lower and middle class consumers will push themselves into debt to afford faux luxury goods and services. This results in a difficult balancing act for retailers to stimulate purchases without being aggressive on price or delivering exceptional value. 

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Opportunities 

1. Omnichannel System

The omnichannel system offers several opportunities for retailers. It gives customers the chance to experience effortlessness in their shopping experience and enables them to be in constant contact with a company through multiple avenues at the same time: by visiting the brick and mortar store, going online via the website or  the app. They can research products and compare prices, which will ensure a company has to stay competitive to stay relevant. By completing purchases online and paying for in-store purchases via click-and-collect services, companies can also draw online consumers into their stores. An omnichannel system also gives retailers the flexibility to make near-real-time decisions to reroute products and streamline transportation to get the right products to the right locations at the right time, ensuring customer satisfaction.

2. Market Segmentation

Market segmentation enables retailers to identify the specific needs and wants of customer groups and using these insights to provide products and services which meet customer needs. Retailers can use market segmentation to ensure they do not find themselves facing a downturn in sales by creating and exploiting opportunities directed at the top and bottom consumer classes. The current rising income inequality gap has resulted in an ‘hourglass’ economy, which has placed a lot of pressure on the middle classes and an intriguing opportunity for retailers to attract the attention of the upper and lower income groups.  

The top strata of consumers often account for a disproportionate amount of consumer expenditure and given they have the means to spend, it has resulted in more retailers coming out with faux luxury products or experiences and aiming them at this market. e.g. the personal shopping experience with complimentary champagne. On the other end of the consumer scale are the bottom strata consumers, who are more conscious about how and when they spend.

ZARA provide a perfect example of how they use market segmentation in their company to ensure strong sales in all three consumer strata. ZARA will often have a ‘studio’ or ‘premium’ collection, with a slightly higher price point and higher quality merchandise aimed at the top consumer class. Then for the squeezed middle classes, the ‘special’ prices section offers consumers a chance to purchase merchandise at a slightly discounted price point, and the stock available changes week to week as new stock drops. Finally for the bottom consumer class, ZARA’s biannual sale will enable consumers to become a ZARA customer through the heavily discounted seasonal merchandise.

3. Optimizing The Offline Sales Process

One of the biggest opportunities for growth in the retail sector is the proficiency of the offline sales experience. More customers are choosing to shop online, and while they may be loyal and recurring customers, they may never darken the door of the store front. The retail sector has the opportunity to convert more customers and increase sales by creating an efficient and inviting experience for customers in store. This can be achieved in several ways: the use of promotional events will drive incremental visits; click-and-collect/buy online and pick-up in store services must be executed flawlessly; a proficient, engaging and friendly staff dedicated to good customer service.

4. Inventory Management Processes

The retail sector now have the opportunity for to greatly improve and shorten inventory management processes thanks to developments in technology and the changing pace of the fashion cycle. Buying and selling seasons are no longer mutually exclusive and stock outs result in a loss of sales for retailers. Retailers have the opportunity now to choose the right inventory for their store/channel at the exact time it is required, not six months prior as was the tradition. This not only ensures the most up to date trends and styles are supplied by retailers, but also that stock replenishment can be accomplished efficiently. Now retailers must focus on flexibility and speed to market rather than cost cutting measures.

The future of fashion retailers is standing at a precipice, and how an individual retailer chooses to navigate the various challenges and opportunities will dictate the success of the industry as a whole. 

If you are a young designer looking to make your mark in the retail sector and start your own fashion business, check out last week’s blog post for a strategy in negotiating the various challenges of going from a hobby-designer to a successful fashion business. 

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The Galway Designers Network are looking to make our own mark in the fashion retail sector. Our current project the Galway Designers Studio House has been established by Ann Petrov of Cozy Handmade Designs, Gayle Poppers of Kizmet Clothing and Virtue Shine of Emerald & Wax, but they need your help to make their dream a reality. Follow the link to read all about the project and how you can take part.

The Galway Designers Network are always looking for new and exciting designers or anyone who feels they would love to be involved in the Network. Get in touch by commenting below, via Facebook @galwaydesignersnetwork, via Instagram @galway_designersnetwork or email galwayfashionshowcase@gmail.com.

The Only Way is Up | Starting a Fashion Business

In 2014, The British Fashion Council and London Business School collaborated on a report entitled Commercialising Creativity — Creating a Success Model for British Fashion Designers which aimed to investigate whether or not there was a distinctive formula to creating a successful fashion business.

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Defining Success

— There are three dimensions of success within the designer fashion sector:

1 Creative acclaim (how the designer’s creativity is perceived)

2 Communications perception (public profile and awareness)

3 Commercial acclaim (how much sales and profits the designer generates)

This is how the report defines success, and while your outlook on success could be very different to commercial viability, for the purpose of the report and this blog post, I will define success in a similar way to the authors.

This post will offer 6 Tips which are based on some of the most critical and interesting points of the report and try to give up and coming designers a blueprint for turning your hobby into a successful business.

The report has striven to identify the biggest challenges designers may face and the best means to approaching and eventually conquering them. The report is based on information collected from a varied and knowledgeable group of people.

Acknowledgements, Commercialising Creativity

Tip 1: Behave like a Business

The business and creative side of being a designer need to become interconnected so it is critically important that from the start you treat your craft as a business. This means that you as a designer should embody entrepreneurial spirit that will drive your business towards success.

What do I mean by entrepreneurial spirit? I mean having a clear vision for your company and drafting a business plan right from the start. You should have a desire to promote yourself as being reliable and credible, more than someone just tinkering away in there kitchen. There’s noting wrong with tinkering away in your kitchen, as long as you are working towards a establishing a solid business.

It might also be worth considering bringing on board a business partner, someone with tried and tested commercial and business skills, to help out, although it is of the utmost importance that you as the designer have an understanding of the basis of commerciality.

Tip 2: Recognise the Importance of Product Development

Once you have decided you want to turn your talent into a business, the tendency can be there to show off everything you can do and create lots of beautiful designs. However, if you look at any emerging designer who was fortunate enough to find commercial success and establish themselves in the industry, they all started small with one product line and then developed their brand from this jumping off point. This is an important step to take as it creates a concise image of your brand which needs to be consistently intrinsic in all of your future work to give your business brand recognition.

Linked to this is the process of setting the correct price point to ensure commercial success. Ensure that you price your work accordingly, taking into consideration the cost of materials, manufacturing, delivery, market value as well as your cut as the designer of the piece. Too often, emerging designers will forgo their dues and pay themselves little to nothing, which results in them losing out on the much needed revenue to invest in their business.

It is also important to try to gain feedback from people who understand the commercial success of a designer, which surprisingly are not the press. The fashion buyer is an emerging designer’s best friend. While it may be super exciting to have your work featured in a local magazine or showcase, the only thing that will sustain your business is sales, not column inches.

Tip 3: Create your Brand Identity through Marketing & Advertising

There is no point in having a company if no one knows about it. Right from the beginning you should establish your brand identity, by which I mean how you want the public to perceive your business. This refers to the consumers perceptions about the product, the quality and the advantages your brand has over its competitors.

Young designers need to understand what they are and why they are starting their own businesses. If they do it, it is because they really believe that they have something to say that cannot be said in the context of Paul Smith or Oscar de la Renta or Dior.

Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director, The New York Times.

A strategised marketing and communications plan are key to building your brand. Understand your market share, your target audience and how you are going to approach your customers. While social media is critically important to tapping into the current fashion audience, there is a lot more to it than setting up an Instagram page. You need to create a disciplined approach to tackling your consumers and peaking their interests in an super-saturated market.

It is also important to see PR companies and the rest of the media as powerful aides in your broader marketing plan. Hiring a PR agent or company is probably one of the best steps you will ever take in taking your business to the next level, but you should only try to bring your work to the attention of a wider audience if your business can sustain it.

Tip 4:  Tackle the Challenges of Production

As a designer and head of your business, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the manufacturing process so as to ensure that you can make realistic demands. Creating a sustainable relationship with a reliable manufacturer will be the key your success. You will be faced with the ethical dilemma of choosing to manufacture locally, which while good for your local economy and local fashion industry but can prove to be expensive, or to outsource production overseas where it is cheaper but perhaps more questionable.

As a new business you may struggle with production. You’ll be placing smaller orders, which ultimately leaves you in a poor position to bargain with manufacturers. Often, a manufacturer will ask you for a deposit before you are anywhere near to receiving payment from a retailer. While this can be a difficult pill to swallow in the early stages, it is essential to make this payment or any other promptly so that production is not delayed. If you rescind on your promises to get deliveries to retailers, it will damage your credibility.

Tip 5: Find the Key to Sales and Distribution

In order to be a successful designer of a successful company, you need to make sales. Lots of them. The direct financing of you own independent store is not the only option when it comes to making sales. If you do wish to open a flagship store, there are numerous investment options such as partnerships or joint ventures like our own Galway Designers Studio House, franchising or to approach established retailers.

When approaching an established retailer, you need to attract the attention of buyers. Approach buyers with an understanding of your Unique Selling Point, how your product fits with all of the other brands they buy, a set price point and a well structured business.

I think what could be improved is the designers’ sense of place. They need to know how they compare to the competition. Who is going to buy the product? Where you would like to be sold, realistically? Will it be the right price? These questions have to be answered before picking up a pen to design.

Anne Pitcher, Managing Director, Selfridges

Designers need to fully understand the contractual conditions of working with retailers, distributing companies and sales agents. When deciding to take your business this step further, you must fully appreciate the various different channels and options available to you and the effect each choice could have on the business.

If you choose to create an online business, it is important to consider all of the advantages, disadvantages, opportunities and peculiarities of this choice. Selling online is entirely different to selling in-store. With no tangible items for a customer to hold or try on, it can be incredibly difficult to make sales. As a general rule, more colorful or  printed products tend to be the best sellers, and any item that has an unusual shape or fit will be a tougher sell. However, having an online site will maximise your sales and increase your brand recognition.

Tip 6:  Understand the Importance of Funding and Financing

Money, money money.  At the very start, you will find your cash flow is going out a lot longer before it starts coming in. It is critically important therefore to know where your funding is coming from and keep your finances under control. In order to establish a successful fashion business, you need to appreciate the fact that the gap between funding your company and recovering revenue from the sales of your designs needs to be carefully managed with the utmost skill.

As a fashion business, you will need to be fully aware of the various funding options – loans, investors, grants etc – and and take into careful consideration what option is best to maximise your liquidity. Most businesses will bring an investor or two on board to gain some initial funding. If you choose to take a similar step you need to understand that you will lose some of the control over the business as you will have to meet their requirements and demands, so think very carefully and don’t undersell yourself and your share of the business.

The above tips offer just a brief snippet of what the full report explores. It has been written with the UK in mind, but all of the advice can be appropriated by anyone starting  a fashion business.

Read the full “Commercialising Creativity Report” here to read case studies and educate yourself fully on the factors that contribute to the success or failure of a designer’s fashion business.

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Supporting emerging designers in the fashion industry is of particular importance to us here at the Galway Designers Network. Our current project the Galway Designers Studio House has been established by young designers, Ann Petrov of Cozy Handmade Designs, Gayle Poppers of Kizmet Clothing and Virtue Shine of Emerald & Wax, but they need your help to make their dream a reality. Follow the link to read all about the project and how you can take part.

The Galway Designers Network are always looking for new and exciting designers or anyone who feels they would love to be involved in the Network. Get in touch by commenting below, via Facebook @galwaydesignersnetwork, via Instagram @galway_designersnetwork or email galwayfashionshowcase@gmail.com.

 

Upcoming Event | May Gathering

***UPDATE – May 22nd***

Unfortunately, with great regret, we have to cancel this weekends gathering. There was a double booking and mix up in the venue so sadly, we found out today it cannot go ahead this weekend. We are looking to still have the brunch on Sunday to meet and chat and see where we all are at!
Please let us know asap if you want to attend that so we can confirm booking.
We will rearrange another date for the gathering, and will be back in touch soon with further details.
Those of you who already booked, will be refunded.
Our sincere apologies, please pm if you have any issues or queries.
Gayle & Ann xxx

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The Galway Designers Network is happy to announce our next event: May Gathering.

This is a 3 day event taking place from Friday May 26th to Sunday May 28th. It will be aimed at helping current and prospective members of the Network in the art of building connections and learning more about how to start or grow your business.

On Friday evening there will be a Seminar from the knowledgeable Graham Clarke. Graham Clarke is the manager of the Workbench in Galway and is heavily involved in the Network and was an amazing resource and help for us during our Galway Fashion Showcase in March. The seminar will take place in from 6-8pm in the Workbench, located in the Bank of Ireland premises on Mainguard Street  here in Galway City.  With years of practical experience and degree in business and finance, Graham has a wealth of knowledge regarding start up businesses.  Graham will be giving his insight into what you need to do as a start-up business, providing the where, what & how to knowledge necessary. The Seminar will provide a great opportunity to learn, ask questions and get to know other designers in Galway and the surrounding area.

On Saturday, The Workbench and Bank of Ireland have kindly offered us the space to have a Pop-Up Market. There from 12-6pm, the Market will be open to the public, offering designers the opportunity to utilize the space and set up a table or rail where they can showcase and sell designs.

On Sunday, there will be a delicious Brunch for designers and members of the Network. The brunch will take place in 56 Central, on Shop Street, from 12pm. The Brunch will offer designers the chance to come together, chat, enjoy some good food and coffee. This will just be an opportunity for us all to get together and share impressions about the weekend, provide everyone with the chance to offer feedback, reviews, new ideas for the Network going forward while enabling us to get to know one another a bit better.

To take part in May Gathering, we encourage designers to purchase a ticket for €25. This price covers all events from the weekend, including the Brunch. To book your ticket, email galwayfashionshowcase@gmail.com and we will send you Paypal invoice with details.

May Gathering is just the start of what the Network hopes will be series of similar events.  We are always looking for new and exciting designers or anyone who feels they would love to be involved in the Network. Get in touch by commenting below, via Facebook @galwaydesignersnetwork, via Instagram @galway_designersnetworkor email galwayfashionshowcase@gmail.com.

 

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P.S.

Have you heard about one of the Network‘s current projects, Galway Designers Studio House? Find out what you can do to help make this dream a reality.