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Revamping the Runway-to-Retail Model

With the increase in digital coverage of Fashion Week, from live streams to Snapchat stories and Instagram postings, designers have put what might be considered the most coveted and exclusive ticket in town directly in the hands of consumers. During the most recent New York Fashion Week (“NYFW”), which took place in February, over 400,000 Fashion Week images were shared on Instagram, generating over 113 million “social engagements,”or likes, comments and shares. The increased digital integration between show and consumer has created an impatient consumer base that sees now and wants to buy now. And the traditional NYFW format – meant for a trade audience with shows in September previewing next year’s spring and summer trends, and shows in February previewing fall and winter trends – is not currently in line with this shift. For the Insta-generation, waiting six months on the traditional runway-to-retail schedule to buy that winter coat that you saw on your feed in February is simply too long.  Fast fashion empires have largely filled the need for instant retail gratification with sweeping success.

In response to the shifts in technology and consumer demand, designers and their brands are being pushed to rethink the traditional Fashion Week format. Earlier this month, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (“CFDA”), the trade organization for American designers and the organizer of the official NYFW schedule, released a report examining the current NYFW format, its challenges and potential solutions. The report cites the idea of “in-season relevancy” as a potential solution to the challenges posed by technology and consumer demand to the traditional Fashion Week format. “In-season relevancy” is the idea that a designer would time fashion events to when collections hit stores to maximize sales, but no uniform approach has emerged as to how to achieve this solution.

Some brands are achieving “in-season relevancy” by showing a parka at the September Fashion Week show (to be delivered in January) and swimwear at the February Fashion Week show (to be delivered in July). Other brands like Burberry and Michael Kors have experimented by showing immediately shoppable apparel during their most recent February 2016 NYFW shows. Taking a more radical approach, designer Tom Ford cancelled his NYFW show in favor of showing his designs in September as they hit stores. Parisian house Vetements is moving its February 2017 show to January, with designs hitting stores the following month. Emerging brands have opted for Instagram-only shows. Still others, like New York-based Jason Wu, and fashion heavyweights Kering (owner of Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent) and LMVH (owner of Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Céline), have resisted change and are sticking to the traditional runway-to-retail schedule.

So what does this shake up mean for retailers preparing for the September 2016 Fashion Week season?  Generally, retailers will need to be flexible during the designers’ experimentation phase, as some brands are adhering to the traditional 4-6 month delivery schedule while others are making their collections immediately shoppable. Accordingly, this September, apparel buyers may have to attend traditional runway shows, potentially by appointment-only, as well as look to Instagram and other social media platforms.

Retailers that have customers spanning different climates may benefit from the differences in brand approaches during this experimentation phase. For those retailers, whether a designer is showing a parka at a February show (for retail delivery in July) or an immediately shoppable trench coat in September, the designs will inevitably be “in season” somewhere in the world. Such retailers may want to consider marketing and sales strategies that emphasize their all-season inventory. Even those that serve more limited customer bases should consider developing marketing plans that will capitalize on the perceived novelty of designs as deliveries are timed and marketed closer to consumer need. Where designers have announced immediately shoppable collections, retailers may consider consumer-centered activations that leverage NYFW to increase traffic to their brick & mortar and e-commerce sites.

While it remains to be seen if the quest for “in-season relevancy” will take complete hold of the industry, as long as large fashion conglomerates like Kering and LMVH follow the traditional model, retailers should prepare for a multi-platform and multi-season Fashion Week in September.

Related topics: Retail, Retail Sales