Apparel Sourcing Intelligence - Worldwide

How to go bust in apparel retailing – 7: Fast Fashion and insights for it

Some people just don’t get it. The last pair of hints from the consultants ought to be linked. But just aren’t

8. Fast fashion and customisation will prompt retailers and brands to acquire greater control over their supply chain
Historically totally untrue. First, let’s kill a myth about Fast Fashion: “Retailers with long product lead times and traditional seasonal cycles are rapidly losing market share to fast-fashion exponents such as Zara and H&M.”. They’re not and they’re not. H&M goes out of its way to say it’s not particularly committed to Fast Fashion, and there’s no evidence at all that anyone’s “rapidly losing share” to either of them. H&M, like several of the Inditex group fascias such as Zara, are highly successful. But their sales are not growing hugely faster than anyone else – and businesses that are struggling generally lose share to everyone else in the area

Fast Fashion is a niche, and an important philosophy for doing business. But it’s no coincidence that clothes factories in Central America and the European periphery are around the worst performing in the world at present: their distinctiveness is the speed with which they can respond to buyers’ needs – but the market for rapid response clothing in Europe and the US is actually declining.

As for retailers acquiring “greater control” over their supply chain: again, where’s the evidence? With Arcandor, Timberland and Liz Claiborne getting rid of their sourcing teams and buying sourcing from a third party, if anything the current trend is the other way. The authors of this collection of warmed-up cliches claim that “Leading apparel retailers will become more vertically integrated” – which is about as far from the truth as it’s possible to imagine. Every leading apparel retailer I’ve talked to lately wants to own a clothing factory about as much as he wants to halve his profits – but knows factory ownership is a great deal less likely.

There are real issues about how to keep control of a supply chain with a generation of buyers whose entire experience postdates the move offshore, and when people like Li & Fung seem to offer a real alternative to having your own buyers, These are issues we’ll address when we stop beating up these poor consultants and turn to our own proposals for success in a recession. But Fast Fashion isn’t a silver bullet, or even a bit of sliver grapeshot. Like any commercial strategy, it’ll be right for some people sometime – and wrong for lots of others a lot of the rest of the time.

9) Uncommon insights from common sources

At first glance, here was something we thought we’d easily agree with. Getting ideas for products, layout, staff motivation, keeping windows clean: never straightforward. Needs people who listen and make leaps. Who seriously think about what customers want, and how those wants can be met. So what do we get?

The trite: “The leaders will build capabilities that help them understand their competition’s latest price change or promotion” Anyone met a retailer who’s not had one of those for centuries? And the doolally: “Tools such as social web analytics and blog scraping will allow leading retailers and brands to “listen” to their customers”.

The problem isn’t hearing words customers, and potential customers, use. It’s opening your ears, understanding them, realise this is nature’s way of telling you how to re-orient your business and doing something with what you’ve heard. It’s not technology that matters: it’s realising that one of the key differentiators between winners from losers in a recession is realising how you can adapt your business to what customers really want.

That’s about real insight: moving beyond what you hear to what will move customers to shop, or costs to fall.

But enough of us moaning about other people’s tired old formulas. It’s about time we came out with some formulas of our own.

Which is next on our agenda.