Friday, 17 August 2018 14:36

ChicGeek Comment Generation Zzz?

Understanding Generation Z

As this year’s A Level and GSCE students collect their results I’m going to look at the reasons behind the death of the Saturday job amongst this demographic - Generation Z or iGen - why they seem to need less money and whether this will make them less attractive as a target market to marketeers, brands and retailers.

According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) some 42% of 16- and 17-year-old students were studying and working simultaneously in 1997. This had dropped to just 18% in 2014.

Post-millennial youth - those born after 1996 - have been labelled as ‘Generation Boring’ or ‘Generation Sensible’. A recent survey by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service showed teenagers are becoming less likely to have sex, preferring to spend time with their families and having romantic relationships online. Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen by 55% in the last decade to their lowest ever level (July 2018). Add this to the rates of smoking, arrests, drug taking and drinking all falling and you can see why older generations are perplexed at this conservative and law abiding wave of youngsters.

Hannah Elderfield, Consumer Behavioural Analyst, Canvas8, says, “From paper-rounds to sweeping up at the hairdressers, Saturday jobs can give a first taste of independence and provide useful future skills. But, data shows that less British teens are taking on part time work, with pressure to get good academic results partly the reason."

“Research conducted by the BBC found that the number of young teens working part time jobs after school or at the weekend has declined steadily since 2013. Businesses employing kids aged between 13 and 15 are required to apply for a permit, and the number of permits issued in 140 local authorities across the country fell by a fifth – dropping from 29,498 in 2012, to 23,071 in 2016.” says Elderfield.

“When looking at dropping levels of Gen-Z taking up weekend jobs in general, it’s important to recognise the pressure teens today feel to do well in exams. 61% of 15- to 17-year-olds believe that good grades are more important than happiness! As a result, they’re channelling their focus into a different type of work, the hard work of studying.” she says.

Leila Willingham, Founder @Digipigz, which targets this demographic and offers ‘market research and insights supplemented by their community of industry astute 16-24 year olds’, says, “We think that statistics like that will mean marketing professionals label Gen Z as 'lazy' and what they won’t be interpreting is that Gen Z are very future focused and these statistics could be off the back of their dedication to learning and prioritising their studies over a job at that age. It may even be that they are doing work experience as opposed to paid work.”

Today’s teenagers don’t seem to be so driven to get themselves a part-time job, like previous generations, and it’s not because of a lack of opportunities. The number of jobseekers per vacancy has fallen to a record low despite a drop in the number of posts on offer. There was less than one person for each vacancy in June 2018 even though the number of advertised jobs fell by 5 per cent to 1.1million compared with a year ago, according to job site, Adzuna. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there are 32.4million people in work in the UK, a record high, and 388,000 more than a year earlier. The National Minimum Wage for people under 18 is £4.20, compared to £7.83 for those over 25. But, you would think this would make them more attractive to low-skilled employers? But, Generation Z seem to be set on concentrating on their studies. 

Mia, 15, from London, says, “I don't have a Saturday job because I spend most of the day at a Dance School, which is my exercise and release from the pressures of school.  I also have an absurd amount of homework which can take on average 2-3 hours a night/day, leaving little time to work or socialise. I also need some time to relax and recuperate.”

Her father, Darren, says, “I feel that the amount of homework received certainly affects the possibilities of part time work.  The kids, today, are under a huge amount of pressure to live up to an adult role model, living a fantasy lifestyle.  To be able to do this they know they need to succeed at school to achieve a high paying job.  I also believe that parents are being lent on more to assist with these social lifestyles. I had a part time job from the age of 12 to 17 and didn't rely on my parents much.  But, at the same time I received a fraction of the workload from school that children seem to receive today.”

“Many people think it’s better to get qualifications before leaving education to work straight away as many believe it is the best way to achieve a high income.” says Rhianna, 16, from Hounslow. 

It’s not ‘cool’ to be seen flipping burgers or stacking shelves when you’re living ‘your best life’ on social media. If Generation Z are too busy studying and doing their homework then they aren’t spending money on going out, drinking and maybe the knock on effects of needing new clothes to go out in etc. But, this doesn’t take into account teens documenting their lives through social media and the tendency towards materialism and showing off what they have.

Rihanna, 16, says, ““Some people get their money from 'cool' jobs like modelling or Saturday jobs, but many people use other illegal ways to allow them to quickly achieve the 'lavish lifestyle'. I get my money from my Mum and Dad and my grandparents, but I have to do jobs around the house. People want money and usually don’t mind sharing the fact that they have a job if it enables them to flaunt the expensive things they have bought on Instagram.” 

Mia, 15, says, “There is definitely a truth in not wanting to do 'uncool' jobs.  On Social Media you don't really see people working Saturday jobs and most of what you do see is a glamorous lifestyle. This creates a false impression of what you should be aspiring to.”

Teenagers are more reliant than ever on their parents for money. Liliah Zion, 14, from London, says, “My Mum gives me £40 a month to my account for which I am supposed to help with household chores, but, then I get more on top. Everyone just relies on their parents or sells clothing/stuff on depop.”

Her mother, Caroline, says, “I want my 14 year old daughter to work, as does she, however, I think she in the minority, and I recently asked a friend, who owns a long established West London clothing store, if she could work. He was dubious, but said "yes if she was genuinely into it” so that’s on the cards. She has been babysitting to earn money for herself . One of her friend’s Mum’s recently told me her daughter couldn’t even comprehend that she needed to work… ever and her fear was that because she doesn’t.”

But, not all of this generation are studiously just looking at their books or screens. There is a group of young entrepreneurs using their skill set and talents to make extra income. Jenk Oz, the 13-year old CEO of iCoolKid Ltd. a website highlighting ‘cool’ hobbies and activities for the younger generation, says, “We are definitely witnessing a trend of teenagers moving away from the traditional ‘Saturday job’. However, the truth is that the idea of young people seeking part time work, and starting their own businesses is thriving more than ever before. Young people want jobs that help to enhance their CV for university applications - as it’s so competitive - and they want to feel like their employers and job contributes in some way to their interests and hobbies. Gone are the days when a dish washing job in the local restaurant or a paper round are the only options. Now, with the rise and influence of social media and the internet, young people are open to a whole range of money making opportunities which just weren’t possible previously.” 

“For example, there’s so many digital orientated jobs which kids can get involved in today, and carry out remotely. From slime manufacturing and selling via Instagram, to writing social media copy for brands during their lunch break (so they can market better to teens), to personalising badges and selling them on Etsy – there’s so many creative activities that young people can try.” says Oz.

“These types of jobs work better with school schedules and present more opportunities for individuals with entrepreneurial flair, a key attribute of Gen Z’ers today. As most of these jobs are done remotely from a bedroom or garage, the wider public don’t see young people doing them – which makes their part time jobs less obvious. Today’s teens and tweens are starting their own businesses that suit their schedules and personal interests – rather than opting for the traditional weekend jobs.” he says.

Hannah Elderfield, says, “Embracing a long term view, they’re using every opportunity to give their careers a head start by swapping would-be weekend shifts at supermarkets for study and experiences. That's not to say they're abandoning work completely – many are finding ‘side hustles’ using tools like Pickle or launching entrepreneurial projects early on, on resale platforms such as Depop."

“Gen-Z’s disposable income is dropping, which has a knock-on effect on the brands they buy from. While they might not be buying into their favourite brands as often as they’d like, they’re still engaging with them, which is important for marketers to consider in the long run. More often than not, that engagement is happening online via social media channels. Eight out of ten Gen-Zers say that their purchases are influenced by social media and over half of 13- to 17-year-olds say they would rather their favourite brand be advertised via influencers.” she says.

Leila Willingham says, “These statistics paint Gen Z in a bad light and if marketing teams aren’t careful, and don’t take time to understand this complex generation, there’s a danger they’ll disregard this generation and later loose out when Gen Z have huge spending power and will look to brands that align with their values/beliefs and have a track record of being good on social, innovative with tech and accepting of diversity, for example.”

Brands need think long term about this generation. It's about raising awareness and desire in the hope of reaping the benefits when they can afford to make larger purchases and buying decisions in the future. This is especially true for luxury brands.

If these teenagers aren’t going out clubbing and drinking like previous generations, then what are they doing with their spare time? “Nothing most of the time. They might play Xbox (mainly boys), go to the park. Go shopping. Meet at friend’s house.”  says Rhianna, 16. “See friends, actually and digitally, and pursue hobbies like dancing, exercising, for boys football or skating or mates’ time.” says Liliah Zion, 14. Mia, 15, says, “I don't go out as much, but generally split costs with parents, depending on what I am doing.  There is also an expectation as a teenager to dress or act in a certain way (thanks to social media and peer group pressure) and this can be expensive. I generally save up for something special or ask my parents.”

When not online with each other, it feels like teenagers are spending a lot of time in each other’s houses with their activities watched over or supervised by parents. Because they have less disposable income, they are going out less to places involving drinking, smoking and drugs and probably a reason why many of these night time economy places have closed or are struggling to survive, giving even more reasons not to go out. It’s also an element of peer pressure in reverse. If your friends don’t have part-time jobs then, maybe, you don’t feel as much pressure to get one. You also don’t feel left out by having less money. As long as you can afford your phone and you have the internet and social media, then you have a satisfied social life. Is it all ‘Netflix & Chill” without the sex, or is that already yesterday’s news?

Life, it seems, gets very serious from an early age today and Generation Z is a reflection of this. Growing up through the age of austerity, they are very focussed on their futures. “Today, we know how important it is to achieve good grades to allow us to follow the career we eventually want to succeed in.  I feel that paid work can be delayed for now until we begin to work professionally and if I study hard enough the results will come in time.” says Mia, 15.

The pressures and time constraints of studying is weighing heavy on the ability and motivation to get part-time work. This is probably why the country’s exam results have got steadily better over the past few years. There are over 7 million 16-24 year olds living in the UK and the number of full-time students rose from 2.16 million in 1996 to 3.24 million in 2014. 

But these young people are missing out on valuable experiences. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report also stated 'earners and learners' are likely to perform better and earn more than those students who focus only on their studies in the longer term. They are also likely to earn more than those just in full-time education, with a premium of 12-15 per cent. Part-time jobs are also excellent ways for young people to gain experience of the working world, a factor which 66% of employers say is important when recruiting. 

It’s clear Generation Z aren’t being lazy. On the one hand we have a very diligent, healthy and focussed generation which seems to be putting education before anything else, but, on the other, a generation without as much life experience and rebellious streak as previous ones. This generation is concentrating on learning and their revolution will just have to wait.

Published in Fashion

Can fashion ever be sustainable? linen flax celc

Fashion, in its nature, isn’t logical. Before things are broken or unusable we move onto consuming the next item all under the umbrella of ‘fashion’. It’s a huge, global business which basically comes down to us buying more things than we need and, also, new things before our existing things are redundant or can no longer fulfil their purpose. 

It’s also very creative and what makes us human beings.

Left - Northern European fields full of flax

It’s therefore not in the fashion business’ interest to get us, as consumers, to buy or use less. So, what we’ve seen over the latest few years is many retailers using the term ‘sustainable’ to give our consumption the gloss of being better or even good for the environment while continuing to encourage us to buy even larger amounts.

It’s difficult for retailers and brands to tell us to buy less or not at all. They want us to feel good while we are shopping, but can ‘fashion’ ever be sustainable and what does ‘sustainable’ even mean?

Bruce Montgomery, Course leader BA hons Fashion UCA Epsom/Menswear Consultant, says, “While it’s a mammoth task, fashion needs to become sustainable. The industry is over producing, this is leading to excessive consumption with 300,000 tons of clothing being dumped on landfill either by both retailers and consumers rather than recycled. Patagonia’s don’t buy this jacket campaign and Stella McCartney’s fashion campaign shot with models lying in landfill tried to raise awareness to the problem, but much more industry commitment is needed.”

“Brands have understood its positive to be seen as ‘sustainable’. This has led to many jumping on the marketing bandwagon without any commitment and just greenwashing the surface of the topic. The word unfortunately is in danger of being watered down in the same way the word ‘luxury’ is now applied to fast fashion products. Why should consumers believe brands when they discover there is no substance behind a brand’s sustainable stance or strategy?” says Montgomery.

Niche brands with stringent green credentials are really trying to separate themselves from the mainstream ‘sustainable’ bandwagon. Swedish, independent outdoor clothing brand, Houdini, aims to “become fully circular in sustainability - and setting the standard for sustainable fashion and its mission towards ‘impact positive’ status”. Ninety one percent of their product is made from recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Bluesign - it eliminates harmful substances right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for an environmentally friendly and safe production - certified fabrics.

Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini Sportswear, says, "We find ‘sustainability’ not only a boring phrase, but an underwhelming ambition. To be sustainable should be seen as the bare minimum for an organisation’s social and environmental impact. Imagine a world where businesses set out to have a positive impact on the planet, and customers demanded it.”

Can fashion ever be ‘sustainable’? “With the knowledge and available technologies of today fashion (as in apparel) could and should be way closer to sustainable than what is currently the case. The trouble is best technologies and best practices are seldom implemented by retailers and brands, or some are implemented for one specific product or product group rather than for the big bulk. This is true not only for environmental factors, but for social and ethical factors as well.” says Karlsson.

“There are numerous reasons for this. Lack of guts and willpower to change, lack of knowledge, lack of time in an ever speedier fast fashion market. On the systemic level hinders are built into the system – buyers and sustainability managers are often working in their separate silos, the pricing structures of today work against the transition to sustainable business practices and regulations are poor.” she says.

Can fashion ever be sustainable? linen flax celc water consumptionIs the future buying differently then? The Victoria & Albert Museum recently held an exhibition entitled ‘Fashioned From Nature’ looking at the materials and inspiration the fashion industry has taken from nature. It was sponsored by CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp and they used the exhibition to highlight and promote this natural fibre - linen.

Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung, Director, CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, says, “Not many people know – almost nobody – that three countries in Europe are the worldwide leader in flax production: France, Belgium and the Netherlands. More than 80 per cent of worldwide production comes from these three. And the quality from here is far superior to elsewhere, because the climate and conditions are perfect, and the knowledge and expertise are far superior. So, linen production is very local – you can see the fields from the Eurostar.”

Right - Flax - linen - grows naturally with no irrigation

“And there is no irrigation – no water needed, no GMO, no waste, no poison going into the water system, which is vital when you consider the demand for water in the future. Plus, linen is a good local employer: it takes five times more labour than wheat, because flax is a very technical crop. More technical than corn or wheat or other agricultural products that might occupy the fields. Then, the process of transferring the plant to the fibre is purely mechanical, involving no chemistry. Linen is natural, and entirely sustainable.” says Belzung.

Compared to cotton, which uses enormous amounts of pesticides and water, linen is a local European crop and is underused in fashion with many associating it with seasonal summer shirts and suits.

“Linen’s continued popularity is thanks to innovation. In the last ten years, linen the textile has enjoyed two major innovations. Knitted fabric has developed thanks to innovation on the yarn. Knitted linen overturns one stereotype: it is linen that does not wrinkle. Second is washed linen, which gives the fabric some pep and so seduces a new generation of consumers. Makes linen soft and chic.” says Belzung.

“In our special project with Chelsea College of Arts the concept of linen as a sports fabric – natural moisture management, naturally hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial – was one of the strongest ideas. Of course, blending anything with petro-chemicals diminishes the sustainability argument. Flax fibres are also being combined with eco-plastics to create, for example, car interiors, speakers and sporting equipment such as skis.” she says.

Flax fibreLinen is a perfect example of how consumers can swap one fabric for another. If consumers have a choice between a white cotton shirt and a white linen shirt, with this knowledge, they can make a more educated decision with less environmental impact.

Montgomery says, “We are consuming more cotton than we are growing, so materials like flax will need to be used more by designers in the future. An education programme will be needed because, while brands continue to use cotton, consumers will buy it instead of alternatives such as flax because they are familiar with it. The Copenhagen Sustainable Fashion Summit has been very successful in getting high profile leaders from academia and industry together to discuss sustainability, but it is still only covering the converted. The loop from producer to consumer needs to be joined up.”

Right - Raw linen on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition ‘Fashioned From Nature

“We need the whole industry to understand that sustainability needs to be applied to all aspects of the fashion business. Starting from yarns to fabric, manufacture, producing less through better range planning, making more locally, as well as recycling. Technology is being used to resolve the issue and their are new developments coming through such as polymer recycling, but this will take time. A lot more can be done in the short term simply by every brand making a sustainable commitment. The Kering group for example have been very pro active in enforcing their sustainable strategy across the group, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is researching new ways to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design and build a better future through a circular economy.” he says. 

“If the industry would let go of business as usual and decide on making the transition without compromise it could do so today. With emerging technology it could reach even further, becoming truly sustainable, restorative and even regenerative.” says Karlsson.

I don’t think it’s realistic to ask people to buy less. It’s even more patronising to ask people with less money not to buy cheaper clothes. We need people to buy differently while we wait for technology and economics to close the circle on fashion items. 

In the future, I can see us recycling our clothes like we do with other recyclables. Putting them into piles according to their fibre make up. This will satisfy the speed of fashion and also the in-built disposabiltiy.

Things need to go around and around and around. It’s not enough for something to be made out of plastic bottles once. It, itself, needs to be recyclable and then into something else and then something else. We need to close the loop. That is sustainable.

Published in Fashion

Sit on My face North Face Death of Superbrands

Take the escalators upstairs to the first floor in Harrods and a sign above the entrance to the women’s designer floor reads ‘Superbrands’. Inside, individual, luxury fashion brands are housed in marbled-lined shop-in-shops giving consumers the full brand experience. 

How these ‘Superbrands’ are anointed I’m not sure - it could be sales or how much they wanted to contribute to the fixtures and fittings - but, what we were willing to accept maybe ten year’s ago feels out of step with how we feel about brands right now.

Left - North Face or Sit On My Face?

Selfridges opened a similar ‘Superbrands’ room during the noughties, but has since dropped the moniker.

We’re moving into an anti big brand age and being labelled a ‘Superbrand’ isn’t the compliment it once was.

Fila Fendi Hey Reilly Death of Superbrands

“Superbrands…who are they? Self appointment does not make you a Superbrand. And really was it just an industry ‘thing’.  Did consumers really know or care who the Superbrands were?  Did consumers really buy into this???  I think probably not. It struck me as quite ‘self congratulatory,” says Jo Phillips, Creative Director, Cent Magazine.

Right - The Hey Reilly Fendi/Fila collab for AW18

“The newer generations want brands that are traceable, responsibly care for the environment with ingredients, content etc, that is traceable and kind to the earth. Some want to have one offs so they can be seen as elite, first adopters, trail blazers etc or there are those who want individual products so they look for independent brands, small runs etc so they don’t feel like clones. Sadly some want to wear brands head-to-toe, emblazoned with logos so we all know ..how much money they have??? But, its beginning to look a little tired, like those people that act like a sandwich advertising board for a brand..especially if they wear them head to toe…its all a bit tragic,” says Phillips.

First published in 1995, and now in its 19th edition, ‘The Superbrands Annual’ highlights brands from a wide range of sectors that have become the strongest and most iconic in their field. The brands are voted for by marketing experts, business professionals and thousands of British consumers. There are two separate surveys: Consumer Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2C brands) and Business Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2B brands).

“A Superbrand must fundamentally deliver a good quality product or service but they also must be famous, come to mind ahead of the competition and be emotively engaging and distinctive, for example have a personality or tone of voice that is unique (think Virgin Atlantic vs Delta), or have a purpose that people can identify with and buy into.” says Stephen Cheliotis, Chairman of Superbrands UK.

Things have changed since 1995 and while many brands once wanted to make it onto the Superbrands list, it feels like the energy for consumers is turning towards start-ups and young, dynamic brands rather than something larger and established. People have become suspicious of big companies and this form of back slapping feels somewhat arrogant.

“While the fundamentals of what makes a strong reputation and what drives a positive perception have not in my view fundamentally changed, much of the context of marketing and buying has shifted substantially. For example, the channels or tools used to communicate with consumers has changed and there are now many more options, the consumers’ demands have has also rightly risen. With increased competition, not only has the bar been raised, but brands are increasingly called to account for poor delivery, for example through social media.” says Cheliotis.

Darling Carling OiBoy Death of Superbrands

“In many ways, brands are still, besides people, the most important asset a company has. A strong reputation in the market is essential to success. In this country we often focus too much on short-term success and short-term metrics, but really focussing on creating a distinctive brand with a clear purpose, point of view, personality and proposition should be a fundamental board consideration.” says Cheliotis.

As part of this change in thinking we’re seeing smaller brands or artists hijacking or playing around with established brands’ logos and slogans. These comical or clever playing with words have made many people think about brands’ messages and what they really mean. It’s part of our age of #fakenews, growing suspicion and rage against the establishment. 

Left - OIBOY - £28

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, Reilly has carved a unique position in the world of illustration and graphic art by playing with what is real or not in brand terms. His recent Hey Reilly AW18 collaboration with Fendi sees a play with the sportswear brand Fila. Both brands merge into a cool and playful outcome. It takes a level of confidence for brands to accept and give these tweaks their blessing. Other designers or artists such as Philip Normal, Proper Mag and OiBoy are all offering a British sense of humour on other people’s branding.

Based in South London, and founded by George Langham, OIBOY recently made its debut at Selfridges. “We all like to categorise everything into boxes, it makes us comfortable, but what makes a model super? "She's a ‘Supermodel’ not just a regular model”. Maybe adding 'super' to a brand or a model allows them to demand higher fees or prices because they are now super?! It's all bullshit really, BUT without these unaffordable (to the masses) 'superbrands', there wouldn't be brands like OIBOY, which is seen as affordable and accessible.” says Langham.

Is this about a lack of respect for brands who have spent many years and millions of pounds establishing themselves.

Yoots Boots OiBoy Death of Superbrands

“I’m not sure it’s a lack of respect from our side of things, we see what we do as something lighthearted and harmless fun. What seems to be happening is privileged kids glamorising the working class, even glamourising poverty in some cases, you can see this with the trend of every fashion shoot being on a council estate or pie 'n' mash shop or wherever, it's like going on a safari for them, seeing how the ‘others’ live…” he says.

Left - OIBOY - £28

“Well ,we used to take any brand that rang a chord with us and British culture/humour, hoping that the brand(s) would see the funny side of what we had done, at the same time, realise it’s guerilla advertising, we never look to discredit nor try to pass ourselves off as them, yet lately we’ve had some issues from 2 ‘superbrands’... the first one which is an American preppy brand who were fairly nice to us and asked us to kindly remove items from sale off of our site, the other, which is a French tennis brand, they tried taking us to the cleaners, so I guess to answer your question; we now can’t mess with clothing (super)brands, so we best stick to beverage companies from now on.” says Langham.

"It's just another marketing spin, why is Mark Ronson a 'super' producer not just a 'producer'? I like the idea of some super hero character producer coming in to save the day, but not really a super brand.” he says.

This reaction is about brands not taking themselves too seriously and being able to laugh at themselves. Many larger brands have built themselves a straight jacket of branding and guidelines and aren’t flexible enough to respond to the new consumer’s desires. This is about having a personality and being confident enough to join in the joke. They had this trouble when social media first appeared and they needed to have a singular voice.

Paul & Shark Proper Mag mug Death of Superbrands

Superbrands is a dated concept and as such illustrates the change in the way we view established brands. Today, you don’t want to be seen as being too successful. You want to be part of the struggle and that’s also why many big brands are starting smaller brands all the time. Just look at H&M and its growing stable.

Many Superbrands have lost sight of its product and got wrapped up in the brand too much. They need to disrupt themselves. I think we’ll see many of these brands falter unless they give more attention to the final product and particularly its quality and longevity. 

Right - Proper Mag Mug - £8

I wrote about ‘Russian Doll Brands’ - here 

Published in Fashion
Tuesday, 26 June 2018 13:15

ChicGeek Comment The Chinese Way

Retail Market The Cheapest of the best

They say the Chinese only buy the cheapest or the best. It’s simplistic, but it is the direction all retail markets seem to be headed in. The British market has been evolving into this for a while, now, and those stuck or stranded in the middle are suffering or dying.

The middle has been squeezed or forced to choose their direction of travel as we all race to the bottom or top.

The cheapest often requires huge volumes and multinationals and the best requires a perception of quality, luxury and good service.

As a brand or retailer, you have two questions to ask yourself, today: are we the cheapest? This can be split into different categories depending on where the brand sits and, are we the best? This is more complex and can mean many different things and is subjective. If you can’t say yes to both or either, they you need to start making some serious changes.

Imagine a Venn diagram: two circles, one the cheapest, one the best and price running up and the down the side axis. Any brand coming into the area where the two circles overlap is in a safer and strong position. Those within one of the circles has a focus, while those floating somewhere out of either need to work out which one they want to be in, and fast.

Let’s look at the cheapest option. This is why Sainsbury’s is getting into bed with Asda. The larger scale promises savings of around 10% to the consumer, and will help them compete with Booker/Tesco and the German food retailers, Aldi and Lidl. It’s an example of mid-market retailers needing to pair up or die.

In fashion, New Look revenue to the year 24th March 2018 was down -7.3% to £1,347.8m. New Look has not only announced store closures, but it’s also just said in its recent financial report and turnaround plan, that ‘Pricing (will be) lowered to offer significantly better value with 80% of product to retail under £20’.

Eighty percent of product under £20 will really put the brand toe-to-toe with Primark and, I think, it’s the right move for them. You have to go down fighting, but they’ll going to have to shift more product at these cheaper prices. Before, New Look wasn’t the cheapest, and it wasn’t the best in terms of being the most fashionable or desirable fast-fashion retailer. It used to be one of the cheapest, but then Primark came along.

It tried to be more fashionable, but at a time Boohoo, ASOS were growing and offering high fashionability at ridiculously low prices.

New Look says it wants to 'return to (a) value-led fast fashion and wardrobe basics offer with full price focus’. The margins will be so small they’ll need all the full price they can get.

H&M, long one of the darlings of fast retail, has seen its shares down nearly 20% this year and the company has said it will need to slash prices to reduce inventories, damaging profit margins. It has an $4.3 Billion in unsold stock and needs to be careful that its size won’t be its downfall. 

It also explains its focus on different, ‘best’ sister brands like Arket and COS. H&M isn’t in the same position as New Look, yet, but they need to make sure it’s still seen as one of the best in terms of affordable fashionability and also offering value. 

Marks & Spencer is another one trying this new best and cheapest approach. The clothes have arguably got much cheaper and the food is still perceived as the best, but it’s this balance that is hard to achieve within the same brand, especially knowing what consumers come to you for.

House of Fraser’s recent announcement to close 31 stores is a reflection of the growth of John Lewis both offline and online. John Lewis has continued to open in towns, in or near those House of Frasers, and House of Fraser isn’t cheaper or better. It probably explains the closure of the huge Birmingham store as John Lewis opened a shiny new shop at the railway station just a couple of years ago.

House of Fraser will need to pair up with somebody (maybe Debenhams?) or disappear altogether. Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has shares in both and will no doubt be pushing for it and then they really can compete on price and dominate their local markets.

So, who is getting it right? Zara, for the best in fashionability and speed and John Lewis in customer service and being ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But, like a game of musical chairs, it’s changing all the time.

As for the ‘best’, this is what many luxury brands rely upon. This could be quality, use of materials, origin etc. Many ‘luxury’ brands have lost control of these in the race for large quantities and bigger margins. They have to be careful because a few poorly made, overpriced products will ruin the perception of any brand.

But, you can also find the cheapest within this market. For example, Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish producers of scarves and blankets. It makes for everybody from Hermès to Burberry. While a scarf from them is not cheap, say £100, it’s far cheaper than one with a designer name on. They are also the best at what they do and the reason why these brands use them.

Or, a brand like Paul Smith. When looking at a multi brand website like Mr Porter, it feels like one of the most affordable brands on there. I think its recent troubles has seen it get more competitive and tread that fine line between affordable and exclusivity. They are also the best at colour. 

Or, you could can look at the total top, at the most expensive and exclusive. This is the pinnacle of the market and to be true to both would only be made in very limited numbers. This is chasing a very small number of big-fish consumers and, as such, it limits  the size of the business. But, this can also to used to sell ranges of cheaper products, such as perfume or sunglasses, but even these categories are harder, now that people aren’t so hung up on brands.

This simplistic approach to the market cuts through some of the wood to see the trees in a highly competitive and changing retail landscape. So, the next time you look at your own brand or somebody else’s, you know which two questions to ask.

Published in Fashion

Is the love affair over? Has Instagram peaked? I’m not basing this on any stats, as there aren’t any recent figures, but, like all things, instinctively, it feels like the audience are growing bored, the novelty is over, it all feels like hard work and many people are thinking what’s next or they want a break.

Left - Instagram - Are you feeling bored? Is the love affair over?

Instagram’s had a good run for its money, but I think people have a sense of deja vu looking at the perfect and saccharine images that are repeated daily. The same faces in the same places. I think the British, especially, are suspicious of too much perfection and the filtered view on life feels distant from the reality.

Over the last 3 years, Instagram became an obsession for many with the birth of ‘Influencers’ and brands piling in to be seen in the hands of these people who always look both ways, but never into the camera, when they cross the road. It’s hard to do anything different and people are becoming immune to any great images and simply overwhelmed with the swiping. They even look bored.

Let’s look at Instagram with fresh eyes for a minute. It’s not often you learn anything from it. It’s mostly immature, forgettable stuff - hot people, cute animals, holiday pictures, floors etc - and appeals to your younger, teenage self and that can be fun, for a time. When you think or feel like engaging, it’s only natural to really care about the people you know in really life.

I’ve been put into the ‘Influencer’ bracket, I’ll put my hands up, but my foundation has always been the written word and this blog. The idea is and always was to try to be a trend setter, opinion former and find out the latest and best things within the men’s style area and to be trusted and influential. (I don't think we've fully settled on a label or a term to describe what we do. The word 'Blogger' has also had a rough ride and wasn't embraced by many). I care and am passionate about this business and it isn’t a vehicle for my own vanity despite what my enlarged head might say!

Many men’s influencers were born from their girlfriends’ accounts and as such followed their lead on content and visual identity. Let’s be honest, how many afternoon tea reviews really appeal to anyone, let alone guys? The modern equivalent of a teenage crush or poster on the wall, the good-looking male influencer is not going to be cute for forever and doesn't really appeal beyond the superficial. These things have a shelf life and the Best Before Date has passed. They have to work out their USP or niche of expertise to have any longevity. I think men, especially, respect and are influenced by honest experience.

People are growing bored, posting less images and with engagement falling, this is the perfect storm to deflate this bubble. We are all influenced by many of things and by lots of people and the idea that these people have a magic key or insight is now over. It was all getting a bit 'Emperor's New Clothes' or was it the emperor getting paid to wear the new clothes?!

‘Influencer Marketing’ has a place in the arsenal of marketing, but celebrities lead the movement in this. There’s no reason for brands not to spend a slice of the marketing pie, but it became a central focus and I’m not sure it really warrants that importance and all the eggs going into this basket. Brands need to create good content and they can partner with people to do this: lots of different people. It doesn’t and won’t always result in stats telling you how much ROI - return on investment - you’ve had. It’s marketing afterall, everything is experimental and nothing is guaranteed.

As Instagram make it hard for people to grow their followers, it’s become a game of getting nowhere and a feeling of hopelessness and dropping out. It’s also hard to find anybody on there or break out of your friendship groups. I’m not entering the #Instafraud debate, but I think some people need to take a step back and realise that not everything revolves around Instagram.

Many of these Influencers don’t seem to have an opinion or express it on Instagram and this is why they’ve never really been into Twitter. Nobody is saying anything. Twitter requires a brain and thought process in order to say something and, this, unfortunately, makes it smaller in our figure obsessed world. Twitter is about news, opinion and conversation and doesn't appeal on a huge scale.

Also, what’s the ideal Instagram number of followers? 10,000? 25,000? 100,000? More, more, more!

As the men’s fashion business has been going through contraction - ChicGeek Comment here - the money available has deflated the Influencer bubble too. Brand people forget there is much more to the digital world than Instagram. We’re definitely seeing less sponsored posts and collaborations on there. While Instagram isn’t going anywhere, the days of thinking the sun revolves around it are over. It’ll take its place on the icons along with all the other accounts and move into the background. 

I think things are going to go back to written content held on blogs and websites that can be searched for and while social media is important and helps you create great original images, it’s very disposable and becoming more and more noisy as more features are added. I also think personality is going to become much more important in the digital world and this needs to be expressed in what you say, not just how you are seen. Instagram has become stressful keeping up, increasingly serious and as such has lost most of the fun.

It’s time to get clever, again.

Published in The Fashion Archives