The retail impasse

Fashion business: the therapeutic obstinacy for an almost-dead patient

The retail impasse and the problems emerging in fashion these days revolve around two main topics: late deliveries and markdown strategies. 

However, both issues are indicators of a fashion system that is basically dead, but everyone pretends not to see it. Or they refuse to accept it. So every operator in the field is on a kind of therapeutic obstinacy for a patient that is almost gone. And which, by the way, has a huge impact on the planet.

Two main points of the retail impasse

One: many stores have received a small percentage of the Spring-Summer pieces, which makes it complicated to assemble outfits. Why does this happen? Top brands monopolise good manufacturers. So smaller brands get materials late (for the same reason) and consequently are left as the last link of the chain. Therefore, they cannot deliver on time.

Two: markdown strategies and how to get rid of the stock in excess that stores keep purchasing. Even though retailers are perfectly aware that the number of people entering a store isn’t the same as in the pre-pandemic time, they don’t stop overstocking. Of course, it gets more complicated to sell discounted items! They are available online and offline throughout the year. Markdowns aren’t attractive anymore. And a discount isn’t the only reason people purchase a product.

The excessive stock policy is harmful to the planet and business. So, we must change it.

Can we find solutions to revive the fashion business?

These solutions need to experiment with new ways of operating the fashion business. 

First: a dramatic reduction in consumption! Let’s face reality: if we do not consume less, much less, we can forget to have a future. So, there’s no point in procrastinating the change.

Second: a shift to artisanal garments and made-to-order clothes and accessories, having the chance to reorder during the season. It’s about choosing tailoring over mass-produced garments – quality over quantity.

If we want to overcome the retail impasse, overtreating fashion with more overproduction will take us nowhere. We need a completely different strategy: it’s a matter of reducing the number of pieces while providing a higher value.
Less but better.

The luxury inconsistency

How the fashion system devalues itself

Straight to the point of the luxury inconsistency: top brands stopped representing luxury. When they started the overproduction pattern, triggering the constant need for discounts, they moved in a different direction. And since the diffusion of affordable luxury, a meaningless oxymoron, the fashion industry is doing its best to devalue what little remains of luxury.

Luxury: from exclusivity to mass products

Overproduction and luxury have nothing in common. But the fashion industry promoted this pattern to make more money – in the name of growth and greed.
Some top brands represented the last stronghold of an industry which was transmuting into financial conglomerates. In this new context, fashion went from exclusivity to the masses.

In order to appeal to a wider audience, communication had to develop a different narrative. And it revolves around three points:
1- extremized concepts, just to give something to talk about
2- socialite or fashion bloggers to promote the products
3- frequent markdowns

And so, the industry has lowered standards focusing on branding rather than providing creativity and excellent quality. The byproduct was a crass logo dependency. But, associating a logo with specific lifestyle imagery is different from well-made products. Most importantly, exclusivity and discounts contradict each other!

The luxury short-circuit

Sometimes luxury brands, how they still want to call themselves, release the wrong communication, as in the case of Balenciaga. Consequently, fashion bloggers sell their products for cheap. Can you imagine who paid the full price for those items? They must be happy to see them undersold!

Rising prices: the latest strategy for luxury

Now brands increase prices due to pandemic-related issues and inflation, but that does not mean better quality. They cover their costs. If people accept to pay more, they get mass products in return, not exclusivity.

What masses believe is luxury, it is not. It’s the product of an industry that lost consistency. Without serious critique and questioning, it reveals its short-circuit and inability to change.

Indeed, communication missteps show the luxury inconsistency to everyone. And you don’t even need to be a fashion insider to understand it!

Limited number of pieces: our fashion alternative

Why limited quantities pave the way to sustainable fashion

The production of a limited number of pieces represents an alternative in the fashion industry. Indeed, it is a viable approach towards sustainable fashion.

It means producing much less without forcing the market to pursue never-ending growth. The purpose is to limit the impact of the fashion industry on the planet while protecting workers with decent wages. But, at the same time, offering quality and not quantity to consumers.
We are far from the scarcity principle and the fear of missing out, developed to manipulate people’s behaviour. Those patterns fake scarcity to hide a system of overproduction. Because of this massified production, the fashion system needs parallel markets, frequent markdowns and marketing tricks to push people to consume more and more.

The sustainable solution

Garments and accessories made by skilled tailors or crafted by artisans. In the hands of a healthier and more balanced manufacturing chain, those limited production would have a lower impact on the planet. This system includes small reorders and a made-to-order service for retailers. In the end, clients would get real quality pieces made to last rather than disposable fashion.

Unique fashion and sustainability: a limited number of pieces, our retail approach

We have reduced the quantities we buy from each brand we select. Perhaps they are not happy with it, but they cannot deny there’s a new reality, so we must face it and find solutions. Even though some brands come from Japan, which you may consider less sustainable, since quantities are small, the impact is low. Microscopic compared to the fashion supermarkets like big retailers or dept. stores.

Indeed, a limited number of pieces is our commitment to uniqueness and sustainability. Specifically, we are satisfied with Marc Le Bihan, who gave the opportunity of a made-to-order service to those who appreciate his unique designs.

Eventually, we can foster the status quo, pursuing an exploitative system. Or, we can explore alternatives.
We chose to work for a different possibility, an evolution, a change for the better. And a limited number of pieces is our commitment to unique fashion and sustainability.

The growth obsession

Can fashion survive without growth?

While reading the international news, it seems the growth obsession is here to stay despite climate change. Industries don’t see any problem or urgency. So, why should they make a change? They don’t really care because money comes first.

Sustainability and growth obsession

On December 22, Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times fashion director and chief fashion critic, moderated a task force of fashion industry leaders.

Sustainability is the goal of the fashion industry. But, according to the industry leaders, sustainability wouldn’t happen without changes to the business model and more efforts to educate consumers.

Ms Friedman said:

“At this point, it’s not about the chemicals. It’s about the sheer amount of stuff that we produce, that we buy and that we waste.”

Vanessa Friedman

But then Laurent Claquin, Americas president of the luxury group Kering, declared: “Growth is not a bad word.”
Well, this leaves us a little bit perplexed…

Although the conclusion was that the fashion industry needs to stop focusing on exponential growth, some contradictory positions emerged.

So, where is the fashion system heading? And can fashion survive without growth?

China, Covid and growth

In an interview with “Il sole 24 ore”, Alberto Forchielli, entrepreneur and expert in international business with a focus on Asia, said:

“In China, the Covid situation is truly explosive. Some factories have 80-90% sick employees. Experts estimate 250 million cases and two million deaths within the year.
Now everything is blocked and obviously, it will have consequences for the economy. Factories can’t keep up with orders, and containers don’t leave. But this situation will not last long.
Forecasts say that growth will return in the third quarter. And when China restarts, it won’t be easy for the West: gas and oil will rise again next winter because Chinese energy demand will explode.”

Growth obsessed industries vs climate change

On the one hand, the actual situation in China is a catastrophe facing many deaths. Yet, on the other, the imperative is growth. Growth, growth and more growth!

The big picture is this: extreme heat, rainforest burning, glaciers melting, flooding, ocean life dying, and insect numbers plummeting. And we could go on with the list!
Our lifestyle is destroying the planet and the ecosystems. And this destruction will soon revert to us.

Is growth still the only plan we have?

Less is more

What the fashion industry refuses to see

Less is more – is not about deprivation but value, a more attentive choice. A concept that, together with buy less, buy better – brings about a new awakened attitude focused on meaning. And so, an evolved lifestyle that privileges quality rather than quantity.

For people like us, who lived the pandemic as an eye-opening event and an opportunity to change because we had the chance to realise what we did to the planet, going back is not a possibility.

A lost opportunity

People attracted to the spotlights, influencers and celebrities did not have a crumb of this thought during this fashion month.
But we did, you and us. Indeed we are disappointed by the latest fashion shows and the massive number of outfits made for the new Spring/Summer 23 season. And we are disappointed because the industry missed the opportunity to mark a real change.

Less is more is a shift that the fashion industry cannot face up for a matter of mere interest. Fashion is in the hands of finance, and finance is all about money.
Since we try to find better ways to inhabit the planet, therefore, how we live and consume, we question what we see. And we challenge the fashion system.

A less passive fruition of fashion

There are people bored by endless online catalogues or stores packed with items. It’s a niche driven by less passive fruition of fashion and product consumption in general.

If you are part of this niche, you refuse endless overconsumption as a lifestyle pattern. And you shift towards caring behaviour, so you want a thoughtful selection, fewer pieces made to last.

Less is more: evolved fashion #formodernhumans

Less is more creates space for new possibilities, a new approach that touches on our ethical, economic, and social views placing people and the planet first.
It’s a different way of living, a higher purpose. Something that we share and can drive change. Which, in the end, is something bigger than ourselves.

The fashion industry cannot grasp this opportunity, but we can.

Chronicles from the Middle Ages

Women against women

“An entrepreneur cannot afford not to see a woman show up for two years, that’s why I often bet on men.”
Sometimes women can have a tremendously negative impact on women’s emancipation. You can see this by listening to Elisabetta Franchi, whose words sounded like chronicles from the Middle-Ages.

This is what Elisabetta Franchi said in an interview with “Il Foglio”:

“When you put a woman in an important position, you cannot afford not to see her coming for two years because that position is uncovered. An entrepreneur invests time, energy, and money and if a woman cannot show up it’s a problem, so I too, as an entrepreneur, am responsible for my company, have often focused on men.”

“I only hire over forty women who already have children.”

Daily life in Middle Ages

This is not men’s opposition to women’s emancipation. This is women against women.
For what is our vision of fashion, Elisabetta Franchi has never been under our radar. Style speaks, and her fashion perfectly represents her worldview, which is explained above. A tacky style for women who dress to impress men. That’s what society and tradition want, so let’s give it to them. And so, we witness the same old patriarchal rhetoric depicted through clothing. A regressive representation of the female who has no career opportunities but can count on attracting men.

Something we would never offer to our women. But what we find sad is that most women like that style.

A while ago, we promised to write an exploration of fashion and patriarchy. Indeed, the only fashion that men can appreciate is the one that pleases them. Consequently, that is the most popular style among women, and therefore, that is the best-selling fashion.

Now pair Franchi’s retrograde words with the recent news that three girls couldn’t enter a bar on the beach near Ostia because their clothes weren’t sexy enough. So what do we see? The disturbing picture of a society where there’s no chance for women. No evolution.

And we just needed a woman to remind us about it! Chronicles from the Middle-Ages, that’s it!

The coherence gap

Sustainability vs fast-fashion growth

Our society has a problem with consistency. Indeed one point seems quite clear: what people say is not consistent with what they do. It’s like coherence is a fault, or it’s not necessary. So you are allowed to say something and then do the opposite without being held accountable.

Consistency and sustainability

Magazines these days released the news that Shein, the fast-fashion giant, is raising funds at 100 billion USD value.
Considering that their price range is around 10 – 20 euros, two things are certain. First, the materials have zero quality. Second, their production chains cause serious doubts. If 15 euros is the price of one dress, how much are workers getting paid to make that garment?
Quality can be something one could renounce, but an ethical production chain is the foundation of a healthy society. And therefore, crucial in any discussion, even about sustainability.

Yet no questions arise in those who buy Shein. In fact, in a moment when communication and marketing are all about sustainability, the fast-fashion giant is growing enormously. And there is similar news too. Recently Primark opened in Milano, and people were packed in line to get in.

Overcoming the coherence gap

People talk about sustainability and maybe show up at ‘Friday’s for Future’, but they buy fast fashion. Why?
Everyone, adults and teenagers, say something, but they do the opposite. This lack of consistency reveals that sustainability is just a marketing trend. It is a popular topic, something people like to discuss to show they are up-to-date, but they don’t really care.

Because if they were consistent, they wouldn’t buy fast fashion at all! And the case of low budgets is just an excuse to avoid the change since the business model is profitable for corporations and “convenient” for short-sighted masses. Vintage items are accessible to anyone, and nothing is more sustainable.

So, here’s the way to overcome the coherence gap: let actions follow thoughts. In the same direction, of course!

The upscale drive

Revising the (over)production model

Ending the diffusion lines is one of the strategies implemented by fashion Maisons lately. Why this change of direction? And is it the start of a new business model?

What is a diffusion line?

The diffusion lines, also named second lines, are ready-to-wear collections whose name is similar or somehow recalls the designer’s name. The inspiration and design of these clothing and accessory lines come from the Maison archive. But they get simplified in terms of patterns, working, and materials to offer the spirit of the brand at a lower price. More affordable, or relatively so. However, much lower compared to the main lines.

Indeed main lines dominate the high-end segment of the market, meaning they are expensive. But if they remained in that high-end segment, brands would miss the majority of the market.

So, driven by greed and speed, brands launched diffusion lines as an opportunity to expand the business and maximise profits. Specifically, diffusion lines were conceived and produced for the mass market.

Apart from some trailblazers like Armani, whose Emporio line was born in 1980, many diffusion lines started spreading in the 90s and mushroomed during 2000. For decades brands focused on evergrowing, ever-expanding, overproducing, and heavy discounting policies. So they triggered a vicious cycle that led to an oversaturated market deprived of value.
Now, something is changing. Some fashion Maison backed up, undertaking a new (or not so new) route.

The new strategy: quitting the diffusion lines

Recently, Valentino decided to eliminate the Red Valentino line from 2024 (launched in 2003) to focus more on couture.
Likewise, Chloè is to phase out its See by Chloé line over the next three years, addressed as a – “natural and necessary evolution for the long term.”

So, in the short term, brands have maximised profit through secondary lines. But, in the long run, this strategy has compromised the market and their own image.

Now the market is almost dead, and this forced them to change their path.
If fashion Maisons want to stay relevant in an oversaturated market, they need to do some cleaning. Ending the diffusion lines will allow brands a more focused business model.

Though we do not expect they will stop overproducing, we are curious to see what they will do next!

Wheelchair? Please, don’t come!

Fashion, disability and non-inclusion

Inclusion and diversity are topics to which we are particularly sensitive. However, we had to overcome a certain discomfort to share this story with you. But if we want to make a change, we have to open up on this matter.

We acknowledged that Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana holds an event, at its second edition, named: “Including Diversity”.

Specifically, on Sept 20th – today – Camera Moda will discuss diversity and inclusion to promote both matters within the Italian fashion system. If you happen to read about it, you may think that the intent is noble and words strong. Everything looks so on point.

Yes, agreed. If only words correspond to facts. 

As we wrote in one of our recent posts, inclusion and diversity are much-discussed topics in the fashion field. We call them “the fashion bullshit” – because the smell of marketing is so strong. 

Inclusion and diversity: facts vs words 

After I was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, I can report a much different reality about fashion and inclusion based on my personal experience. Indeed, being a wheelchair user, I can say that not only showrooms lack accessibility but fashion events too. So, you have to entrust yourself to the empathy of employees working there. And you cannot take that empathy for granted!

In September 2019 – Covid hit the previous season – I was consulting for a brand showing in one of the exhibitions connected to Camera Moda. The designer had an invitation for an event dedicated to fashion buyers and emerging designers. Consequently, he invited me. 
I couldn’t go alone. I needed help with my wheelchair. And so, the designer informed the Camera Moda press office of the plus-one necessity. Something that shouldn’t require much explanation. No?

Their response was that because of the pandemic, they had limited access, so I wasn’t allowed to go with another person.
Of course, it meant I couldn’t take part in the event. 

My friends were shocked by the idea that I put myself in the position of asking permission. In the case of walking disability, plus-one is a fact, period. But I was afraid any reaction would cause problems for the brand I worked for.

Disappointed by that reply, I posted something on my Instagram. I was fuming, frustrated. Unable to reply as they deserved in that precise moment. Shortly after, a beautiful human DM’d me checking if she got my message right.

Laura Mohapi, a talented artist based in London, supported me. Also, she thought I had to address what happened and offered to write a letter to Camera Moda on my behalf. The idea of having to explain made me feel so bad, even if I knew it was right, so her offer was very welcome.

I read the letter she wrote, and it was like receiving a punch in my stomach. I pondered a lot. But finally, I decided to forward it by email.

No response in my inbox. Probably it went ignored. And so I sent a registered letter too.

This time the message got a little attention. Not that much. Indeed, I received in my inbox a forwarded email – in English. They didn’t even bother to make an effort to copy the English version they received and paste it into a new email. They paid zero attention to the form, giving the impression that what happened had no relevance for them. Or perhaps, they weren’t familiar with how to handle official emails. 

In the end, it took me almost two years to find the courage to write about it. But the sadness, frustration and disappointment when I see those “Include Diversity” events still make me feel sickened.

And so, Cri and I wonder: when they launch those events for the fashion industry, what do they really mean?

The wind of Instachange

The fashion system needs to change. Social media accounts put out various content on this topic quite often. Like something new occurred, so the news has to be shared with everyone. Or perhaps, they believe we haven’t heard this story yet.

The discussion about resetting the fashion industry started during the pandemic, although the system was in bad health a long time before.
And the reason why it came out is not that it made sense to shift the approach by reinventing a stale system but because companies lost large amounts of money.
Indeed, money is the engine that makes the world move. And apparently, finances are the only thing that can provoke any shift.
Many of those who operate in the system completely ignore the problems. Better avoid the risk of any further loss of capital.

Fashion system and change
Image via Ode to things Tumblr

However, the debate still goes on.
Those who are aware of the multiple issues talk profusely and release interviews, podcasts. Top brands like to talk about change, but unfortunately, it is not tangible yet. There’s not even a little sign.
Only a few smaller brands follow a different direction.

Real change or Instachange?

So we wonder if all the talks are just catchy content for social media, food for the great experts in the field who can show how cool they are by interviewing this or that designer. But we are afraid that the whole debate will end up like COP26. Nothing done.

It is helpful to repeat concepts more than once because we tend to forget words quickly. And so listening again might help us keep the focus.
But, in the end, we must find solutions. Actions must follow the words. Otherwise, we will have beautiful graphics for Instagram, the wind of “Instachange”, but we won’t solve any issue.

By the way, overproduction is the biggest concern in the fashion field. Any news about if and how are they going to solve it?