When China sneezes, the world catches a cold. So, when China caught the new coronavirus, or COVID-19 virus, there was going to be major economic repercussions. With the world’s second largest economy on virtual lockdown, its effect on both domestic and international sales for fashion companies will be seismic.
While there is no way to predict how long it will take to runs its course, companies have already started to make tentative statements about how it is affecting their bottom line. Those companies heavily reliant on the Chinese market and high spending Chinese tourists will be particularly affected and be crossing their fingers that this is over quickly.
While it is hard to predict the length of the outbreak and its impact, we can look back at the last major virus outbreak, SARS, which originated in China in 2002. It's thought that this strain of the coronavirus usually only found in small mammals mutated, enabling it to infect humans in the same way as COVID-19 has. By the end of the nine-month long SARS outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 775 and infecting more than 8,000 people.
The current stats for COVID-19 are 71,499 confirmed cases and 1,776 deaths, that’s a 1 in 40 death rate compared to over 1 in 10 for SARS. In terms of stats it looks less serious, with many people being carriers and displaying no symptoms. The under reporting of Chinese authorities has been questioned and how they are trying to minimise the severity of the outbreak, but they seem to be taking swift action to prevent contagion.
The world in 2020 is very different from 2002. The Chinese are travelling much more and have become some of the world’s highest spending tourists. In 2005, there were 95,000 Chinese visitors to the UK, in 2018 that number had reached 391,000 and was continuing to grow. Chinese tourists make up the largest share of visitors to the UK (32%) and they have one of the highest average spends of any national group. In 2018, the latest set of statistics, the average spend of a Chinese tourist in the UK amounted to £1,373. They were only surpassed by visitors from Qatar and UAE.
In London’s West End, accounting for a quarter of all non-EU tax-free spend in 2018, on average, Chinese customers spent £1,630 per shopping trip, making them 59% more valuable than other international shoppers.
Hong Kong-based airline, Cathay Pacific, has already cut 90% of its capacity into mainland China and announced that overall capacity would be slashed by 30% as a result of falling demand related to the outbreak. British Airways announced that it would temporarily suspend its flights to mainland China, following the UK Foreign Office’s advice against all but essential travel to the country.
The most visited country in Europe was France with 2.2 million Chinese nationals visiting in 2018. Paris was already having to contend with transport strikes and gilet jaunes protests and now one of its most valuable visitors is staying away. The same could be said about Hong Kong; months of riots now followed by COVID-19 will have taken its toll on this important luxury retail location. The majority of the world’s major cities will be affected by the lack of Chinese tourists.
For British luxury giant, Burberry, Chinese consumers account for 40 per cent of revenues worldwide. Burberry Group plc released a statement at the beginning of February saying, “The outbreak of the coronavirus in Mainland China is having a material negative effect on luxury demand. While we cannot currently predict how long this situation will last, we remain confident in our strategy.” said Marco Gobbetti, Chief Executive Officer.
Currently 24 of Burberry’s 64 stores in Mainland China are closed with remaining stores operating with reduced hours and seeing significant footfall declines. This is impacting retail sales in both Mainland China and Hong Kong “The spending patterns of Chinese customers in Europe and other tourist destinations have been less impacted to date but given widening travel restrictions, we anticipate these to worsen over the coming weeks.” the statement said. Burberry was planning to hold a fashion show in Shanghai in March but that has been put on indefinite hold, while Chanel has cancelled its May Métiers d’Art show scheduled for Beijing.
Estée Lauder gave a recent update to the markets saying it it expects adjusted earnings of $5.60 to $5.70 per share in 2020, down from a previous estimate of $5.85 to $5.93 citing the coronavirus. Fabrizo Freda, Estee Lauder president and chief executive, said: “The global situation will also affect our financial results in the near term, so we are updating our fiscal year outlook. We will be ready to return to our growth momentum as the global coronavirus is resolved.”
Other brands who have focussed on growth in China will feel the effects. Luxury outerwear brand, Moncler, warned that footfall at its stores in China had plunged 80% since the coronavirus outbreak and it earns 43% of its total revenues from Asia. Michael Kors and Versace owner Capri Holdings saying it would take a $100m hit from coronavirus in China, where it was forced to close more than 150 stores.
Right - Off-White - Logo Print Face Mask - £65 from Farfetch
Kering makes 34% of its sales in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan. Kering’s chief executive officer, François-Henri Pinault, said - on the 12th February - the group - Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta - had experienced a strong drop in sales over the past 10 days. Many of the group’s stores in China are closed or running reduced hours. The company said it will halt advertising spend and postpone new openings in China in the near-term in a bid to limit the damage caused by the virus. Pinault said that planned product launches might also be reconsidered and is also shifting inventory to other regions to make sure stocks don't pile up in China. Without giving an estimate for any impact from the virus on earnings, he said online shopping was not really making up for the decline in store footfall. "The warehouses are shut. People can place orders but there are no deliveries," he said.
While being strong in China and in the Chinese market has been a boon for many years, this outbreak shows the danger of having all your eggs in the Chinese basket. Once a high growth area, this is a double whammy for brands; you have the domestic market closed and the free spending tourists are no longer shopping.
China’s growth was already slowing, but it was just about to come out of the trade wars with America. Even if this outbreak is over in a relatively short window of time, it’s the momentum it has lost that will take the longest time to get back. Getting those Chinese tourists to rebook their flights and travel plans, brands reworking expansion plans and product and consumers getting that feel good factor to spend will take months to correct. Many brands are downplaying the current impact to protect their share price. Hopefully, the epidemic will be over shortly, but the repercussions of COVID-19 will be felt by the fashion industry well into 2020.
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A large bulk of the fashion industry is feeling pretty smug with itself. The just-gone G7 summit in Biarritz, France, a meeting of the world’s largest economies, saw French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Economy and Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Labour, Muriel Pénicaud, and Deputy Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition, Brune Poirson, launch the ‘Fashion Pact’. An initiative to minimise the environmental impact of the fashion industry, the Fashion Pact, signed by various fashion companies and brands, made numerous commitments regarding sustainability, renewable energy and biodiversity.
Left - Tall glass of Pinault?! The 'Fashion Pact' launch at the recent G7 summit
Making plenty of noise, and, while anything in the right direction, particularly while the Amazon rainforest is burning, is welcome, it’s worth looking at some of the detail.
Thirty two companies representing around 150 brands and roughly 30% of the fashion industry committed to:
“100% renewable energy across own operations with the ambition to incentivise implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain by 2030.”
“Protect the oceans: by reducing the fashion industry’s negative impact on the world’s oceans through practical initiatives, such as gradually removing the usage of single-use plastics.”
“Restore biodiversity: by achieving objectives that use Science-Based Targets to restore natural ecosystems and protect species.”
“Stop global warming: by creating and deploying an action plan for achieving the objective of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in order to keep global warming below a 1.5°C pathway between now and 2100.”
These all feel like the least they can do. Words like ‘gradually’ and ‘ambition’ make most of this wishful thinking. But, waiting until 2050 to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions is laughable. Most of the signatories will be dead by then. It’s 31 years away!!! Who’s to say any of these companies will still be in business?
We live in a very stressful and confusing time. Environmental paralysis is understandable amongst consumers not sure exactly what they can do to combat climate change. But, waiting until 2050 to ‘possibly’ make that new handbag zero carbon emissions ain’t one of them. Green lip service is becoming increasingly frustrating and brands are going to have to give definite and distinct decisions while updating consumers on progress and fact based information much faster than this. People want to see something.
The brands involved include adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holding Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Fung Group, Galeries Lafayette, Gap Inc, Giorgio Armani, H&M Group, Hermès, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, Kering, La Redoute, matchesfashion.com, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella McCartney and Tapestry.
In April 2019, ahead of the G7 meeting, Emmanuel Macron gave François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kering, a mission to bring together the leading players in fashion and textile, with the aim of setting practical objectives for reducing the environmental impact of their industry. And the Fashion Pact was born.
This goes someway to explain the most noticable luxury absentee from the list, the LVMH group. LVMH, Kering's main luxury competition, announced in May that it was partnering with Unesco on a five-year deal, allowing the fashion houses in the group access to “a network of experts at the regional level and in different disciplines to drive the development and success of their initiatives to protect biodiversity” and secure transparent supply chains. They’ve also recently cemented a tie-up with British designer Stella McCartney to lead their charge in sustainable luxury.
The majority of these brands don’t know what the eco-future looks like, but they know they need to start making the right noises yet want to continue to generate billions of dollars in yearly turnovers. Signing up to things like the ‘Fashion Pact’ focuses minds, but the time frame makes it a case of we’ll start tomorrow, which goes against the current urgent 'Climate Emergency' feeling felt within the wider population.
Kering issued a statement saying, “Private companies, working alongside nation states, have an essential role to play in protecting the planet. With the Fashion Pact, some leading players in the fashion and textile sector are joining forces for the first time to launch an unprecedented movement. A collective endeavour by its nature, the Fashion Pact is open to any company that wants to help to fundamentally transform the practices of the fashion and textile industry, and to meet the environmental challenges of our century.”
If these luxury companies worked as quickly as they did when chucking money at Notre-Dame, after its fire, then we’d really be getting somewhere. Pinault found €100m (£90m) down the back of the sofa and the Arnault family stumped up €200m within hours of the flames being put out.
Governments will need to bring in legislation much sooner to force these companies to do more. We’re going to look back at this period of history and wonder how we got through it sanely, but what we know is, we have to start today.
Remainers cover your ears. One of the world’s strongest fashion brands is moving its headquarters to London despite Brexit. Yes, Brexit hasn’t put them off. Chanel has decided to close its global headquarters in New York and move it to London.
Until now, Chanel did not have a single holding company for its operations and functions were located in a number of cities. In a statement from the French company, they said, “We wanted to simplify the structure of the business and London is the appropriate place to do that for an international company. London is the most central location to our markets, uses the English language and has strong corporate governance standards with its regulatory and legal requirements.”
Left - Even London's lampposts are Chanel!
‘Chanel Limited’ became the holding company of most Chanel entities in the summer of 2017 and this is why the majority of the global functions are now located in London.
“Brexit's economic and geopolitical impacts remains a challenge for the London economy. London is still dealing with a hangover from Brexit.” says Brandon Rael, Operations Strategy & Innovations Leader & Retail Digital Strategist. “We should expect that London will experience an upswing when the economy stabilises. Moving the Chanel HQ to London is very much a long-term strategy.” he says.
Chanel could have chosen Paris, but instead chose London, and this goes against the anti-Brexit rhetoric of companies leaving in their droves. In July, Chanel revealed its financials for the first time in its 108 history. It generated nearly $10 billion in global sales in 2017, making it one of the world’s biggest luxury fashion brands. This new openness is Chanel positioning itself and facing up to the dominance of the likes of Kering and LVMH. This is for the next, digital chapter in Chanel’s history.
Brexit is so close, now, it is time to start looking beyond it and, Chanel’s decision would have been a long term decision from this globally revered company. While one company moving its headquarters to London doesn’t prove anything. In the same vein, one company moving out, doesn’t either. The major reasons companies move or stay in London won’t change post Brexit. They move to London because of geography, language, law and talent pool. This is about London competing with New York or Hong Kong and it is the only truly world city within Europe.
“London remains the world‘s most promising city for luxury retail growth, despite troubles faced by the Brexit vote,” says Rael. “A new report conducted by CBRE and Walpole has found that compared to other major luxury destinations across the globe, London still holds the greatest long-term potential,” he says.
The newly christened Capri Holdings - formerly Michael Kors - has its principal executive office in London and Condé Nast International recently choose London to cope with the new demands of its digital future. Everything catwalk related: photography, video, social media and features will be lead by Vogue International, an editorial hub established last year to lead content for the 25 editions of the magazine.
In an interview in the New York Times with Wolfgang Blau, Chief Digital Officer of Condé Nast International, he said two-hundred editorial and engineering staff members had been hired, and next year, he wants to have a Vogue presence at about 900 runway shows all feeding back to London. This is Condé Nast cutting costs and becoming more efficient while focussing its global fashion content in London. This will only get bigger. Its travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler has moved onto a new single platform, and it too would be overseen not from its birthplace of New York, but from London.
Right - London, not New York, is the global centre for all digital content
We were told that "Brexit would make us poorer”, but since the vote, and with a background of caution and underinvestment, Britain has a joint record high employment rate of 75.6% with 32.39 million people now in work according to the latest official statistics. (June 2018). There were 488,000 unemployed people aged from 16 to 24 for May to July 2018, the lowest figure since records began for youth unemployment in 1992. Overall, unemployment fell by another 55,000 between May and July to 1.36 million. Wages saw faster than expected growth in the three months to July. Excluding bonuses, wages grew by 2.9%, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), well above the inflation rate.
Business is doing well. UK Trade benefitted from a goods export boom in July. Official figures showed the deficit in goods dropped to £10 billion in July from £10.7 billion the previous month. Including service, the overall trade gap fell to just £111 million, one of the best monthly results in the past 20 years. In the three months to July overall goods exports grew by £4.3 billion while imports rose by £3.7 billion. This came largely from trading with countries outside the EU.
“It looks like Brexit is going to be a good thing for luxury fashion as people in the US and China take advantage on preferential tariffs coming from the UK.” says Fleur Hicks, Managing Director of onefourzero, a data analytics and digital research agency.
Eurotunnel recorded its best ever August for freight traffic and the number of passengers passing through Heathrow’s terminals jumped to 7.5 million last month, boosted by new services to China. Europe’s biggest airport, said August customer numbers were up 2.6% from a year earlier and cargo volumes were up 1.2%. Asia saw the biggest increase in passenger numbers, up 6.3%, with new services from Hainan Airlines, Tianjin Airlines and Beijing Capital. Gatwick also saw a 0.4% rise in passenger numbers to 4.9 million and its cargo traffic soared a whopping 22.3%.
Irina Bragin, from Made of Carpet, who specialises is making luxury carpet bags, says “I think I have one advantage of Brexit in mind. Today selling to the EU as retailer (to the end buyer) we pay VAT, same as we sell in UK. After Brexit, it will be the same as selling to US, or Canada, or Australia - no VAT to pay.”
I know it’s fashionable not to be positive about Brexit, but, it’s 6 months away and it’s time to turn the negativity into optimism. Global businesses are looking past Brexit, for the longer term, and what makes London great to do business in hasn’t really changed. Brexit is something new and unknown, but, in Britain’s true entrepreneurial spirit, we can do this!
Versace is a trophy brand and I can imagine many a green eye coming from the offices of LVMH, Kering and other fashion conglomerates asking why they hadn’t claimed this prize themselves. While the price isn’t a snip - approximately US$2.12 billion - and nobody knows the details of Donatella’s contract - it would have be something special in order to entice her to sell the family’s 80% stake - it is one of the few brands which resonates on to the lips and minds of everyday consumers. This happens for very few brands and is very hard to achieve.
Left - In Donatella's image? Versace advertising
Versace has a strong identity and tropes which are continually referenced - you only have to look at the continual ‘baroque’ collections from ASOS, Boohoo and River Island to see that - yet it never seems to fully capitalise on them itself. It can’t turn that into money. The profits are small - 15 million euro in 2017 - and it was always a brand which seemed to play musical chairs with its store portfolio; continually opening and closing stores.
On the other hand, Michael Kors is a well run accessorises company. The minute they knew their mid-market brand had peaked, and their market was saturated, they started closing stores - between 100 and 125 over two years. They knew the landscape changed, the brand was fatigued, and you need to make hay while the sun shines, which they’ve done. It’s knowing when to start putting your money into new areas and elevating. Everything is about ‘elevating’ ATM!
The confidence of buying Jimmy Choo, and that seems to be doing well, has maintained the momentum of this spending spree. While not likely partners, many groups have disparate brands and, if Michael Kors knows one thing, it’s how to grow.
John D. Idol, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Michael Kors Holdings Limited, said, “With the full resources of our group, we believe that Versace will grow to over US$2.0 billion in revenues (from 668 million euro currently). We believe that the strength of the Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo brands, and the acquisition of Versace, position us to deliver multiple years of revenue and earnings growth.”
“Donatella’s iconic style is at the heart of the design aesthetic of Versace. She will continue to lead the company’s creative vision.” he says.
It’s interesting to remember LVMH used to own a third of Michael Kors before he went for the masstige market and the company blew up and he was also the Creative Director of the LVMH owned Celine in the late 1990s.
The new group will be called ‘Capri Holdings Limited’. (Didn’t Michael Kors once do a mink beach towel with ‘CAPRI’ on it?) The new group says there is an opportunity to grow the group’s revenues to US$8.0 billion in the long-term, which would make it one of the largest fashion companies.
Right - Vintage Versace advertising - Gianni Versace is forever associated with the Supermodels
Donatella Versace says, “Santo (brother), Allegra (daughter) and I will become shareholders in Capri Holdings Limited. This demonstrates our belief in the long-term success of Versace and commitment to this new global fashion luxury group.”
Michael Kors’ expertise is accessorises. They say they want to expand Versace men’s and women’s accessories and footwear from 35% to 60% of revenues. Versace has never really resonated in these areas, often looking more tacky than desirable. Jimmy Choo will also offer synergies in luxury footwear and bags.
There’s also going to be a filip back to dressing up at some point and Versace is well placed, particularly in a sexually charged, Italian way.
As for more affordable products, they could expand underwear, home, sunglasses and perfume. The perfumes, since the very beginning, have never matched the quality and branding of the rest of the brand. Versace needs to choose areas and do them well, rather than the light licensing it has often achieved since its inception in 1978. Versace was one of those brands that had such disparate product - from cheap looking tins of perfume to the most luxurious Italian printed silk.
Capri Holdings say they want to “build on Versace’s luxury runway momentum”, - *books Supermodels* - and want to be less reliant on its home market of the US, grow in Asia and become more global.
Versace must have had numerous takeover offers through the years and it would be interesting to know the reasons of, why now? Why Michael Kors? The brand is 40 this year, so maybe the family want to fully maximise its potential, maybe it was pressure from the private equity investors to get out, or maybe it’s the realisation that you have to turn into a billion dollar brand to survive. Grow or die.
Below - The Versace ladies by Steven Meisel