Posts Tagged ‘retail’

Retail Suicide

December 23, 2017

It’s a known fact that fashion retail is in the crapper right now. Sales are off, markdowns rule and companies are more interested in analytics than creativity. As I strolled through the mainstream shops, seeking gifts for a fashionable almost 18-year-old, I was dumbfounded by how dumb retailers really are.

Store after store was filled with lackluster merchandise, less than enthusiastic employees, and signs announcing high percentages off, and “buy one get one” schemes. I literally saw the same items in every single store, with nobody bold enough to put their own spin on them.

After spending decades in the fashion world, as a designer and retail design executive, let me “woman-splain” to you how it works.

Teams of designers labor to create a collection that the merchants or buyers purchase for the stores. Financial plans are considered, as are prior successes. Fast forward to line review, when the designers show the buyers what they created, based on these requirements. In a perfect world, there was a collaboration of creativity and business acumen, meeting somewhere in the middle to create an assortment that would delight and inspire the customer. In the real world, especially when business is tough, analysis paralysis takes over and the product often gets so watered down that the message is lost. I am willing to bet that most of the product decisions this year were belabored, re-assessed and reworked many times to get to this place, at great emotional expense to the teams. Experienced and talented designers have in many cases been replaced by less experienced workers who shop and interpret what’s already out there. This had to have been the case at many stores where the exact same item appeared at all. Organizations like the Gap have done away with their high-level design talent, in favor of merchants partnering with Google analytics.
The result; same old same old products, and markdowns galore.
Don’t even get me started on the store environments. Other than a little music, there is nothing compelling about any of them. Don’t ask me about the morale of the staff, as only one person approached me in the eight stores I entered.

Come Monday morning, or in this particular case, Tuesday, the teams will gather to rehash the holiday sales. Some will blame the weather, some will blame where Christmas fell on the calendar this year, and some will blame marketing for picking the wrong the shade of red for the sale banners. The reality is that they all need to take a good hard look into the mirror and blame themselves. Shame on you for not creating an environment that draws people in and makes them feel festive and inspired. Shame on you for not stepping out and creating a product assortment that is compelling and proprietary to your brand. Shame on you for either not hiring real creative talent or even worse, for squelching it.

Gone are the days when collections were created with a brand in mind, and a desire to stand out in the sea of sameness. Gone are the days when we felt it in our gut that something was the next big thing. Gone are the days when shopping was an experience, not a chore. If the tactile and interactive experience isn’t pleasant, I might as well let my fingers do the walking and let Amazon bring it to my door, quickly and free of charge.

Retail is dead, and it is a result of suicide provoked by fashion executives who lack the vision to nurture and develop original and inventive thoughts.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Think Small

February 2, 2015

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In the last few weeks, the fashion industry has imploded with news of high profile firings, and store closures. From the termination of Frida Giannini at Gucci, to Rebekka Bay at the Gap, brands on all ends of the spectrum are panicking. Last week the Gap announced the pending closure of it’s Piperlime division, Kate Spade is abandoning their Saturdays and Jack Spade divisions, and Jones New York, an iconic giant in the moderate market decided to give up the fight. All on the heels of C. Wonder shutting down the week before. What does it mean, when the big players decide to pack it in and call it quits?

Throughout the last several years, we have lived in a difficult economy. Retailers blamed poor economic conditions for  the state of their business, when not blaming the designer. Anything, to avoid taking responsibility for their own failings. As the financial landscape has improved and consumer confidence has risen, it’s harder and harder to make excuses. Especially multi-million dollar ones. Investors are running out of patience and rescources.

It’s easy to blame the designer, who most think decide what ends up on the racks. In a large retail environment, the buyers, or the merchants in fact call the final shots. The best designed and concieved collection can be rendered unsuccessful when bought incorrectly, or edited and tweaked to the point of losing it’s integrity.
Yes, designers do concieve the creative vision, and execute the product to that end. But once the people with check books get ahold of it, it can often go astray. Analysis paralysis sets in. The mentality tends to be that if we sold a zillion green turtlenecks this year, we should offer 10 green turtlenecks next year. That 78% of the assortment should be in pants, even if it’s a skirt or dress year. We can’t sell blank:(fill in a color or style here.) I could go on and on for days, or perhaps start a Twitter account entitled “S*@t merchants say.”

Dont’ get me wrong. It’s not always their fault, and designers do often design plenty of unsaleable merchandise. Playing the blame game doesn’t solve the problem. What does however, is acknowleging that now, more than ever, it’s time to throw the excuses out the window and forge ahead exploring new ideas and new processes.

The consumer has changed. They are savvier than ever, more exposed to fashion and culture, and things are accessible to people across the globe, all thanks to the wonderful world of the technology. If a drone can deliver to a remote location in the western plains, fast fashion is available to anyone, anywhere.

So what does that mean for the industry?

Perhaps it’s time to think small, and execute big. Ask yourself some hard questions, and think like a start up. What does the consumer want that nobody else is giving them? Where do you fit into the retail landscape where you can be best in class? Find your passion again, and do something with it. Be original and authentic, rather than a “me too.” Dare to follow your gut instinct and have some conviction. Someone once told me that if you didn’t have a little bit of stomach ache when making big decisions, you were probably not making the right ones. During the most successful and fruitful years of my fashion career, I ingested an awful lot of Maalox, and made some pretty damn good decisions to boot. Sadly, that is another brand that rode silently off into the sunset too.

I truly believe that now is the time to embrace an entreprenuerial spirit, and to try to think differently. Those that can do that, will be the big success stories of coming years.

In the meantime, I’ll just set out to change the world, one s’more at a time.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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