Tuesday, 08 January 2019 19:38

ChicGeek Comment LFWM: Less is More?

LFWM Menswear comment AW19 Alex MullinsLondon Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - was stripped back in more ways than one, this season. While the bones of the skeleton schedule were showing through, it was the lack of themes on the catwalks that really raised questions. What we were given was a genderless, season-less and sex less display of menswear: a casstratrated men’s fashion week. The rumour mill was flying that LFWM will soon be merged with the women’s London Fashion Week. It’s worth noting, there were as many female models as men, so, if gender is becoming less of a differentiation, then London Fashion Week will become just that, and the two separate halves could make a whole. 

Left - Alex Mullins AW19 - Girls for Boys?

If the men do return to the women, it needs to be as equals and not just a day tagged on at the end. Menswear is outgrowing womenswear, and is always seen as the less established and important sibling from brands who see ii as an add-on and not a priority. It’ll be interesting to see which brands are brave enough to give menswear equal billing.

Men’s fashion needs stereotypes to challenge, it needs boundaries to push and lines to blur, if all the lines have been erased, aren’t you just floating into nothingness? And that’s what it felt like a bit here. Menswear collections entirely shown on females models - Alex Mullins produced an entire men's show featuring only female models - more non-binary club kids dressing up in dated womenswear or six pack revealing T-shirts for the coldest months of the year: it was the male minimised.

As for gender, the whole big reveal of a chick-with-a-dick is no longer shocking, nor interesting, nor original. Art School showed a collection that didn’t look good on either gender and, Charles Jeffrey, the Uri Geller of the London scene, continued with more theatrics, but, in his defence, when the feathers stopped flying and the smoke and mirrors were turned off, the collection looked more accomplished and could hold its own alongside any other designer in-store.

This lack of focus made for a schizoid season, and it was brands like E. Tautz, which didn’t do anything particularly new, that created a pull and yearning for collections featuring something beautiful again. Bored with sports, bored with fugly, the next men’s movement will be a return to something you want to enjoy and cherish rather than Instagram and discard.

That most British thing of all, the weather, was totally missing during LFWM. It’s all about “drops”,  and “Autumn/Winter” is delivered in the middle of the summer, but, before, many brands and designers would start with this idea of “Winter” or, rain, which made Burberry. That probably had something to do with bigger budgets and fancier staging. Larger and more established brands used to like to ram home the cold weather feel, already visualising the windows, and while this idea is dated, at this LFWM, many of the clothes could have been for any month, anywhere, at anytime. So, what makes it 2019?

LFWM Menswear comment AW19 Art School

Sex was missing too. Even the hyper masculine muscle boys at Astrid Andersen were covered up for a luxury pyjama party. It was as though men were getting ready to go into hibernation until all this woke madness blows over. Though, Per Götesson, showed T-shirts pulled up to reveal the stomach, perfect for those social media body fascists. “It’s about equal parts vanity and fragility.” he says. “Each piece is designed three dimensionally around the body. We are applying techniques perhaps more common in womenswear and couture where lines and proportions in movement are taken into consideration. The jersey pieces are developed using this process, it is about finding a balance between strength and fragility.” And, there was me just thinking it was about likes on Instagram. Back to creating a male pecking order, As soon as one thing disappears, a new line or goal is revealed to differentiate the masses: that unattainable 8-pack separating the men from the boys.

Right - Art School AW19 

Fashion is about selling change and, as a designer or brand, you need to create desire for that change into what you are presenting at that moment in time. Genderless, season-less, sexless, can equal nothingness. Just please don’t make men redundant.

Published in Fashion
Tuesday, 01 January 2019 12:58

2018 The Year of the “ReBland”

reblanding Burberry logoAt the end of a tumultuous year for traditional retail, and at the start of another, which doesn’t appear to offer much respite, there’s been a distinct trend in rebranding for both luxury and high-street brands. While you’d expect them to want to stand out, it seems as though they all want to blend into one another. This homogenisation is a case of an expensive “reblanding” exercise. Rebranding means creating a different identity for a brand, from its competitors, in the market, which, in fashion, is even more important especially when you're trying to flog luxury goods and the idea of difference and individuality. This feels like the opposite.

The recent rebland list is long: Belstaff, Celine, Calvin Klein, John Lewis, Burberry, Berluti and Balmain have all gone for simple and bolded logos without any of the details and distinct serifs. Playing it safe, what these new logos and fonts say is a lack of confidence and often change for change’s sake.

Left - The recent logo "reblands"

In August, Burberry unveiled its new logo. Replacing the Burberry Equestrian Knight logo with its bespoke Bodoni font, which had been used by the clothing company since 1901, the new logo is the work of celebrated British graphic designer, Peter Saville. It’s also worth noting he rebranded Calvin Klein with a similar font when Raf Simons took over and wanted to refresh.

reblanding Burberry logo

"The new logotype is a complete step-change, an identity that taps into the heritage of the company in a way that suggests the twenty-first-century cultural coordinates of what Burberry could be," Saville exclusively told Dezeen. Somewhat cryptic and full of marketing speak, he describes what he and Riccardo Tisci, the new Burberry Creative Director, settled on as “modern utility,” adding, “It looks like it’s been there forever, but it’s still contemporary.”

Right - Hedi's masterstroke?!

Tisci said on Instagram ‘Peter is one of our generation’s greatest design geniuses. I’m so happy to have collaborated together to reimagine the new visual language for the house.’

Burberry are in the throes of changing everything way before the new Creative Director’s impact has been proven. As his first collection hits stores to a rather muted response by the fashion press, it’ll be interesting to see how it sells, especially the items with this new logo on.

Seb Law, Fashion Copywriter & Journalist, says, “I really hate that they’ve added’ ENGLAND’ to the Burberry logo after London. As if it’s London, Texas or something.”

It “Seems like an attempt to look ‘international’ and more premium, but also it’s now becoming an established way of a new designer starting at a different house to mark the start of their chapter. Does the general consumer care about this, or is it dive behaviour? Also rebrands cause plenty of chatter in fashion circles and build publicity – see Hedi’s previous rebrand of SLP. All press is good press, apparently.” says Law.

Hedi Slimane is a designer who likes to put his mark onto a brand and in September it was announced that the French house, Celine would be, controversially, losing its accent. Law and others have been defacing the brand’s posters by returning the accent to the first e.

“For me, it’s a matter of good use of language. As a copywriter and journalist (with a degree in French), diacritics aren’t just a pretty typographic tool to be played around with at the will of a designer, they’re an integral part of the word.” says Law. “‘Celine’ and ‘Céline’ are different words, pronounced differently (‘sell-een’ and ‘say-lean’, respectively).  he says.

reblanding Burberry logo Celine Hedi Slimane

“It’s a continuation of the cult of personality over brand, in both cases. Causing a splash, in whatever way possible, seems to be the aim of the game. With Burberry, I’m disappointed that the logo doesn’t have a more uniquely British feeling, which the old one did IMO – I do love the interlocking TB print though.” says Law. “With Céline, it’s a classic case of Hedi doing whatever he wants. Brands should be aiming to exercise their unique personalities; this uniqueness is what attracts customers and maintains a brand’s personality. Homogenisation might attract sales, at least initially, and while change is obviously necessary, and often good, these two rebrand exercises feel like they’re a bit half-arsed. They’ve succeeded at building publicity, but is that what a logo redesign should do?” he says.

Left - The new logos are all very similar

On the high-street, John Lewis, in September, rebranded as John Lewis & Partners at a reported cost of £10m. Its first rebrand in 18 years and inspired by the company's 1960s "diamond pattern" motif, John Lewis managed to not only complicate its name but also lose its trademark dark green. Opting for safe black, it was yet another example of this reblanding trend.

In an age when these brands should really be trying to expressive confidence in themselves, these boring logos show a striving for safety and an anti-criticism blandness. It’s hard to be critical and negative about something so simple, yet they aren’t memorable or standing out. These aren't utility companies. Fashion’s current love of the sans-serif is definitely missing something.

Published in Fashion
Monday, 17 December 2018 13:12

ChicGeek Comment November Pain

ASOS profits down black fridayThe darling of British online retail, ASOS, today, issued a statement saying it saw “significant deterioration” in trading in the run-up to Christmas. Blaming the weather and a high level of discounting and promotional activity across the market, it said it lead it to increase its own special offers, which typically eat into profit margins. 

November 2018 is set to go down as one of the worst retail months in recent memory. Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct boss, was recently quoted as saying, “November was the worst on record, unbelievably bad”. He said “No one could have budgeted for that. Retailers just cannot take that kind of November. It will literally smash them to pieces.”

Left - ASOS' HQ - Black cats for Black Friday?

While ASOS only saw a slowing in sales growth - it now expects sales growth of 15% for the year to August 2019, down from 20% to 25% - it also shows the chill running through the entire retail sector.

A perfect storm of lower footfall, Black Friday discounts, Brexit shaking consumer confidence and a highly competitive market in general, is making things very dicey for the retail sector. Retailer, Stuart Rose, formerly of Marks & Spencer, told ITV News, “I sense this is a very slow Christmas … You have the uncertainty of Brexit, people are uncertain about what the future is going to look like next year. [Consumers] have their hands in their pockets. Car sales? Down. House sales? Down. Big ticket sales? Down. I suspect there will be some uncomfortable trading statements in the early part of January.”

Even the juggernaut of Primark is reporting a slowdown. It has warned of “challenging” trading conditions. John Bason, the finance director of Primark’s parent Associated British Foods (ABF), said “I think it is a call on quite mild weather during November and I think it’s affected footfall.” This is important to Primark because it doesn’t sell online. Bason told Reuters that while sales at stores open more than one year were “just positive” in September and October, they had turned negative in November. 

On a brighter note, overall consumer spending rose 3.3% year on year in November, but it was the lowest growth since March, despite the boost from Black Friday, according to Barclaycard. Clothing spending contracted by 2.9%, the biggest fall since October 2017, while spending on household appliances was down by 14%.

One thing interesting to note is ASOS mentioning its slowdown in Europe. It said trading conditions across Germany and France, which account for 60% of the retailer’s EU sales, have become significantly more challenging, which means this is a wider problem than Brexit. ASOS said “The current backdrop of economic uncertainty across many of our major markets together with a weakening in consumer confidence has led to the weakest growth in online clothing sales in recent years. We have recalibrated our expectations for the current year accordingly.”

Primark Birmingham profits down black friday

So, let’s look at this weather. According to the Met Office, “November began with relatively cold quiet weather, but from the 3rd to 14th it was mild with a predominance of southerly winds. It was cold with easterly winds from the 19th to 26th, with frequent rain or showers for the east and south-west. It turned very mild, wet and windy in all parts of the country from the 27th onwards. The provisional UK mean temperature was 7.3 °C.” This up and down weather isn’t particularly unusual for November and we had two decent cold spells to help shift more seasonal, colder weather stock. The weather is always an easy excuse for retailers reporting bad figures.

Right - Primark is opening its largest store in the world in Birmingham this month

Black Friday, though, is wiping out profit margins for retailers with consumers expecting huge discounts and it’s stopping people from hitting the high-street. UK retail endured the biggest drop in footfall for the month of November since 2009. It also marked the 12th consecutive month of footfall decline. Discounts were made for online; no pushing and shoving to then leave disappointed. If they’ve got it, it’s in the basket, and you probably don’t buy anything else while you’re there unlike if you’d gone to the high-street or a shopping centre.

Laura Ashley just announced it was closing a further 40 stores and, last week, Bonmarché issued a profit warning and Blue Inc fell into administration.

Many retailers will be praying for a good Christmas, but to make up these sales in the three weeks to Christmas will be tough, especially with so many factors working against them. Primark and ASOS are strong retailers and will weather this storm, but many will not. To continue the weather metaphors, this could be the hardest frost to hit the retail sector in many years and anybody small or not hardy enough will be dead before the winter is out.

Published in Fashion
Thursday, 13 December 2018 13:49

ChicGeek Comment Quality Control

Quality in luxury goods Bombinate marketplace menswearLuxury brand names were once a signifier of quality and craftsmanship. In the race to grow and hit those billion dollar turnovers many luxury fashion brands have diminished their quality to a point where you can no longer tell the difference between a real or fake product.

In the Evening Standard, this week, columnist, Charlotte Edwardes, spoke about the difference she’s noticed in the quality of designer clothes. “Yani at my local dry cleaner informs me: ‘Clothes don’t last any more.’ We are standing on either side of the counter in his shop with an almost-new shirt lying between us. It is silk, but like some reverse sow’s ear, it has developed the consistency of polyester.” she writes.

Left - Bombinate homepage

“I tell him that two beautiful Celine shirts (don’t judge: they were 70 per cent off in Bicester) were stripped of their vibrant colour and silky texture after a few runs through the ‘gold standard’ service. The trousers I am wearing in the picture accompanying this column have also lost their shape. Yani shakes his head. It’s the fault of the manufacturers and not his new - ‘organic’ - machines. In the 65 years and three generations that his family have run this business ‘we’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of clothes.’ What, even expensive brands? ‘Especially expensive brands.’”

Edwardes goes on to say that her contact at Net-a-Porter confirms that the quality of clothes is in decline with two famous fashion houses being the worst offenders.

Personally, I’ve even heard of a story where the cotton logo-ed T-shirts of one huge “luxury’ brand were so thin and, of such poor quality, that the department store they were in couldn’t attach security tags without making a hole in the garment.

This all confirms something I’ve long suspected and, something, I expect, you may have noticed. 

All is not lost, though, there are still some amazing producers and manufacturers out there and there’s a new trend in bringing these, often unknown, labels and makers to a wider audience.

The Bombinate marketplace, launched in 2017, and, recently relaunched, specialises in brands of quality for men and has secured an alliance of 100+ brands.

“The main stipulation for being part of the Bombinate community is that each brand aligns with Bombinate’s quality criteria and have a compelling story. Men from around the world can now easily discover a curated selection of European brands that all share the same commitment to quality and design.” says the website.

Founded by European entrepreneurs, Massimiliano Gritti and Elliott Aeschlimann, who were both students studying marketing and finance at different universities in London. “The story of Bombinate started on a bumpy road, somewhere between Russia and Mongolia. Something during these two months traversing the legendary Silk Road inspired us to take the plunge,” says Gritti. “Driving at night didn’t prevent us from having a clear vision of what we wanted to create: an online destination that would be both a home for high-quality brands and a source of inspiration for men who care about quality,” he says. “Back to London, we set sail again to discover the finest menswear and lifestyle goods Europe has to offer. We soon realised that the future of craftsmanship lies in the hands of extraordinary people, and made it our promise to promote them and deliver their craft from their workshop to your door,” says Gritti.

The word “Bombinate” means to make a humming or buzzing noise and the website offers a platform to quality producers, but how do they decide which brands make the cut? “The promise to bring the world’s finest craftsmanship brands to men who care about quality does not come without its challenges,” says Gritti. “At Bombinate we have created a scorecard to source craftsmanship brands. It is based on 5 different factors: Design, Story, Materials, Founders, Skills,” he says.

Many of the brands on the website, such as Arkitaip, Juch and Oscar Deen aren’t well known, and that’s really the point. You’re trusting Bombinate as the umbrella brand for quality and therefore it’s very important for this nascent online brand to fulfil the expectations of its customers. While you’re not paying for a designer name, you are paying for quality and the majority of people know quality when they see it and these brands need to over deliver on this front.

“The real issue at hand is discoverability and accessibility of quality pieces at a fair price today,” says Gritti.

Quality in luxury goods Italic LA based marketplace menswearBombinate has secured investment from a former Richemont Group and Cartier CEO and lastminute.com’s founder and has the potential to sweep up shoppers disillusioned with the quality of some luxury goods at the moment.

Another website offering luxury quality without the name is ‘Italic’. Italic is a marketplace that lets consumers shop unbranded luxury goods. They say by removing brands and labels from the equation, manufacturers earn significantly higher profits while passing "brand markup” savings onto customers.

The website proudly announces, “Shop luxury goods straight from the source”, and “Handbags made by the same factory as Prada and Celine”, but this only really means something if the factories and suppliers are of quality. “Based in sunny Los Angeles and fast-paced Shenzhen, Italic is a members-only marketplace where normal people (not sure what that means) can shop for luxury goods directly from the manufacturers behind the most desired brands and designers.” says the website.

Right - Italic homepage - This only works if Prada and Celine use a decent factory, which is often debatable today

Shoppers pay a $120 annual membership fee, this is free for a year for early sign-ups, and can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to sheets and toothbrushes.

The company’s investors include Index Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Global Founders Capital among them. The company says 100,000 people have joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, and is initially limited to the US.

What these platforms both suggest is a growing movement back to quality. Consumers are growing dissatisfied with luxury goods which seem to grow forever more expensive. This growing niche needs curation and also control, but if they can deliver what they promise they can expect to grow rapidly. Trust is paramount here.

A 2017 Deloitte study of over 1,000 millennial consumers aged 20-30 across the US, UK, Italy and China found that “quality and uniqueness” are the most important factors that attract them to a luxury brand. Good luck finding that!

Published in Fashion
Monday, 26 November 2018 22:29

ChicGeek Comment Designs on Gen-Z

Generation z fashion collection ASOS COLLUSIONMove over Millennials, sadly, it’s not all about you anymore. Generation Z is primed to take centre stage and retailers and brands are asking this constantly ‘on’ generation exactly what they want. 

Generation Z are those born between 1995 and 2010, which means that the oldest are about 23 and are entering the workforce. Their spending power is increasing, their influence growing and they are a generation who doesn’t know life before the internet and mobile phones.

Younger focussed fashion and sports brands want to know what these young people want and what better way to do that than getting them to design the clothes themselves.

Left - ASOS's new Generation Z designed COLLUSION label

This new trend in Generation Z designers is mirroring the multifaceted desires and identities of this group of people.

Online behemoth, ASOS, recently launched its ‘COLLUSION’ brand. The entire brand is shaped and ‘focused' by Gen-Z with a line-up of 6 collaborators. The brand is exclusive to ASOS and can be found on COLLUSION.com which links through to the main ASOS site. The blurb says it “is built for a new generation united in their pursuit for inclusivity and representation. The 200-piece, animal-free collection is designed to fit seamlessly into the wardrobes of those who helped shape it”.

It goes on, “From the cut of a jacket, to the way that it is marketed, photographed, styled and sold, this collection is the result of extensive research into the values that this generation sees as non- negotiable”.

Generation z fashion collection ASOS COLLUSION

The brand speaks as a collective. Categorisation by gender is unnecessary, COLLUSION is ranged as one collection – for everyone. The brand’s website allows for navigation by product category, style or mood, rather than by men’s or women’s. The debut collection and the regular drops beyond it will be available up to a size 6XL. Price points for launch range from £5 for jersey basics to £70 for statement outerwear.

The initial six collaborators were selected by COLLUSION's cultural social team who find tastemakers and talent. The six were chosen from a wide pool of young creatives and all come from different backgrounds, areas, and professions. Students, stylists, activists, image-makers, authors and YouTubers. 

It says, “COLLUSION is a manifestation of what this first contingent of six want the future of the fashion industry to look and feel like. Working in collaboration with a team of standalone designers and creatives assembled by ASOS, each industry experts in affordable fashion, the six are consumers of, consultants to, and architects of this brand. Their brief: to realise an authentic, vibrant wardrobe which speaks directly to themselves and their Gen-Z peers”.

Chidera Eggerue, 23, blogger and author, says, “I joined Collusion because I wanted to be part of something that created the change that I want to see,”. Chidera is known to her followers as The Slumflower.

Right - Brands giving the next generation what they want by getting them to design it - ASOS COLLUSION

The collection is animal-free and has been recognised a number of times in PETA’s vegan fashion awards, first launched in 2013, celebrating the most desirable cruelty-free clothing and accessories on the market. 

So, what’s been the reaction? The brand says, “COLLUSION has been applauded both on social media and in the press for its unwavering commitment to diversity and body positivity. Publications such as Vogue, i-D, Dazed and Grazia have featured the brand and commended the daring approach for a big backed brand towards gender neutrality and its direct involvement with Gen-Z”. 

I’m not sure this generation even read these publications anymore, but, it’s commercial success will be judged with how many follow up collections there are.

This burgeoning woke generation has also come to the attention of sports brand, Champion. They’ve just launched a capsule line of T-shirts inspired by the power of words and how the negative labels used to describe young people can influence and determine their identity and behaviour. 

Partnering with the London-based charity ‘London Youth’, which represents 400 community youth projects across the city,  and called ‘Champion London Youth’, the T-shirts are each inspired by the personal stories of five young people who have faced stereotyping and have overcome this with the help of their youth clubs and organisations.

Local authority youth service budgets across London in 2017/18 are £39 million lower than in 2011/12. This represents an average cut of £1.5 million or 44% per local authority. During that period, 81 youth centres were closed and there were 800 fewer youth workers.

Generation z fashion collection champion London Youth T shirt

Gill Goodby, Head of Communications at London Youth, says “We combined with The Corner agency to produce a film to challenge the perceptions of young people and every newspaper headline having ‘youth’ and ‘violence’ in the title wasn’t representative. The T-shirts with Champion came from that film,” she says.

Subira Damali, 23, from Lewisham is one of the chosen designers of the T-shirts, and describes how she became involved, “I’m part of Lewisham Youth Theatre. They send me acting opportunities and I applied to be on the film”. 

Left - Subira Damali & her daughter

A young mum, she was interviewed for the film and wrote a few words that people used negatively to describe her. “Then somebody said, ‘This is going to be on a T-Shirt’. It’s about breaking down stereotypes and designing clothes helps confidence, leadership and is therapeutic,” she says.

Renowned designer Tim Head transformed the experiences of these young people into limited edition designs, which will be available for sale in Champion’s Soho store and at Urban Outfitters. Champion will be donating all profits to London Youth to help fund the charity’s arts, sports development, youth social action, employability and outdoor learning programmes.

If they design it, then, hopefully, they’ll buy it. Or, so the thinking goes. Asking the next generation what they want seems almost too simple in its concept. But, this generation is very individual and it wants to be seen that way.

This feels like the natural progression of personalisation and customisation and a step to the future where we’ll all be able to share a hand in designing what we want.

Today, retailers and brands are up to the size and speed of being able to tailor collections for certain generational groups or be reactive to their wants and desires. It makes business sense, but will it be this straightforward? 

This is a generation of confident young individuals who know what they want and want their clothes to reflective their disparate identities. Brands will just have to try as hard as they can to keep up. 

Published in Fashion

Why aren't the medi more anti facebook?Things often speed up towards the end. It’s probably in one of Newton’s laws and it best describes the recent carnage in the printed media industry. It feels like we’re finally at a tipping point, and, in the past week, we’ve seen the men’s style media hardest hit with Esquire halving the frequency of its print edition and Shortlist, the biggest UK men’s title by readership, closing altogether.

Add in Johnston Press, which owns more than 200 titles including the i, The Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post, going under, and it’s free-fall in the newspaper and magazine publishing business. You’re doing very well to stand still.

According to a recent Evening Standard article, in the past decade over 300 local newspapers have closed, circulation has more than halved, advertising revenues have nosedived by 75% and 6000 fewer journalists are employed.

What’s killing these businesses isn’t the falling number of copies being sold - while that doesn’t help - it’s been the giant migration of advertising and marketing revenue to the online monopolies of Google and Facebook.

It’s obviously a shift to online, but the big question is, why have all the magazines and newspapers happily sat back and watched both these businesses take away all their revenues?

In 2017, Google's revenue amounted to 109.65 billion US dollars. Google's revenue is largely made up by advertising revenue, which amounted to 67.39 billion US dollars in 2015. Facebook made $39.9 billion in ad revenue in 2017. Mobile advertising represented approximately 89% of advertising revenue for the period, up from 84% of advertising revenue in the fourth quarter of 2016, while the company saw the biggest jump in revenue in Europe (31%).

Not amount of rebrands or editors being replaced will compete with this dominance.

Condé Nast just announced it was closing American Glamour, this follows Teen Vogue, and there are rumours W is next, if it can’t find a buyer.

While Google keeps its nose relatively clean, it’s Facebook that seems to jump from controversy to controversy. 

At the beginning of this year the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal revealed Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. It opened the eyes of the general public. Facebook wasn’t this cuddly and friendly village notice board anymore, but rather an aggressive marketing tool selling access to their lives. This was a huge sucker punch to this online Goliath and the newspapers and media should had been encouraging us all to close our accounts and walk away.

The media should have pushed for us to delete Facebook. It was a huge opportunity for them to damage Facebook and take back a slice of revenue. Much in the same way we joined, if all our friends left, we would leave or no longer be active on there.

Recent evidence also suggests Facebook knew about Russian political activities on its platform even while Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Founder, publicly denied it. The Facebook culture is said to be one of ‘delay, deny, and deflect’ and is full of ‘fake news’. 

Why aren't the medi more anti facebook?

This has had a slight effect on visitor numbers. According to the company's latest figures, the number of Europeans logging onto the site every day dropped from 279 to 278 million, while monthly European users fell from 376 to 375

However, total global user numbers continue to slowly rise, with more than 2.2bn people using the platform every month. The latest results showed total revenue of $13.7bn dollars (£10.8 bn), an increase of 33 per cent on the same period last year.

After its financial results in July when Facebook said it expected revenue growth to slow and costs to rise, more than £90bn was wiped off the company's value. The latest figures show costs rose 53 per cent on the same period last year to $7.9bn (£6.2bn).

Facebook is trying to change its image, with adverts telling you how much they care and it publicly committed to recruiting thousands of new content moderators to help improve its ability to remove malicious content from the site - an area it has been widely criticised over.

It also just announced they have partnered with regional publishers Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), Newsquest, Archant, JPI Media (formerly Johnston Press), and the Midland News Association to launch the ‘Community News Project’, a scheme that will help fund 80 community journalists.

Ironic when you consider they have mostly disappeared because of Facebook. This is, now, media as charity, subsidised by Facebook to give a veneer of unbiased and local  coverage. The scheme follows in similar footsteps to the BBC‘s ‘Local News Partnership’ which has helped fund over 140 local democracy reporters.

What all this shows is Facebook isn’t unstoppable. People and their time is the value in Facebook and if we walked away we could damage it. It’s probably naive to think it would disappear, but just a small slice of those huge revenues returning to more independent media would make for a healthier and broader media landscape.

The current traditional media feels very passive and defeatist with regards to these advertising revenue giants when they should making them public enemy number one and encouraging us to walk away.

Are you ready to delete yours?

Published in Fashion

Superdry strategy bored brand Julian DunkertonSuperdry has been a British retail phenomenon. In under a decade, the brand went from its first store in Covent Garden to a huge multi-storey flagship on London’s Regent Street.

Established by James Holder and Julian Dunkerton, the Superdry name first appeared in 2003. It has been an unstoppable juggernaut since then, racking up yearly sales of over £750 million (2017) and operates in 55 countries.

Left - Superdry went from a single store to a huge Regent Street flagship in under 10 years

At the beginning of this year, the remaining founder, Julian Dunkerton, announced he was stepping down from the company. In a statement, Mr Dunkerton said he had “other demands” on his time, and stepping down was “the right point for me to transition my focus and responsibilities”. Handing the reins to new Superdry chief executive Euan Sutherland, Dunkerton bowed out quietly until this October when Superdry issued a shock profit warning blaming warm weather and bad foreign exchange hedging. Shares in the group crashed 20%. 

Dunkerton has been vocal in his disagreement with the direction the company is heading in, saying, “I cannot sit back and watch my shareholding — and those off all the pensions invested in the company — be dissipated”. He’s trying to gather other shareholder support to return to and steer the company in his direction, but, have they got their strategy wrong or has the Superdry brand simply peaked and run out of steam? 

Mat Heinl, CEO at global creative business Moving Brands, an independent, global creative company, says: “It has become unclear who Superdry is for and it feels like its brand and purpose has been entirely lost. 

“There, now, seems to be a clear disconnect between what made the brand successful and its core base of customers. With the mid-market being hit hard by competitors, brands like Superdry fall into a sea of sameness,” says Heinl.

The strategy in question has been Superdry’s move into fast-fashion. In September, Superdry hired Brigitte Danielmeyer as its new chief product officer to launch a new fast-fashion range called "Superdry Preview”. Formerly Tommy Hilfiger’s global head of womenswear, Danielmeyer, leads the new Superdry Preview label aimed to attract a “younger, more fashion-driven” customer through limited-edition capsule collections. The range will go from design to delivery in just six weeks and be supported by a social media campaign targeted directly at 16 to 24-year-olds.

Yet to be tested, with no results yet for these ranges, Dunkerton thinks it’s a mistake for Superdry to move into the competitive fast fashion arena. He thinks Superdry should stick with fewer, core ranges in store and massively increase the designs and varieties (known as SKUs) being sold online.

“Last Christmas we were at a point where we could hit fast fashion online. We were such a strong brand that we could really increase our SKU count. But they [the new management] did the reverse.

“If you put that product online you would expand brand awareness and create excitement online while combining it with the classic store base.” he said.

Not everybody disagrees with the fast-fashion approach. Natalya Johnson, Marketing Manager, Shopest, who create location- based shopping experiences helping “independent stores to stay vibrant, profitable and nearby”, says “Early on the brand appealed to their target demographic which at the time was young men and women aged around 16-30. 

“Over time, their consumer has changed, developed new interests and shop in a new way. Although brand identity is strong, the brand has failed with adapting into the fast fashion cycles, meaning their products seem to be outdated,” she says.

“Superdry are beaten by big brands such as ASOS and Zara, who not only offer consumers constant variety, but also a difference of style. 

Superdry strategy bored brand Julian Dunkerton

“Superdry do have great potential to revive the brand, tapping into current trends in the fashion industry that would attract their ideal consumer. It seems that they keep missing the mark in trends that would complement the brand e.g. streetwear and also brand collaborations. 

“Once the product becomes more relevant, the brand can offer new innovations in store and develop stronger marketing strategies. In conclusion, Superdry appear to be very stagnant at the moment, but definitely have the potential to make things right,” she says. 

The shares now sit at roughly 780p. They began the year above 2000p. The October profit warning said it expected to make £83 million in profit this year, well shy of the near-£110 million expected. 

Superdry is heavily reliant on sales of heavy winter items such as jumpers and jackets, making 45% of annual sales. It said “unseasonably hot weather” in the UK, Europe and the east coast of the US was hitting sales.

“Superdry is a British phenomenon who’s growth has been nothing short of miraculous,” says Anthony McGrathpastedGraphic.png, Lecturer and Editor-in-Chief of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com. 

“In their heyday, celebs galore were spotted in their trademark casual wear and they set up home in a huge flagship emporium dedicated to all things Superdry on the retail Mecca of Regent Street. BUT! They have rested on their laurels and the whole nature of the beast, that is fashion, is that it changes at a break neck speed. Tastes, styles, trends change and unfortunately Superdry haven’t. So, yes, I do think Dunkerton is right,” he says.

Right - Is Superdry too reliant on coats and jackets?

Dunkerton, who retains an 18.5% stake, said “The management team remains hell-bent on their strategy, publicly supported by the chairman; but the numbers and the market warnings speak volumes. It is very clear that the company needs to change strategic direction; I have a clear and simple plan to correct the problems, and I have been explaining my plan to shareholders over the last couple of weeks.

“This company and brand has such a great opportunity - we must grasp it now,” he said.

This added pressure onto the Superdry management comes at a time when the retail landscape is looking schizophrenic. Long one of the darlings of the British retail scene, could this just be a case of the brand losing momentum and consumers growing tired of the Superdry brand regardless of the strategy? Has the ubiquitous Superdry branding reached its zenith, and, regardless of what the brand does, exponential growth can’t go on forever?

“Another challenge for brands like Superdry is the rise in people turning away from highly disposable and consumerist brands as they become aware of the massive pollution and poor working conditions associated with those brands which emphasise profits over ethical business practices,” says Heinl.

“To claw back momentum, Superdry, and other struggling brands, could do a number of things to help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. They could become a champion of sustainable fashion, improve and showcase high quality products, define a distinct design direction or take a leadership position in improving supply chain transparency and quality,” he says.

Dunkerton said, “My model means less wastage. It is far easier to manage and you have lower stock risk.

“There are too many products in the stores with short shelf life. You shouldn’t try and change it all the time. Get the product right and be confident in it. There’s no reason a jacket in October shouldn’t stay until March. Now, you see jackets on sale already. Can that be right?” he says.

Shareholder Aberdeen Asset Management is supporting current management, saying Dunkerton left after multiple profit warnings. Superdry chief executive Euan Sutherland has said “it will take up to 18 months for the benefits to come through” and Superdry chairman Peter Bamford said: “The Board of Superdry has huge respect for Julian Dunkerton as an entrepreneur and founder of the business. Julian has raised a number of issues with the board regarding strategy since he left the business. We have reviewed and discussed these issues and, while we have sympathy with some of his points, we have a different view on the best strategy or approach to addressing them. 

“Superdry is an ambitious, global, multi-channel brand and the Board believes that Julian’s view of strategy has not evolved with the needs of the business. We remain fully committed to our successful global digital brand strategy and the board is confident that Superdry has in place the right leadership to ensure the continued development of our highly relevant brand.”

The management will have to start seeing the fruits from this new strategy and fast, otherwise shareholders will push for change. The next set of results will either quieten Dunkerton or add fuel to the fire for a reversing of the company direction. Superdry is too reliant on coats and jackets, but this has also helped them grow to the size they are. Regardless of strategy, what if consumers are simply bored with Superdry? That’s going to be an even harder job to fix. 

Published in Fashion

Turkish lira crisis for fashion manufacturingOver the past few decades Turkey has become a powerhouse in fashion manufacturing. Thanks to cheap and plentiful labour, quality producers and its geographical location, at the heart of the world, Turkey is, now, the 6th largest fashion supplier in the world and the 3rd largest supplier to the EU, according to World Trade Organization (WTO) data 2016.

The Turkish lira has been failing this year due, in part, to its high levels of government debt and, in August, thanks to Donald Trump’s clumsy rhetoric over the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson - he has since been released - and his disagreements over defence policy, the Turkish lira plunged even further.

Trump announced his plans to hike tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum to 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively. 

The Turkish president, Erdogan, at the time, repeated calls for Turks to sell their dollars and euros to shore up the national currency. “Together with our people, we will stand decisively against the dollar, forex prices, inflation and interest rates. We will protect our economic independence by being tight-knit together,” he said.

“We will impose a boycott on U.S. electronic products. If they have iPhones, there is Samsung on the other side, and we have our own Vestel here,” he naively said.

After vehicles, clothing is Turkeys’ most successful export product, earning 9.4% of the country’s total exports. Of them, knitwear amounted to US$ 8.8bn (5.6% of total export), while exports of woven clothing reached US$6.0bn (3.8% of the total) in 2017. The Turkish lira (TL) is the world’s worst-performing major currency, losing more than 40 percent for the year to date. Five years ago a dollar bought TL2. It is now around TL7.

This clearly makes manufacturing much cheaper for foreign companies if paying in the local currency and an opportunity for Turkey to boost exports. Dollars, euros and pounds are all going further. A source, who didn’t want to be named, said, “I just returned from a trip to Turkey. It's been sad for the Turkish economy, but great for UK companies.

“I've seen the devastating results for some of our own teams working in Turkey, but purchasing and manufacturing becomes even more cost effective and we have seen factories willing to reduce their minimums,” they said.

Data from September 2018 showed inflation surged to 17.9 percent year-on-year in August, its highest level since late 2003. The central bank reacted by sharply increasing its benchmark lending rate from 17.75 percent to 24 percent last month. Turkish companies buying and selling in foreign currencies are less affected. The boon is when they pay their workers in the local currency.

Mukesh Desai, works with companies such as Hackett and French Connection, connecting foreign brands with fabric and manufacturing in Turkey, says, “Local factories buy in pounds and euros so there’s not much difference. It just matters when paying wages in lira and is better by around 5-10%”.

Imports become more expensive, but with Turkey being such a huge domestic fabric producer this will limit its impact on buying the raw material and fabrics.

“Some manufacturers are passing it on, some are not.” says Desai. “Everybody from the British high-street is increasing production and the fabric side is all increasing in Turkey.” he says.

One thing to note, though. “Brands are buying less quantities and are not carrying too much inventory, but they are not going to the Far East as much with Turkey being quicker to market.”

Oguz Yucel of MPY Textile Manufacturing, who produce thousands of woven and knitted pieces daily, says, “We are a Turkish company and produce in Turkey, Bulgaria and China.

“Our customers, from Europe, Benelux, Russia, USA, Canada regions, work in euros and dollars, therefore, we do not produce in Turkish, but purchase in euros and dollars and sell in euros and dollars, therefore we have no problem with production,” he says.

“2019, we are going to be 6% bigger”. says Yucel enthusiastically.

With cheaper labour costs, Turkish apparel manufacturers operating in USD will be the main beneficiaries of the change in the exchange rate, but they will be able to become more competitive and reduce their prices to their wholesale customers. Foreign brands and operators will also be able to negotiate harder and drive better deals.

The one place the Turkish currency crisis is affecting negatively is the domestic economy and local fashion industry. Another source, who didn’t want to be named, works for an pastedGraphic.pngIstanbul based, international retailer specialising in men’s and women’s contemporary casual wear. They make everything in Turkey, except the outerwear and produce all sorts of jersey tops, knits, light weight woven tops and dresses, shirts, jeans and non denim bottoms.

“On the retail side, all international brands in Turkey raised their sale prices as a quick response,” he says. “Local brands (like us) kept prices to an affordable point. It helps to keep the customer loyalty and bring new customers in. On the other hand it sums up to a profit loss”.

“On the manufacturers' side all exporting factories had the advantage,” he says. “But, there are difficulties with their local customers pricing the new collections and receiving payments".

"All products' costs were dramatically raised up due to fabrics, yarns and accessories prices all being in USD. The payment terms between local brands and suppliers are another case that sourcing and finance teams have to deal with,” he says.

The local Turkish consumers will feel the squeeze and any ambitions that foreign brands or retailers had for growth in Turkey will have to be rejigged to recognise this.

“It will definitely make customers to buy less fashion products in the short term.” he says. “They (consumers) will target more affordable products and retailers. The volumes will slide from better brands to budget retailers. So, the better brands will grow their entry price point product groups to keep their customers.” he says.

While Turkey has become a more attractive place to manufacture and buy fabric from for international brands, in the short term, those retailers or brands may be restricted in their fabric and hardware choices if their suppliers work in Turkish lira and imports become much more expensive.

While the currency has bounced back slightly, it’s still volatile and this makes investors uneasy. While this lira boon may increase demand and production, lower investment, due to the high interest rates and overall caution within the Turkish manufacturing business and economy, may stall growth in production capacity and restrict businesses from reaping the full benefits. 

The domestic market will move further towards lower end, homemade product and will definitely dent the luxury international brands unless they can be replaced by tourists with more liras in their pockets. While you’ll probably be seeing an increase in ‘Made in Turkey’ labels in your clothes soon, it will be to the detriment of the local economy.

Published in Fashion
Friday, 02 November 2018 17:11

ChicGeek Comment Tours De Force

Fashion factory tours Private White ManchesterCharlie Bucket spent his last coin on a chocolate bar in the hope that it would contain a golden ticket and gain entry behind the guarded gates of Wonka’s magical factory. If Roald Dahl were to write the story, today, Veruca Salt, the spoilt brat with the "I want it NOW, daddy!!!" attitude, would probably want to see behind the walls of Louis Vuitton or Chanel rather than Cadbury’s or Nestlé.

Her wishes were granted, last month, when LVMH expanded the fourth edition of its ‘Les Journées Particulières’ open days event. Seventy six venues across four continents held 'open days', with 38 never having been open to the public previously.

The event saw 56 fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Tag Heuer and Nicholas Kirkwood, taking part. New experiences included the opening of the Les Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse, the perfume creation workshop shared by Parfums Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, the Louis Vuitton prototype workshop in the centre of Paris and the Louis Vuitton workshop in Ducey, Normandy. It was also possible to reserve an exclusive tour of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s last residence in Montauroux.

Left - Inside Private White V.C. in Manchester

‘Les Journées Particulières' launched in 2011 and is a LVMH marketing exercise in harnessing the desire and interest from people to see the inner workings of brands they admire and respect. It’s this element of being able to see things you feel aren’t usually on display, demystifying the processes and laying bare the inner workings of these brands that gets people to make the effort to visit.

Watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin, recently tapped into this enthusiasm by auctioning the ultimate watchmaking experience by putting two VIP tours of its workshop in Switzerland up for sale. The brand hired Sotheby’s to auction the experiences, which comprise two separate lots that it claims represent a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to witness its work up close. Each involves a behind-the-scenes tour through the Vacheron Constantin Maison, accompanied by style and heritage director Christian Selmoni.

It’s this ‘magic’ that people want to see and the attraction and interest in seeing how things are made and a celebration our industrial history is expanding as more brands open up their factories to the public. It gives products a halo effect of ‘special’ and really cements the brands into people’s minds and memories in a positive way.

I always say, when you go to a factory, it’s a bit like going to a friend’s house for the first time: you really get a fully rounded and immersive experience and a lasting memory. It’s a familiarity you can’t get in a shop or by simply wearing the product.

Fashion factory tours

Solovair produce their shoes in Northampton under their parental badge of The Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS) founded in 1881 by five men in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Ashleigh Liversage, Online Marketing Manager, NPS Shoes Ltd. says, “As more and more brands move their manufacturing outside of the UK it is important to us that our customers can come see for themselves how their footwear is made by our skilled workers in our factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.

Right - Exterior of the Private White V.C. factory in Manchester

“Our Managing Director takes the group on a tour through the factory offering an exciting insight into all areas of shoe production,” says Liversage. “The NPS Factory tour follows specific content-related criteria, giving guests access to all shoe production technologies: the ‘Clicking’ or cutting Room, Closing room, Levelling / Making Room, Shoe Room, while machines have made production more efficient, the fundamental process has remained the same at our factory for over a century,” she says.

“The feedback from our customers is why we continue to offer the tour, they love to see how and where their footwear is made and hear about the history and heritage of NPS Shoes,” says Liversage. “Even those with no particular interest in footwear have commented how interesting the tour is. We have people come from all over the UK to attend our tours and even had visitors from Canada once!” she says.

Over in Manchester, Private White V.C., has the last remaining clothing factory in the world’s first industrial city. Mike Stoll, Factory MD, says the reason they have a factory tour is, “To raise awareness: we actually are real and make our special garments near Manchester City centre.”

“Most people that make the tour either make a purchase or send someone who does. It spreads the word,” says Stoll, but, “It only works if you have something to see. This building is unusual and the way we currently manufacture is unique.”

North of the border, Johnstons of Elgin produce some of the world's finest knitwear and blankets. George McNeil, Johnstons of Elgin, Retail Managing Director, says, “Rarely does the public get an insight into how their products are made, and the entire craft behind the process, and so this is a chance to see quality in the making and also to understand our rich and unique history.”

Visitors get to see “Everything!” says McNeil. “Our cashmere goes from raw fibre, through dying, teasing, carding, spinning and hand finishing by the latest generation of craftsmen, all in our Elgin mill.”

“If a brand has the personal touch to each and every product, like ours, it is hugely beneficial to educate the consumer,” says McNeil. “We are in fact the last remaining vertical mill in Scotland to take raw fibre to finished product – from goat to garment – making this traditional process unique in current times. As consumers continue to prioritise where their belongings come from, and become more curious about the work that goes into them, they will demand to know more and brands will answer.” he says.

Not all brands can offer this openness though. Brands often produce for other people, called ‘Private Label’, and many brands like to keep their producers and suppliers out of the public domain.

Fashion factory tours Johnstons of Elgin

“As a manufacturer for over 160 different brands, we actually don't allow factory visits because of the issues they can cause,” says Rob Williams, Founder & Chief Financial Officer, Hawthorn International, who produce apparel for various brands. “Many fashion brands prefer for their manufacturer to keep their identity private, so that their costs cannot be revealed and so that their designs can't be shared between brands who all use the same manufacturer,” says Williams.

“Because privacy and confidentiality is so important to our clients, we found that it caused a huge logistical problem to organise factory visits without the visitor seeing any intellectual property of our other clients,” he says.

Left - Johnstons of Elgin's mill in Elgin, Scotland

Factory tours work because of a growing niche of people’s fascination with being educated about the things they buy. It works for brands who want to tell their story and, often, explain why you are paying a premium for the products. Admittedly, you get shown what they want you to see, but, it's this openness and sharing that creates an atmosphere people want to buy into.

This is the National Trust for the fashion geeks amongst us and it’s growing in popularity. Johnstons of Elgin has tea shops and restaurants attached to their mills which can also be a revenue maker for the company.

The tour makes the product come alive, you can picture what you’re buying being made and this really is the ultimate souvenir. People love a factory tour with a final stop at the factory shop for a bargain. Who needs a stately home when you can have a Victorian shoe factory?

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Coal Drops Yard Kings Cross Review VisitEasily the most anticipated retail destination - we can’t use ‘shopping centre’ anymore, can we?! - of the year, and the final piece of the huge Kings Cross jigsaw, Coal Drops Yard mirrors the life of the entire area. From industrial power to warehouse parties to sanitised private/public spaces, this could be a micro model of London as a whole over the last 100 years.

Now reimagined by Thomas Heatherwick, who has joined the two ‘Kit-Kat’ pieces with a sweeping roof which lightly touches across the divide. This was the kiss Kings Cross/St Pancras was waiting for and not that cringeworthy sculpture greeting you as you disembark off the Eurostar. 

Opening today, with over 50 new stores, it’s currently only about 50% open, and the most stunning aspect, the Samsung store inside the roof, is far from finished. 

Firstly, the architecture is great. What could have been clunky, the roof is elegant and sweeping. Reslated in the original Welsh tiles, Heatherwick works his magic and creates something modern yet respectful to the original. This is the human scaled, brick built industrial Britain that is a joy to bring back to life.

Situated just down from Granary Square and up from the main stations, Coal Drops Yard opens out into a generous V shape with two main levels of shops and restaurants. This feels like the type of retail space you want to give yourself time to explore.

There’s also another space on the other side of the main block called Lower Stable Street that is for smaller and start-up businesses. It has touches of the Southbank with the concrete.

Coal Drops Yard Kings Cross Review Visit

There are a few restaurants - Barafina, Casa Pastor and wine bar The Drop, but it feels the mix is too heavy on the retail, today, especially with the need to drive traffic. People don’t need to go shopping anymore, but they do need to eat. You could easily use the space in the middle for market type concepts.

They’ve made an effort to have a mix of brands - COS, Paul Smith, Tom Dixon, Cubitts, Universal Works, Rains, Aesop, Maya Magal, Miller Harris and Le Chocolat and there are a few that are new to me. 

You want to explore, but there’s no element of surprise. The retail mix is dry. It’s from the Monocle school of aching design, devoid of personality. This feels like stylish retail from 10 years ago. We’re in the age of Gucci, of bonkers, of wanting-to-get-my-phone-out-and-take-a-picture-mental, not a single one of the finished shop fits was worthy of an Instagram. Even Paul Smith has produced one of the most conservative shop fits I’ve ever seen from him. You’d think he would have tapped into the rave culture history of the site, especially when you consider so many of his more casual clothes would have been worn there.

This is for one type of design customer and I don’t think that’s as aspirational as they think. It’s also needs a destination store. There was lots of talk from the lease manager about going to Paris for inspiration. When didn’t they resurrect Colette here or try a Dover Street Market type concept. It needs a pilgrimage store, or whatever that is in 2018, to get people up from the stations. 

Coal Drops Yard Kings Cross Review Visit

I really think Coal Drops Yard has missed a trick by not tapping into the nostalgia for the area. Those clubbers are now in their 40s with money to spend and families to bring. There are exhibitions regarding the history in the Visitors Centre, back in Granary Square, but I would have done more on site to remind people of their happy times spent at The Cross or Bagley’s nightclubs.

As I said, it’s not fully finished and all these things will evolve. When listening to Thomas Heatherwick give his welcoming talk I thought about the reinvention of Covent Garden, which he then mentioned, and was a huge success, and then I thought about the early 90s, when they tried to turn a similar concept, Tobacco Dock, into a similar retail destination. It was the wrong location at the wrong time. This is in a better position, but like I said, they need enough people to know about it to want to walk up from the stations.

I think we’ll see more food outlets eventually and also they need something like a vintage market, similar to Spitalfields, to raise the element of discovery and keep you coming back.

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