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America’s Next Top (Business) Model? Evaluating Fashion’s Big Experiment

Last year, scores of top fashion designers defied convention by abandoning traditional shipping schedules, which favored delivering collections four to six months after they appeared on Fashion Week runways, and moved instead to a system allowing designers the ability to give the “insta-generation” instant retail gratification. Faced with the challenges to the traditional Fashion Week format posed by technology and consumer demand (as well as the rising prominence of fast fashion brands), many designers opted to adopt the concept of “in-season relevancy,” in which a designer times fashion events to coincide with when collections hit stores in order to maximize sales. In a previous post, we wrote about the various ways designers and industry stakeholders were choosing to interpret the “in season relevancy” concept – from showcasing immediately shoppable looks during Fashion Week to hosting pop up shops to immediately bring the runways directly to consumers. With a year of experimentation under its belt, is the industry on the heels of a revolution, or experiencing just another fleeting fashion trend?

The answer depends on the brand. Some of the earliest supporters of the “in season relevancy” model are reverting back to traditional retail schedules for this September’s New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Designer Thakoon Panichgul, who previously opted for season-less collections and a focus on e-retail, has decided to take a hiatus to reevaluate the new business model, claiming that the new business model is “ahead of the current retail environment.”  Designer Tom Ford is also returning to the traditional calendar this September. Ford experimented with the new business model for one season last September, debuting a fall collection at a time when designers typically showcase spring/summer collections. Ford cited scheduling inconsistencies with the new business model, which favors fall shipments in August with collections revealed on the runway nearly a month later.  For Ford, that lost month of sales preceding NYFW and the waning sales weeks after the runway did not make the shift worth it for his brand.

However, those brands catering to the younger, more contemporary consumer continue to extol the benefits of the new business model. Designer Rebecca Minkoff has reported a 64% increase in sales year after year since shifting to the in season relevancy model. Designer Tommy Hilfiger is making its immediately shoppable collection even bigger this year, with runway items set to appear in nearly 300 stores the day after its debut. The brand has cited a nearly 900 percent increase in its website traffic in the days immediately after a collection debut.

With brands reluctant to reveal official performance figures, it is difficult to quantify the impact of the new business model on the fashion industry. And, although some designers have opted into “in season relevancy,” as retailers and shoppers brace for NYFW this September, they might expect an everything-in-moderation approach from most designers.  Most retailers will still obtain the vast majority of their merchandise from designers on the traditional schedule.  Further, due to the cost of restructuring a brand to incorporate the new business model, and the potential need for investor buy-in, most brands opting for the “in season relevancy” model will do so on a limited basis, with small, immediately shoppable capsule collections or partnerships with retailers for consumer-facing events.  For now, whether the new business model will upend the traditional fashion calendar remains a wait and see game.

Related topics: Retail