Sebastian manes, a buyer and product director at Selfridges, is no stranger to fashion months that used to run around.
But this fall, his itinerary has little resemblance to that of the past, when he was full of flights, fashion shows, parties and shopping appointments in London, Paris and Milan, and now his time is free. The small department store is not looking for a new brand representative of the UK. Manes originally planned to attend only one offline event in person - a private salon show held by Victoria Beckham on September 20 - but the brand later scaled back the program by holding only a few face-to-face appointments to see and buy.
Similarly, Natalie Kingham, the fashion and buyer director for matchsfashion, has no travel plans, telling BOF that most of the appointments will be made through zoom. In recent years, the e-commerce has held activities in its townhouse experience shop in Carlos square or freize Art Fair. In the future, the focus will be on maintaining relationships with brands and customers through digital means or private booking.
The absence of manes, Kingham and other * buyers poses a critical, even life and death challenge to London's designer brands, which are mostly small and rely on wholesale businesses. In addition to months of sluggish retail sales caused by restrictions on epidemic control, the industry also faces an increasingly grim prospect of brexit and potentially punitive new trade terms.
Caroline rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Association, noted supply chain disruption, factory and store closures, order cancellations and a general decline in demand, saying: "the global epidemic has put the fashion industry in a state of emergency. The dominant digital fashion week agenda... Forces our designer brands, especially emerging brands, to come up with new creative solutions to show their vision. "
Jason has only tried a few traditional brands in New York in the past week. Earlier this year, herm è s and Valentino's digital efforts failed to have the same impact, while small brands face unprecedented risks: many London brands may not survive the next fashion cycle without new orders.
"Sadly, it's going to be a long, eventful winter, whether you're big or small," manes told BOF. "I think we're going to see more businesses fail."
In this crucial season, a number of independent brands in London are looking for creative ways to attract and motivate key customers, despite tightening epidemic restrictions.
Offline projects make a comeback
Eudon Choi, a London based Korean women's fashion designer, has not staged an offline fashion show in the past two seasons. On September 18th, however, he will preside over the release.
As a result of the epidemic, its sales fell by 30%, and the designer saw everything. He fired employees, tightened his budget, halved the size of the series, and shifted resources to digital projects, but he still believes that an offline show can help him through. Despite the surge in online sales this year, his direct sales channel is still in its infancy. And this show will help him create social media content to increase online engagement, and, he hopes, will attract traditional wholesale customers.
It's a bold gamble, because the fashion show experience is not going to be traditional. The British Fashion Association confirmed on September 10 that England's restrictions on gatherings of more than six people do not apply to fashion releases, but these activities still need to comply with government guidelines for the field of performing arts. In addition, viewers need to sit 2 meters away from each other to watch the show. The number of participants is limited and, like manes and Kingham, many well-known buyers do not intend to participate at all.
Choi has three 20 minute shows with a maximum of 15 guests. Models and staff will be taken their temperature; staff and guests must be forced to wear masks, and hand sanitizer will be provided on site. "It may be brave, but it's also crazy," he said.
In addition to Choi, Bora Aksu, mark fast and pronounce will also host physical shows to promote interaction, and Bethany Williams will hold an exhibition at Somerset palace. On September 20, Paria / FARZANEH, a men's wear brand, will hold a mysterious and immersive experience in amherham, 40 minutes away from London by train, hoping to impress a group of important media people and buyers selected by them.
Some designers choose to quit completely and use this time to rethink their business models. Rejina Pyo won't hold exhibitions or make appointments this season, and the designer is changing the way she presents and sells her collections to buyers and customers. She won't release her vision for spring and summer 2021 until next year, and will switch to the "see and buy" model. "We have the opportunity to build products that end-users can use immediately," she said
For others, this week's plans have been in constant uncertainty as the number of cases in the UK increases and people's nerves grow. Like Victoria Beckham, Molly Goddard originally planned to hold an offline show, but it was eventually reduced to an appointment system. Taking into account the latest regulation of the board of directors, Mr. goffiard wrote, "we should consider a change in the regulation of Mr. goffiard.
If you make an appointment, you can meet the requirements of sending people to see the epidemic prevention. Persuading the right people to come to see the goods may be the key to success or failure of many London independent brands, as they have not built up enough credibility to rely on repeat customers that do not exist, especially in the current environment.
"We're not a brand that people have been shopping for 10 years, we don't have a classic silhouette, we change our design over and over," said Michael Halpern, Halpern's designer. "It's important for buyers to understand the look, feel and experience of the collection every season, because we don't always do the same style."
Not long ago, Halpern said that he would not hold offline shows, but would instead adopt an appointment system in which buyers could see and touch his evening clothes in person. For those who failed to attend, the designer hoped to boost confidence in the series through detailed 360 ° photography and fabric sample books - which he used in June and received positive feedback.
Huishan Zhang, another London based brand known for its evening wear, takes a similar view. At present, the brand of Zhang Huishan will be displayed to the media in Qingdao. "The more buyers see, the more they order," he says, noting that offline activities are critical for new customers to appreciate the craftsmanship of their products and provide valuable time for them to catch up with the needs of existing retail partners. Brands such as prEN by Thornton bregazzi, roksanda and Simone Rocha have also taken the way of booking.
Beyond fashion week
It's going to be a crucial and brutal season, testing all the decisions that brands have made since the beginning of the global epidemic crisis. For many, how buyers respond to new series and events can be the key to success or failure.
"The brands that make the right decisions... Will be the brands of the future," says manes. He emphasizes the transparency and the optimization of the supply chain. "Until then, it was pure survival for everyone."
Many are hedging their business with strategic business decisions that could change their long-standing dependence on fashion week. Like Choi, Zhang Huishan has scaled back its current clothing line; the brand also plans to launch a major project for the Chinese market and expand its product range to daytime clothing. Designers are also counting on their store environment as an asset to use. "Giving buyers a store environment can help them imagine their products and help them arrange orders."
Like Choi, FARZANEH has used the time during the blockade to expand its reach to consumers. "Our fans have become more directly involved with us, so we don't have middlemen," she says The brand has also started publishing films from her homeland, Iran, on its platform, in order to connect with the community at a cultural level. Although Halpe's face-to-face consumer business has not yet leaped, retailers' demand for customized orders is still strong, which helps to maintain healthy cash flow.
Rush is optimistic that as many brands will remain at the end of the season. Although the June schedule is focused on branding rather than clothing - designers talking to each other, or publishing magazines - this season's focus will shift back to actual products, which she hopes will help push buyers to place orders. "I want our industry to recover because British fashion is known for its resilience," she said.