What Lies Ahead for Independent Brands?

What Lies Ahead for Independent Brands?

Written by Leong KexinMarch 7, 2020

What Lies Ahead for Independent Brands?

In recent years, more independent brands are quickly emerging and finding global success. A poll by YouGov, a British market research company, showed that 43% of consumers preferred purchasing from independent brands instead of corporate chains due to their added values.

In the current retail landscape where trends in fast fashion are almost uniform, independent brands have the upper hand – offering collections that are more creatively driven with contemporary elements. The allure of such distinguishable designs targets a niche market that strays away from homogenous logos and prints tied to household names like Louis Vuitton and Burberry.

Beyoncé in Marine Serre.
Beyoncé in a Marine Serre ensemble. Image Source: Instagram

French designer Marine Serre, for example, launched her namesake brand in 2016 – and it was an immediate hit. The brand garnered a cult-like following that includes the likes of Beyoncé and Kendall Jenner. She attributed her success to the tiny yet distinguishable crescent moon print that appears in most of her collections. Omnilytics data detected an 81.75% sell-out rate at full price for the designer brand on Farfetch, signalling strong demands for its products in the luxury market. 

Brands that shot to fame with a hero product, such as Marine Serre’s signature printed bodysuit, then leverage the momentum gained to scale.

However, independent brands have to grow smart, not fast. New products need to still feel like an extension of the hero products to retain the essence that first drew customers to the brand.  

A distinctive style doesn’t exempt independent brands from stagnancy. Due to consumers’ high demands for newness, brands who rely solely on hero products become stale – fast.

One way to retain relevance among key consumer demographics is to seek opportunities from market demands.

Sustainability as an Opportunistic Venture

In light of scaling, independent brands should seek external opportunities that are currently disrupting the retail industry. One of them is sustainability. 

Cult Gaia's signature round heels.
Cult Gaia’s signature round heels. Image Source: Cult Gaia

The demand for it is apparent. A recent survey showed consumers’ affinity for sustainability when making a purchase, led by Gen Z shoppers.

More consumers are gaining social awareness of fashion’s detrimental environmental impact and are shifting their ways to be more conscious. The market is projected to reach $150 billion in sales by 2021 in the US region alone.

Jacquemus’ FW2020 runway collection that featured more sustainable materials.
Jacquemus’s FW2020 runway collection that featured more sustainable materials. Image Source: Forbes

In the name of sustainability, Jacquemus utilised his buying power to feature more eco-friendly materials this season. Independent brands too, like Cult Gaia and By Far, are quickly rising to the occasion.

Cult Gaia and By Far brand positioning and performance.

Distinctive heels and handbags plastered across Instagram propelled both brands to fame. Both Cult Gaia and By Far garnered a significant following due to their fusion of progressive yet sustainable designs.

Driven mostly by full-price items, high overall sell-out percentage for both brands indicates a potential for other brands to venture into.

However, there still remains the gap of plus-size assortments from sustainable brands. Plus-size consumers have increasingly voiced their frustration on the lack of size inclusivity in sustainable fashion. Despite efforts from brands like Reformation and Everlane to extend their sizes, options are still scarce.

Independent brands who continue to alienate this consumer demographics will run the risk of losing out on a promising growth opportunity to their fast fashion counterparts. 

But like for any other market, opportunities and threats come hand-in-hand.

Independent Brands Face a Threat

Zara's sustainable collection.
Join Life, Zara’s sustainability line. Image Source: Zara

However, despite areas of growth that independent brands can achieve with sustainable opportunities, these brands will also face the threat of fast fashion giants.

Not one to lose out on lucrative opportunities, retailers like H&M and Zara are picking up the pace. Unlike the newer players in the industry, fast fashion giants have the funds and ample brand presence to execute their own sustainable strategies as an answer to burgeoning demands. In 2019, Zara announced its goal of only using sustainable or recycled cotton, polyester and linen by 2025. 

New-in arrival of Zara' sustainable assortments.

Despite the dip in October, the new-in movement of sustainable assortments from Zara displayed an upward trajectory after the end of the holiday season in 2019 and into Q1 of 2020. 

Additionally, fast fashion retailers are also able to offer sustainable pieces at a lower price. As a result, independent brands will have to fortify their nuance factor to stand out amidst growing competition from fast fashion retailers. 

More to be Done

The onslaught of independent brands stems from clear demands.

Despite facing challenges from fast fashion empires, independent brands will find success by offering consumers a new take on fashion with their strong sense of individuality.

In other words, independent brands that optimise their strengths and adapt to market opportunities will be here to stay.

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