Post-Pandemic Retail: Shifting The Fashion Calendar
In the past few months, the fashion industry has been forced to reconcile with deep-rooted, systemic issues that have troubled the industry for decades. While stores are slowly beginning to reopen and some of us return to work, for many a clear vision of the post-pandemic retail landscape is hard to picture during current uncertainty.
The fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has not only placed a large strain on consumer demand but it requires us to completely rethink how we operate retail in an era of social-distancing and limited physical contact. Added pressures from the looming overstock crisis will also present roadblocks for the recovery ahead as retailers sit on a mounting pile of inventory.
However, a solution is within our grasp.
Major names in fashion, from luxury brands like Dries Van Noten to retailers such as Selfridges, are petitioning for the industry to realign its calendar to synchronise product launches with real-world seasons, reduce overstock and break the discounting chain.
Consolidating Seasonal Collections & Syncing Stock Deliveries
Timing within fashion is the current hot topic for fashion executives. Accumulating unsold stock from Resort and Spring 2020, currently sitting in warehouses, leaves retailers with no option other than discounting as consumer confidence decreases. As a consequence, the industry is questioning whether it should skip a season, consolidate pre-collections or delay next season’s launch to avoid an even larger overstock catastrophe.
Rewiring Fashion, an initiative facilitated by Business of Fashion, has proposed a new fashion calendar, built for post-pandemic retail that prolongs lead times and maintains only two markdown periods a year. Following this calendar, women’s and men’s collections would be developed in the same period, presented in ungendered fashion shows and delivered to stores just before the weather-appropriate season – closer to when consumers will actually need the products.
As highlighted in an Omnilytics webinar, Gary Wassner of Hilldun Corporations, emphasises the importance of re-aligning product shipments to match consumer needs.
He mentions, “today’s consumer is a buy now, wear now consumer… shopping according to the seasons is an outdated mindset.” He believes fashion’s current retail cycle, that requires merchandise to be delivered months in advance, is the reason for the amount of overstock that exists in the market.
While we know deviating from the calendar is a strategic move in the long-term, pivoting supply chains and having the agility to respond to changes between seasons, especially in a post-pandemic retail environment will not be an easy move for brands or retailers.
To get this new timeline to work, brands will need to be even more in-tune with what consumers want, when they want it and how. It would also require strong partnerships with key stakeholders such as suppliers and manufacturers to adapt to these production schedules.
The Impact On Discounting and Seasonal Markdowns
A significant upside to shifting the fashion calendar is less overstock, which in turn will reduce the need for deep discounting.
In traditional retail, brands typically practise two forms of markdowns per season; mid-season sales (MSS) and end-of-season sales (EOSS). The purpose of these markdowns is not necessarily to increase profit but to clear merchandise before new inventory is delivered.
However, since the proliferation of e-commerce, more in-season sales have been introduced such as Cyber Monday and Singles Day.
Standardising markdowns has always been an issue within fashion as there are no clear terms of when to start, or how deep to markdown products, resulting in inconsistent pricing across the market. For brands, this means very little control over their net margins as wholesale retailers have liberties to return overstock to the brand.
Resolving this issue, however, is complex. On one hand, fewer markdowns are better for margins and brand equity but may also incur losses should product fail to clear at the first discount, leading to deeper discounts down the line. This season, we’ve already seen retailers introducing markdown periods earlier to liquidate ageing inventory.
The second option is to apply dynamic pricing which can be regulated against demand. But this can also result in even more price fluctuation in the market. The answer for post-pandemic retail may lie earlier in the merchandising process as buyers and merchandisers start to build their line sheets with strategies focused on full-priced sales.
Reimagining Fashion Shows and Runway Trends
When Covid-19 initially spread to Europe, it was at the tail-end of Milan Fashion Week in February of 2020. An onslaught of cancelled fashion shows, presentations and parties soon followed as social distancing was quickly enforced. In this time, virtual showrooms became a key method for buyers to continue purchasing orders, despite not being there physically.
Now coming into the Spring/Summer ‘21 collections, presentations will be fully digitised. In March, Shanghai Fashion Week was held online through live streams and fashion films. Carine Roitfeld hosted her CR brand runway with amFAR, featuring some of the biggest names in fashion, virtually through Youtube. Most recently it was announced that London Fashion Week will also be combining men’s and women’s collections through a digital presentation in June.
Other designers such as Saint Laurent and Ermenegildo Zegna have completely abandoned the classic notion of seasonal fashion shows altogether.
So, what does this mean for runway trends?
If we are following the narrative of this new fashion calendar, the lines between seasonal, men’s and women’s collection will begin to blur. We will most likely see larger overarching themes across seasonalities and genders, unifying trends for an extended period of time.
Ultimately, the role of the fashion show itself will continue to be revisited as more of a digital marketing tool for consumers at large, rather than the specific industry guests as it once was.
What’s Next for Post-Pandemic Retail?
It is abundantly clear that the first priority for fashion retail is returning to full-priced sales as quickly as possible. While discounting ageing inventory is unavoidable right now, next season’s inventory must be sold at full-price for a longer time to mitigate losses from Q2.
Many believe shifting the fashion calendar is the best way to achieve this, even though it comes with considerable risk. However, in light of the pandemic, we will need to be comfortable with risk and change.
The industry as we know it will cease to exist and we should take this opportunity to reinvent how we operate, ensuring any strategies we take on from today are future-proof.
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