Fashion brands from Burberry to Rebecca Minkoff have dreamt up a new consumer-driven vision for the fashion show: The clothes they send down the runways will go on sale as consumers are seeing them for the first time, rather than at a six-month delay.
This see-now-buy-now model has been top of mind in the fashion industry since February, when Burberry made the call to switch it up. In the months since, much of the fashion world has slowly woken up to the idea that they should sell their clothes when consumers are interested in buying them. Revolutionary.
But it turns out making fashion week “shoppable” is a logistical problem for many brands, especially the ones that sell wholesale through retailers. Existing order and delivery schedules from retailers dictate how the process works: once a collection is shown, an order is placed. Then, the designer has about six months to send for the fabric, cut the fabric, manufacture the designs and send the orders to the retailers. Switching to a see-now-buy-now schedule eliminates that order period, putting the burden of order forecasting on the designer.
Regardless of this headache, New York Fashion Week begins today, and brands that have announced they’ll be selling items immediately around their fashion shows include Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford, Michael Kors, Rebecca Minkoff, Thakoon, Opening Ceremony and Proenza Schouler, among others. But for these brands to get items in the hands of the consumers in-season, they have had to make major changes behind the scenes.
In a social media age where transparency rules, the six-month lead time from runway to clothing racks may not make as much sense. But previously, fashion shows were intended for the press and buyers; they served as a way to gather feedback on collections in order to nix designs and make final tweaks before the clothing went on sale for the following season. Then, orders were placed by retailers who carry the designs in store, and designers fill those orders accordingly. Those six months were needed to first allow time for feedback and orders, and then to fill them. Without that period, the entire fulfillment and delivery process is going to have to change.
“The designers need the time to create the desire and the demand for the actual products,” said Aliza Licht, the former svp of global communications at Donna Karan. “It’s all about logistics, and the biggest problem is changing the actual timing of deliveries to wholesale partners.”
To avoid this delivery dance, the brand Thakoon recently ditched its wholesale model in order to go direct-to-consumer and introduce new collections in season. But foregoing wholesale retail in favor of operating all in-store and e-commerce systems in house isn’t a simple switch. In a recent interview with Glossy, designer Thakoon Panichgul said that it was a shift that took three years to execute; the brand could only go through with it after it had been acquired by Hong Kong-based company Bright Fame Fashion.
“It’s become more complex for small brands to run a business,” said Rony Zeidan, CEO and founder of the agency RO NY. “You see brands shifting from wholesale to direct to consumer, which puts them in control, but that comes with budget. Not everyone can pull that off.”
For brands with robust resources, the see-now-buy-now model has largely manifested within capsule collections as processes are still being worked out. Tommy Hilfiger will put its capsule collection with Gigi Hadid on sale following the runway show (taking place at an Instagram-friendly Tommy-branded carnival) on September 9. Having a piece of a collection on sale both puts something in the hands of the consumers who are eager to shop, and doesn’t require completely overhauling production processes.
“The most popular formula is having a capsule of ‘see-now-buy-now’ within the collection,” said Licht. “That’s a better compromise rather than straight-forward consumer show, because it meets demand while creating desire.”
But putting a purse or pair of shoes up for sale as the rest of a collection is being shown next season doesn’t solve the problem that see-now-buy-now is supposed to, which is aligning the release of collections with the season they’re meant for. That’s going to take longer to see in action, according to Arnaud Roy, CMO of Launchmetrics, which owns New York Fashion Week network GPS Radar.
“Brands are being forced to go at a breakneck speed for exposure, which has caused some to go quiet this season all together,” said Roy.
For example, Kate Spade, Derek Lam and Diane Von Furstenberg will be foregoing the runway and quietly showing their collections to the press for spring in an effort to realign runway collections with the retail season in the future.
“In the end, it’s all going to depend on position in the market when it comes to when you can buy a collection,” said Roy. “Brands, individually, are going to want to align with consumer’s expectation, so we’re not going to see one strategy across the board.”