How redundant is the handbag if you don’t leave the house? Same goes for shoes. This sounds like a surrealist-type manifesto of some ancient and useless items of dress or culture, yet perfectly sums up how quickly something can go from essential to unused. Fashion has always had a intertwined relationship with ‘want’ and ‘need’, they coexist; one propels the other, and, the other way around, it justifies it.
We’ve suddenly lost a lot of the need and therefore the want has waned. For many, clothing is a need only option and, apart from a new pair of joggers or PJs, all those prom outfits, wedding outfits, birthday outfits and all the other fashion treats that keeps the wheels of fashion turning have lost all momentum and become a missed sale.
The latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, saw online retail sales growth was down -2.2% year-on-year in the first week of the Government’s lockdown guidance, but the clothing sector saw growth plummeting -26.7% year-on-year, and -22% week-on-week. Those result were even more stark across footwear, with growth tumbling -38.2% year-on-year, and -22.9% week-on-week.
Online sales too will grind to a halt with some large retailers closing their websites.
But, there has been an online boom, it's just that it doesn't include fashion. Adobe Analytics analysed data from trillions of visits to retail websites and from millions of product SKUs, finding that online grocery purchases are leading the eCommerce boom. Among the most popular items in people's internet shopping carts: Health products, gym equipment, toilet paper and canned foods. Online orders for fitness equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells and treadmills a saw 55% boost.
People too have begun spending money on board games, puzzles and video games. Notebooks are flying off the shelves and Mike Norris, chief exec at Computacenter - one of Europe's largest resellers said he has been signing "500, 1,000 or 2,000 laptop deals" with business customers that are equipping employees for remote working. He noted similar spikes in sales of monitors, virtual private network services and wireless LANs.
Fashion may not be fully redundant, just yet, temporarily and creatively furloughed, you could say, but with so many things cancelled in the future, even months after lockdown finishes, fingers crossed, those occasion spending needs will take even longer to turn into wants.
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Recently, a government advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the modelling programme at Imperial College London's MRC centre for global infectious disease analysis, estimated that up to two thirds of people who die from coronavirus in the next nine months are likely to have died this year from other causes. He said that many of those deaths were likely to be old and seriously ill people who would have died from other conditions before the end of the year. What COVID-19 is doing, sadly, is speeding up the end of life and it’s the same for brands and retailers.
Some retailers have started to fall into administration, pointing the finger of blame at the COVID-19 coronavirus. The majority of these brands and retailers were sickly patients to start with. Brands like Beales, Laura Ashley, Carluccio's and BrightHouse were on wobbly ground way before this devastating virus was on the horizon. The coronavirus has just cut short the inevitable. Bournemouth based department store Beales closed earlier than scheduled and left unsecured creditors £17.6m out of pocket.
Left - The Beales flagship store in Bournemouth
Other patients at risk are brands like shopping centre group Intu, struggling under a £4.5bn debt mountain, and who failed to secure new funding before the crisis hit. They’ve also been hit by stores holding back their rent payments recently. Frasers, owner of Jack Wills, has been cutting off vast limbs of its retail network to save their critically ill patient, Cath Kidston is looking for a buyer to save the business and up to 800 jobs and New Look has requested a three-month rent holiday from landlords. H&M has threatened landlords with walking away from 300-plus store leases if sales fail to match pre-coronavirus levels once the pandemic passes. How others like Debenhams and the Arcadia come out of this pandemic is anybody’s guess.
Right - Laura Ashley has fallen into administration
The patient metaphor has one big and important point; the third of previously healthy people who could potentially die. This is where the government efforts to help businesses should be focussed. Those businesses who were previously healthy, but, due to unforeseen circumstances, have been thrown into jeopardy should be given the largest help. Whether it’s down to the sector they are in or the way they sell, these previously healthy retailers should be given the ventilator of loans and payment holidays to give them life.
The longer this crisis goes on the larger that third will become. It is survival of the ones who were the fittest going into all of this.
Read more from TheChicGeek Archive - Comment Fashion For Clean Air
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The Board of Directors of the Fédération de la haute couture et de la Mode has said that Paris Fashion Week Menswear, set to take place from June 23 to June 28 and the Haute Couture Week scheduled from July 5 to July 9, will not take place. Alternatives are in the works.
Menswear usually starts in London with LFWM in early June, and then onto the most important menswear trade show, Pitti Uomo. The Pitti Uomo organisers had hoped to keep their 98th edition on track for mid-June, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely with the announcement above.
Left - Florence's Pitti Uomo 98 has now been moved to Sept. 2nd-4th
It’s not just about the trade show for the SS21 season, it’s about the exhibitors who have to complete designs and samples in order to have something to show at the fair and make it worth their while. As time keeps leaking, it looks harder and harder to be able to make that up and pull something together. This begs the question whether fashion will skip a season?
While they’ll still be product designed, made and sold in Spring 2021, it will be a reduced offering with a more narrowed scope.
I predict the men’s shows will move to Sept/Oct, when the women’s usually show, and the women’s will be slightly smaller. It will mean they will need to turn all that product around in a couple of months or stagger it more into the new SS21 season. (Don’t mention ‘drops’!).
It will be interesting to see the gaps in schedules and on the trade show floors of brands who have disappeared. It’s a long time to go without cashflow. If you don't make anything you're also not selling anything. The Cruise collections from the big designers were already cancelled. I think they’ll just repeat the core pieces from the previous collection to carry on through.
In terms of retail, the SS20 collections were well delivered. There was disruption in China, but most retailers would have had their deliveries in full. I suspect many orders from the Paris AW20 shows in February would have been cancelled or reduced hugely.
Retailers will try to cancel as much as possible - Read - ChicGeek Comment COVID 19 Cancel Everything - and worry about having something to sell when the time comes. Many big, luxury department stores work on a concession basis, so the brands will have to deal with the problems with product and what to sell themselves. It will be brands who can easily turn production on and off who will benefit. The smaller brands who often fit around these production timetables, when times are quieter, will suffer.
Retailers are currently looking at the peak of the SS20 season and have lots of stock on their hands. No holidays means a lot of spring/summer sales lost.
But, the longer this goes on, the more you can skip. It would probably make it less bitty and then designer retailers can coast it with the product they've got until the new AW20 season drops in July and August. The high summer collections will have already been scrapped and they'll go straight to production on AW20 when the factories in Italy and France finally reopen. The Cruise 21 collections will be squashed into SS21. The samples, to be shown at the Oct/Sept fashion weeks, for SS21 will have to fit around this.
But, this all goes back to cashflow and means they will have to slim down, particularly with manpower, between now and then if no money is coming in, which has always been the problem with the fashion wholesale model. Some retailers may offer to pay on friendlier terms, it's in their interest too, and, many luxury brands will have to be more understanding and supportive of their suppliers and producers.
Will fashion skip a season? It can't afford to.
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Between the ‘loungewear’ emails and the ‘we-give-a-shit-please-buy-something’ emails, some brands have been hoping to offset some of the losses of physical retail with online. Online has the potential to be many brands’ life support machines; keeping some form of cash flow ticking over and the lights on.
Left - Net-a-Porter has closed its American website & warehouse
Dixons Carphone has said sales surged by more than 70% as Britons rushed to buy laptops, games consoles and freezers to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. Online sales in the UK and Ireland surged 72% in the three weeks to 21 March.
“There will be some recovery through online operations but overall the loss of sales will adversely impact our full-year profitability and cash position,” it said. The group said as a result it would still miss out on about £400m of sales between now and the end of its financial year in April.
Fashion has a lot less ‘need’ and as such will be harder hit. Fashion brands have huge amounts of stock sitting in stores, not going anywhere anytime soon. These shops have now become in-town warehouses, but they still need manning and this has become a problem for some brands. Many consumers seem to think that online and offline is separated, robotically picked and magically appears on their doorstep.
The family owned department store chain, Fenwicks said in a statement: "Our people, both employees and customers alike, are at the heart of our business... Therefore, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our website as well as our stores, to ensure the safety of our teams and customers.” Fenwicks only went online in 2017 and pick the items from in-store stock.
Schuh, the footwear retailer, too has closed its website. Chief executive Colin Temple said: “At this point in time, the UK government guidelines include that online retail should ‘still open’ and ‘is encouraged’ along with advice that if staff cannot reasonably work from home, they should continue to go into work.
“However, with the Schuh head office and DC operations based in Scotland and Scottish Government advice conflicting with UK government advice, Schuh management have made the decision to close their website, in addition to their stores that already closed from the evening of Sunday 22 March.”
He added: “A number of DC staff continue to indicate that they want to work within the warehouse to support the Schuh online business, along with other departmental employees offering their support also. However, Schuh management have confirmed that the website and stores will remain closed until there is updated UK and Scottish government advice.”
No doubt demand has fallen overall with many people tightening their expenditure and only buying what they need. But, what about the exclusively online retailers? Most surprising is Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter has closed its American business. Customers visiting the US site are now met with a message that reads: “In line with local government guidelines, and for the health and safety of our community, we have temporarily closed our warehouse. We hope you are all staying safe and look forward to welcoming you back soon.”
This is a nightmare for fashion brands selling products with a shelf life. The discounts have already started, and they’re big, Liberty of London went straight in with 50% off. Some retailers are doing okay at online, but even the best figures won’t replace physical retail, representing a 20/80 split between online and offline. To shift all this stock they will need to discount heavy, eating into profit margins, and consumers, used to a never-ending supply of ‘Just In’ will have to adjust to a new shopping landscape with less choice.
Update - Next, River Island & Moss Bros have announced their websites will close.
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This is a disaster. This will probably be the biggest recession the world has ever seen and fashion and retail is going to get hit hard. What the global spread of coronavirus (COVID 19) shows us is how interdependent our economies have become and what a fragile house of cards it all was in the first place. Those cards are disappearing quickly and the entire thing is coming crashing down.
Fashion brands and companies are in freefall and the current mindset is to cancel everything. Fashion had a problem with unsold inventory well before this. As the industry got bigger and the need for huge quantities to make a profit increased, unsold merchandise and how to get rid of it was a headache for the majority of brands, high-street or ‘luxury’.
It has been reported that garment factories in Bangladesh have now had orders worth more than US$2 billion cancelled by brands and retailers because of the global coronavirus crisis. Orders for nearly 650 million garments, worth a total of US$2.04 billion have been cancelled, impacting on 738 factories and about 1.42 million workers, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Just as the Chinese factories start production again, Europe and US are mostly in lockdown with many shops closed and retailers cancelling orders.
Primark is using a force majeure clause in its contracts to cancel its orders, the Times newspaper said. “We are deeply saddened that this will clearly have an effect throughout our entire supply chain,” Primark Chief Executive Officer Paul Marchant told the newspaper.
While much of the SS20 season would have been made despite the reported disturbances in the supply chain from China at the beginning of the year, it’s not too late to cancel high summer stock or the waves of drops, brands, who don’t want to hold much stock, have become used to. Primark has no online sales, so all that stock will be stuck in stores and warehouses.
“We have large quantities of existing stock in our stores, our depots and in transit, that is paid for and if we do not take this action now we will be taking delivery of stock that we simply can’t sell. This is unprecedented action for unprecedented and frankly unimaginable times,” said Marchant.
Marks & Spencer has recently cancelled £100m in clothing orders.
This is the retail equivalent of cutting off limbs to save the vital organs. Brands don’t know how long this is going to last and what shape they and consumers will be in at the end of it. They need to save cashflow. Fashion feels particularly unimportant right now and will be awash with huge discounts to clear stock in the near future, and that’s in an already saturated market. Brands cancelling orders will impact manufacturing countries hard, but this isn’t a frivolous decision, this is a battle for survival.
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At the recent Stella McCartney AW20 show in Paris guests were gifted a sampling. Wrapped in paper and tied with string, a note was attached which read: “We should all be carbon neutral now. We are absorbing the CO2 emitted by the show to make this a completely carbon neutral experience. Planting this tree is part of the solution.”
Left - The samplings given out at Stella McCartney's AW20 fashion show in Paris
How many of these young trees made it off the Eurostar and into the ground we’ll probably never know, but it is another example of fashion’s current obsession with tree planting to seemingly balance out the rest of its environmental impact.
New trees have become part of some quantum, climate change, environmental maths equation and, seemingly, the answer to many of our climate change woes. It’s an easy solution to carry-on-as-you-were by simply chucking money at the problem and hoping re-greening, by randomly planting new trees, is the band aid needed.
The Committee on Climate Change says the UK will have to plant 1.5 billion trees if it is to meet its pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – and this needs to “happen quickly”. UK woodland cover needs to increase from 13 per cent to 17 per cent. It recommended that 30,000 hectares be planted every year, but if other carbon-reducing targets are not met, it said this will have to go up to 50,000. In 2018, the UK planted 13,400 hectares of woodland.
In the recent Labour 2019 manifesto, it said, if elected, it would plant 2 billion trees in the next 20 years. That would have been the equivalent of 100 million trees a year; the equivalent of three trees planted every second, day and night. These numbers are staggering and make the whole thing look too simplistic and far fetched. Where would they all go? It's as though all these trees will just magically appear not to mention. Done. Fixed.
European footwear brands such as Womsh, Faguo, Yatay have all made planting trees part of their brand ethos and USP. Yatay promise for every pair of shoes sold a tree will be planted in a specific area in Bore, Kenya and since 2014, Womsh has created and preserved 46 tennis courts of equatorial forest and offset 74 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission, equal to the consumption of more than 10 milions sheets of paper.
Romain Teissedre, Faguo Communication Manager, says, “From the beginning, Nicolas and Frederic, (the founders) wanted to be positive for the planet. They choose trees because it's the best way to offset CO2. It encourages wood use too. We think that it's better to use wooden materials instead of plastics or glass, because it continues to offset CO2. We symbolise that with a coconut button on all of our products.” he says.
“For each collection, we know how many Faguo products we will produce, so we ask our plant nursery workers (Naudet Pépinières) to find projects in France who want to forest or re-forest their land.” he says. “If they engage to care about the plantation and put a wood Faguo panel in front of the forest, then Faguo pay for all the plants in the field. Naudet Pepinières wait for the right season to plant and decide if they plant conifer or broad-leaved trees.”
Right - Italian sneaker brand Yatay informing customers how many tons of CO2 has been absorbed by their tree planting
Faguo has planted 1.5 million trees in France since 2009 in 270 Faguo forests.
“It's great, but not enough." says Teissedre. "We need to install a more circular fashion to reduce our emissions. The beginning must be using recycled material!” Sixty-five per cent of Faguo products are made with recycled materials right now. It will be one hundred per cent by 2024 they say.
“Planting a tree is good, but the most important act is reducing our footprint.” he says.
A whole industry of socially responsible companies have sprung to facilitate this new mania in tree planting from the fashion industry. Offset Earth helps companies and individuals offset their carbon footprint by supporting carbon reducing projects around the world including tree planting. Olly Rzysko is an advisor and Co-founder for Offset Earth. Having worked in retail (specifically clothing/fashion) since he was 20 he knew the impact it was having on the environment and also the power it has to make a difference, quickly. He donates his time to Offset Earth having been really inspired by Elliot, Alex and Lucy, who founded it in 2019.
“The fashion industry, like most industries, is unable to completely remove its carbon footprint overnight, it may never be totally possible.” says Rzysko. “All the while our dwindling global carbon budget continues to drain faster than ever before. What we need to do until industries are fully decarbonised is pay to offset the footprint as it will increase the amount of time we have to live more sustainably.” he says. “You can do the offsetting by planting trees, protecting rainforests, and installing wind and solar farms.
“At Offset Earth we don’t count tree planting as carbon reduced, the tree has not yet grown yet so the carbon has not yet been reduced. The trees we plant will absorb a lot of carbon though, and this calculation is often averaged over a 25 year growing period. Many tree varieties will keep on growing after this, and the carbon they sequester continues to accelerate. For Offset Earth planting trees is a backbone of what we offer - it’s what really ignites the imaginations of our susbscribers, plant 12 trees a month for £4.50.” says Rzysko.
Is there anything consumers should look for or be suspicious of?
“You should look to find information on how the climate projects are being verified as to what they are doing. The projects we support are all verified by Gold Standard, an independent certification body, that raises the standard of the project to an exceptional quality. Other standards include Verra, Climate Action Reserve and Climate, Community & Biodiversity.” he says. “Often you wont be buying carbon offsets directly from them, so if you’re going through another company then ensure you’re happy with the level of transparency and thoroughness of the information, that has links to plenty of sources.”
How can consumers trust that these trees will be planted and cared for? “The actual project operator that is planting the trees needs to be well established and known for responsible reforestation. Our reforestation partners work with local governments and plant in newly nationalised parks, protecting them in perpetuity. There should be a monitoring period over 30 years in place, where an independent auditor ensures the stated number of trees are healthy.” he says.
Left - Map on Faguo's website showing where and how many trees have been planted in France
“If the entire (fashion) industry offset its carbon footprint it’d be a staggering boost to our global climate goals, but it is just one part of the solution.” says Rzysko. “The reason we need to use this tool is because it’s available today and is something most businesses can get behind without too much effort. The bigger picture is to remove the carbon footprint of the industry, and that will be slow to change. However it needs the spotlight at all times to ensure we’re all marching in the right direction.”
Fashion app, Mallzee recently launched a Swipe To Plant initiative, partnering with non-profit organisation One Tree Planted - a non-profit dedicated to global reforestation - to turn every swipe made on their free Mallzee apps into tree planting funding. The week long green initiative focused on highlighting the sustainable fashion ranges available on the shopping app whilst also helping fund reforestation globally. In addition to helping consumers find their favourite fashions, Mallzee strives to reduce wastage in the fashion industry by partnering with retailers to improve their product selections and stock ordering through pre-release product testing.
Tree planting is fantastic, and nobody is going to say the world has too many trees, but it feels too easy and simplistic an answer in combating the impact of the fashion industry. Just carrying on regardless and saying you’ve planted part of a forest feels like the environmental equivalent of sticking a plaster over a gaping wound. Many brands are doing great things and are transparent in their efforts, but consumers can feel blinded by the numbers and what it all means. It's also clearly cheaper to plant trees in some countries over others due to land prices and labour costs. This trend is a positive one, but it does feel like some brands are jumping on the brand wagon and how much of this is checked, monitored and also cared for, with so much passing onto third parties, is ripe for abuse. Forget the wood, consumers need to see the trees.
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Is there ever a perfect time to launch anything? Warehouse, the women’s high street brand founded in 1976 by Jeff Banks, is launching menswear this week. The traditional British men’s high-street has been in the doldrums for quite some time since the skinny suit was replaced by the branded tracksuit. So, the question is, does this ambitious new launch signal the start of a potential menswear renaissance or will it be simply too difficult in a segment that has seen other well known high-street brands crash and burn?
Jonathan Munro, Warehouse Menswear designer says, “We feel strongly that there is a gap for a well-designed sustainable brand at a great price point. We wanted to build on the success of the womenswear line, marking a new chapter in the brand’s history and fulfilling what we believe, is a gap in the market.” he says. It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time Warehouse has done menswear. They had menswear in the early days of Warehouse so they are not promoting this as a first.
Left - Warehouse Menswear SS20
The main focus is, the fashion word du jour, sustainable. The new range will be sold online via the Warehouse webstore www.warehouse.co.uk and through host e-tailers and retailers; The Idle Man, Zalando, JohnLewis.com, Next and the Australian retailer Myer. Price points range from £15 for a 100% organic T-shirt, up to £189 for a recycled polyester content suit and £229 for the chrome-free suede jacket.
“The core of the range is made up of high quality wardrobe staples that should last season-after-season, balanced with breathable cottons and linens in a wearable colour palette.” says Munro. “We have a great range of printed shirts, from monochrome geos to abstract hand painted illustrations which are all designed in-house. Key pieces include our heavy twill overshirts and slim utility trousers.” he says.
“Fashion needs to become more sustainable for the good of the planet.” says Munro. “100% of the range includes sustainable fibres such as organic cottons which use less pesticides and therefore less pollutants, recycled polyesters made up from salvaged plastic bottles and eco viscose which is derived from renewable wood sources.”
What will Warehouse Menswear add to the British men’s high-street market? “Sustainable clothing for the modern man who needs his clothes to last and work for him every day.” says Munro. “We know women buy clothes for men and we also know men buy clothes for themselves - it's aimed at whoever wants to buy it.” he says. “We are holding a pop-up store at Protein Studios in Shoreditch, running from the 2nd – 7th March. This is to allow customers to see the range first hand, interacting with the materials and learning more about the sustainability messaging which runs throughout.”
What does the future look like for Warehouse Menswear? “Our main focus will be to continue to research and develop new ways of working with sustainability in mind, supported by the knowledge of what the Warehouse Menswear customer is looking for in a sustainable clothing collection.” says Munro.
Brands such as Whistles and New Look both struggled in the menswear category. Whistles cancelled its menswear range this time last year and New Look removed menswear from its stores in April 2019, going online-only. The rest of the high-street from Topman to River Island to Jigsaw have struggled to compete with Zara and the sports brands. But, things aren’t all doom and gloom, according to a ‘GlobalData’ report ‘The UK Clothing Market 2018 – 2023’, menswear will be the driving force of the clothing sector, forecast to grow by 12.3% over the next five years as greater trend incorporation and newness drives volumes.
A British Fashion Council and Mintel report estimates that consumer spending menswear has grown 5.1% to reach £15.9 billion in 2018. Menswear now accounts for 26% of the total clothing market, whilst womenswear accounts for 51%. Consumer spending on clothing is forecast to rise 25% to £76 billion in the next five years to 2023.
Warehouse’s parent company, the Oasis and Warehouse Group, clearly sees potential in the menswear market having recently purchased online retailer The Idle Man for an undisclosed sum in Sept. 2019.
Right - Warehouse Menswear SS20
So, what do the experts think Warehouse Menswear’s prospects are?
“When this was announced, I’m not going to lie, I was very surprised, to say the least. I understand a lot of people keep on talking about the growth in men’s fashion & grooming, but when we see retailers from New Look to Whistles dropping their menswear offering, it does beg the question, is now the best time to launch a menswear brand extension?
“Additional to this, we have an awful lot of talk on sustainability and buying less but better quality, plus when well known names like TOPMAN are not performing particularly well at the moment, its hard to see a brand not known for their menswear being a success in these difficult, uncertain times. However, maybe this is what the menswear market needs, maybe Warehouse it going to target the ladies buying for their men, but this is an ever increasingly niche demographic. I do wish Warehouse all the luck in the world and hope their Menswear offering is a success, but I won’t be holding my breathe.” says Anthony McGrath, Founder of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com & leading academic.
“It’s certainly a challenging time to launch, but there’s an opportunity for Warehouse where other major high street names are stalling or retracting on menswear. There are multiple challenges for high street retailers; nimble online competition, prohibitive high business rates, persistent economic uncertainty and the fact that many of us no longer choose shopping as a preferable leisure activity. However, in my opinion the current menswear offer from the high street, with a few exceptions, is failing to offer well-made, well priced and exciting product. There’s a proliferation of dull, cheap clothes.
I’d like to see a certain amount of risk taking. Nobody needs another line of neutral, anonymous ‘wardrobe essentials’. Men shop for themselves. It’s not going to work if the strategy is to rely on existing customers.” says Jessica Punter, Stylist & Grooming Consultant, & former GQ Style & Grooming Editor.
“It'll be a tough fight, and depends on their marketing strategy I think. They have a nice campaign video and a pop up shop but is that enough? We'll see. They have an opportunity now to really nail it, to take the market share from the high street brands that don't do it particularly well, but time will tell! I think others failed because they weren't offering a mix of product for different customer groups, so hopefully Warehouse will.
“There isn't a 'good time' to launch I don't think, there's always going to be peaks and troughs in the industry, and right now we're just coming out of a terrible time for retail, so maybe it's a great time! To wait until fashion week or another event is pointless now as we know men don't really shop to seasons or events, they just shop because they need to. I guess it's a good time in the year though, because now is the time for newness, so makes sense from a business point of view.
“Initially, I think it'll be the aimed at the women for sure, because they are the ones going in store and online to buy Warehouse, but if they have a good marketing plan, and get it out to wider audiences, men will slowly show up. Also, I wonder who they are partnering with, if anyone, to wholesale? That'll be really important in pulling in a new menswear customer. It'll be slow, but maybe they might be able to do what others have failed to do!” says Simon Glazin, freelance fashion writer and blogger.
Left - Will it work? Warehouse Menswear SS20
“I think there's space for an affordable, fashion-forward offer now Topman is tussling with Boohoo over cheap sportswear, but Warehouse aren't going to be the ones to provide it. Well, judging from the images I've seen.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
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When you are happily sat outside in the sunshine at Berlin Fashion Week eating your lunch in the second week of January your instincts tell you this winter has been exceptionally mild. Last month the global temperature was warmer than any previous January on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Temperatures in Europe were 0.2C higher than the previous warmest January for the continent – recorded in 2007, and it has been 3.1C warmer than the average January in the period 1981-2010.
Norway recorded its hottest January day since records began, with a reading of 19C – more than 25C above the monthly average – measured in the village of Sunndalsora, which is around 250 miles north of Oslo. Temperatures were also much above average over most of the USA and Canada.
Left - Nobis
If you are a coat brand, and, in particular arctic parkas, this is bad news. The arctic parka market has seen huge expansion over the past few years and brands piling in on the success of brands such as Moncler and Canada Goose. The last few years’ winter weather has helped with the 'Beast from the East' and America’s extremely cold polar vortex making these type of coats feel like an essential. These businesses have grown big selling £1000 coats in the 100,000s, but things have become more competitive - possibly unsustainable? - and if the weather is mild consumers will forgo an expensive purchase until they really need it. So how has the mild weather been affecting this important seasonal market?
Martin Brooks, Co-Founder & CEO, Shackleton, says,”Yes, the mild winter has affected sales. Last year, we had a very cold March, by that time many brands were out of stock.
“It’s nuts that most outerwear brands go on sale from Black Friday - months before it gets cold. It's like putting swim gear on sale in May.” he says. “North America has been strong for Shackleton, especially Chicago where it's been 'Chiberia' (25 below) a few times this year.”
Ian Holdcroft, COO & Co-Founder, Shackleton, adds “We’re on target to double our revenue to financial year ending end of March. We are a small business but growing rapidly.
“Interestingly our sales of high ticket items (the most expensive jackets) have increased, we suspect in the main (& talking to our customers has reinforced this), that they see our product as investment and less affected by near term weather. They also like that we’re now non fur and make in UK and Europe. Admittedly we do see spikes in orders when the temperature drops below 7 degrees.” he says.
Robin Yates, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Nobis says, “Experiencing winter arrive later, season after season, the traditional buying cycle of the consumer has become less predictable. Weather trends, however, see winter conditions accelerating in January and February, and sales in our industry are beginning to reflect this shift from a timeline perspective.
“At Nobis, our collections are built and designed for global movement and unpredictable weather. Relevant in mild and inclement weather scenarios, our products offer functionality across a broad range of seasonality.” he says.
Right - Shackleton
Are these brands changing their product mix to be less reliant on classic fur hooded parka?
“It's rained every week in the UK from 1st October to now. Not many people have decent rainware in their closet... this is a huge opportunity to bust a space between outdoor shell jackets (urgh) and fusty raincoats.” says Brooks.
“Our best seller (in outerwear) this winter has been our pilot jacket which is shorter than a traditional parka.” says Holdcroft. “We designed this with helicopter pilots operating in the Alps so the jacket has a lot of features (such as full vent zips up the side) which make it much more flexible in terms of temperature, heat regulation and usability. There has also been an increase in demand for the lighter weight jackets and layering pieces - the Fortuna gilet has proved very popular.
“The last few winters have experienced colder weather towards the end of the season in Feb and March. However this is when consumers are used to seeing sales of winter ranges and retailers stocking up for Spring Summer. We are planning lighter weight outerwear pieces and will be introducing rain/wet weather into the range for next Autumn Winter. We are definitely planning for a general warming of the climate (& milder, wetter northern hemisphere winters) but there will always be somewhere cold on the planet.” says Holdcroft.
“Mid to lighter weight product ranges are seeing an increase in traction due to the versatility and functional aspect.” says Yates. “Dependent on the time of the season, these transitional pieces can be worn as a base layer or a final outer layer.” he says.
Is the arctic parka market saturated and over supplied and have brands that have become big on the back of this cold weather staple got an unsustainable business model?
“Each brand caters to very different audiences – we believe and invest in the product experience.” says Yates. “We bring our consumers greater quality, function, style and value from their Nobis branded jacket and continue to provide them with access to information previously clouded in industry nomenclature. Thus, allowing the consumer to truly make an informed outerwear purchase decision, regardless of the brand they end up selecting.”
Left - Nobis
“There are a lot of brands now making parkas and the parka has become a category in it’s own right. We need to be different and innovative though to stand out.” says Holdcroft. “Our Endurance parka sells very well because it’s so light and packable and is the best performer on the market from a weight to warmth ratio perspective. It’s much easier to travel with than heavier weight parkas from other brands. So, we find people are buying into the flexibility of the jacket and the performance without compromising style. That being said, as we extend the range we will be introducing more and more products that are not parkas.” he says. “We won’t be able to build an international brand on the parka,”.
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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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Everybody loves a side hustle. Look at your wardrobe and there is probably hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds worth of merchandise not earning its keep. It’s just hanging there, not being worn or potentially earning you money. Enter the peer-to-peer rental scheme.
It’s tempting. Under the guise of being better for the environment, women are hiring out their wardrobes for a fee. The companies facilitating this are earning a commission from each hire. The business model makes sense. There’s no initial outlay and money tied up in stock for the businesses and much like other service companies - Uber, Airbnb, eBay - the majority of work is done by the individuals, while they cream off the commission. Sounds easy.
Left - MYWARDROBE HQ - CHANEL - Perfume Bottle Clutch - FROM £147 / DAY (RRP £15,000)
But, is this nascent industry working for lenders - those hiring their clothes out - and is it sustainable enough for this sector to scale? This business is only as good as its lenders and the product they can offer at a price which is attractive to others. Companies, such as HURR Collective and MY WARDROBE HQ, need to keep these individuals engaged, encouraged and make it as seamless as possible, while being low enough to keep people hiring frequently.
The current MY WARDROBE HQ mail-outs are enticing with £325 Rixo dresses for £8, or Simone Rocha fur stoles for £23 a day. At these prices, renting finally makes sense for many. It says customers can shop womenswear clothing and accessories from the wardrobes of Arizona Muse, Poppy and Chloe Delevingne, Olivia Buckingham, Roxie Nafousi, Caroline Fleming, amongst other fashion stylists and influencers. Victoria Prew
Founded in 2018 by Sacha Newall and Tina Lake, MY WARDROBE HQ is now chaired by Jane Shepherdson, of Topshop & Whistles fame and has just opened a pop-up in London department store Liberty until 31st March 2020.
HURR Collective, founded in 2017, too has launched its first in-store wardrobe rental pop-up at Selfridges, London for six months. Available to rent for either four or eight days, the stock will rotate on a weekly basis and there will be specially curated London Fashion Week, Valentines Day and Holiday edits.
The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at £30 billion with an estimated £140 million of clothing going to landfill annually in the UK alone. The fashion rental industry is projected to reach $1.96 billion by 2023.
Sarah Angus, Content Director, MY WARDROBE HQ, say, “Customers can choose a rental term that suits their occasion; 4, 7, 10 or 14 days, and we can extend this further if they require. We have customers that rent for each and all of these terms - the 10 day particularly suits holidays/vacations, while the 4 day rental is perfect for interviews and events such as LFW.”
“Lenders make 60% of every rental or sale. Our business model includes a resale element also which has seen renters rent something, love it, and then buy it for the difference.” she says. "Our unique business model means that we manage everything for the lender; people nowadays are time poor and don’t have the time to manage things like this, but they’re conscious of the damage fashion is doing to the planet and want to do good (and also earn some cash for it). We manage the whole service from intake, photography, storage, cleaning, delivery and returns. The lenders in return receive a monthly pay cheque, minus our commission.” she says.
“We have approximately 150 lenders and this is an almost even split between individuals and brands. We have seen such huge support for the managed service that we are offering and have some big name brands joining our platform this week which we can’t wait to share!” says Angus. “We are really discerning with the items that are available on our platform and as such screen and select individuals to ensure the items are of the best condition to rent and buy. We photograph, clean and manage all the items you see on the platform so that customers can view, rent and buy the items in a premium environment.” she says.
“We price items to rent at 10% of RRP and to sell at 30% of RRP. Some items such as Chanel and Gucci retain their value so we always confer with the lender and decide a suitable price.” says Angus. “Brands in particular are tapping into this and we have seen huge uptake with brand partners, including Coach, Mulberry, Diane von Furstenberg, Temperley, Needle & Thread, Vivienne Westwood, Perfect Moment, Beulah, Chinti and Parker, all signed to MY WARDROBE HQ.”
“Our target customer is ABC1, 28-35; she recognises the damage fashion is having on the planet and wants access to items that ensure a ‘Cinderella’ moment. These are wow pieces that would cost a lot to buy but can be experienced at a fraction of the cost.” she says.
“Rental is the future!” says Angus. “Consumers care less about ownership and want to experience rather than own material things; just look at Uber, Netflix, Spotify and Airbnb, all of whom own no stock. Designers are reducing their collections or ceasing completely - Jean Paul Gaultier famously just showed his last collection and actually up-cycled his couture collection to make a stand against the damage fashion is having on the planet.
Why buy the copycat version on the high street when you can rent it from the designer that inspired it, for the same price?” she says.
“On the HURR platform you can rent for 7, 14, 21 and 28 days. This week we launched in Selfridges where you can rent for 4 days, exclusive to the pop-up.” says Victoria Prew, CEO & Co-Founder, HURR Collective.
On the HURR Collective platform the lender makes 85% of each rental, while HURR take a 15% commission. For example, you can rent a £170 Ganni dress for £32 for 7 days.
Right - Don't lose it! The infamous Jacquemus handbag from HURR Collective
“We use data-driven insights and customer spending behavioural data to suggest prices that balance both affordability to the renter and profitability to the lender. This results in a pricing model which makes it 'worthwhile' to both parties.” says Prew. “We take a tech-first approach to pricing, by consistently analysing our pricing algorithms to optimise and balance the number of rentals, and rental income.” she says.
“The number one reason for signing up to HURR is sustainability. Our user base is largely millennial and is deeply passionate and informed about sustainable fashion and the circular economy.” says Prew. “HURR is set to scale throughout the UK this year, with international expansion on the horizon. As we don't hold stock there's no limit on the number of users, their location or the number of items that can be listed.” she says.
People wearing/sharing their clothes more has to be good for the environment if it means people are buying less, but, while these look like retail sites, with the feeling of full options, these rental websites are restricted by sizing and the volume of the items stocked. They need to keep both parties happy, particularly those individuals renting their prized pieces.
Kate, 36, from London, recently decided to rent via these rental platforms, “I have quite a few designer items that I’ve bought over the years which I rarely wear, I didn’t want to sell any of them but it seemed a waste to just have them hung in a wardrobe … plus its a great way to earn a bit of extra money ;)” she says. “I googled clothing rental sites some time ago and HURR and MY WARDROBE HQ looked the best ones.
“It was quite soon after HURR launched, I requested to register as a lender, uploaded a couple of pieces and didn’t think much more of it.” she says. “One of the girls from HURR got in touch with me a few weeks later and said they were setting up a pop-up shop and wanted some pieces they could hold in the store. I sent over the items I wanted to rent and then they helped me upload everything on to the website”, she says.
“Both websites are super easy to upload. The HURR team uploaded most of the items for me (I think they offer a service for this, I’m not sure if MY WARDROBE HQ does) so it was really convenient and the photos/descriptions are perfect as they know what renters are looking for.” says Kate.
“The items HURR are holding for the pop-up - customers try on and rent in store - HURR handle all of this I just get a confirmation and payment. They also look after cleaning.” she says. “The pieces not held in the pop-up - the renter will put in a request on the website, sometimes there is some chat via message about size / fit etc. Once I’ve accepted the request (you can choose not to lend the item). she says. “I arrange postage/delivery. When the rental period has ended the renter posts/delivers back the item and I arrange for the item to be cleaned. I think its best I handle cleaning - I can ensure its cleaned exactly as it should be.”
“If the item doesn’t fit, the renter has 24hrs to process a fit return, once returned they receive a refund minus shipping/cleaning.” she says. “HURR has been great, always on hand to help with any tech issues or questions. It’s great that they hold some of the pieces in the pop-up as I think its more likely they will be rented (especially now they have a pop up in Selfridges) - plus I don’t have to deal with the logistics of renting.” she says. “MY WARDROBE HQ - I’ve loaded pieces but none of my pieces have been rented yet so I’m not sure how smooth it runs.” she says.
“Positives - I get to make some money from items just sat in my wardrobe. I’m also keen to do my part in making the fashion industry more sustainable and I think this is one small step towards creating some change.” says Kate. “Negatives - - if something gets damaged and can’t be replaced / fixed - The HURR team advise not to rent items that have sentimental value and if you’re not comfortable renting something once a request comes in you don’t have to, so fingers crossed nothing will go wrong.”
Left - MY WARDROBE HQ - The Vampire's Wife - Velvet Tea Dress - FROM £18 / DAY (RRP £995)
“Renting with HURR has been no hassle, especially while they are holding the clothes for the pop-up and I don’t I need to do anything.” says Kate. “I’ve made enough to buy a new pair of shoes.” she says. “The pieces I have listed for rental are designer dresses/statement/party pieces. A Dolce & Gabbana sequin dress got a lot of interest over the Christmas period. I only rent clothes - not shoes or bags.” she says.
The daily rates are slightly misleading because you can’t rent anything for a single day. Both companies have a minimum of 4 days. The designer rental market, up until now, has been quite expensive and for special occasions. Too expensive and you may as well buy the item, too cheap and you can’t provide the service or convince the lenders to offer their precious items. For example, Scottish manufacturer, Begg & Co., was offering to rent a scarf for £160 for 2 weeks, last autumn. Surely, you’d buy it outright if you could afford £160 to rent a scarf? It's no longer an option on their website.
Renting is about Instagrammable, look-at-me pieces. These business models are restricted by only usually having one item, in one size, so it could be difficult to scale the business. It also needs to have a lot of ‘must-have’, desirable items to keep up the demand.
MY WARDROBE HQ’s marketing offers a £1300 Victoria Beckham dress for £22 a day, which will surely get people thinking differently about the rental market. Is there enough incentive and motivation for the lenders, we’ll have to see, but with brands joining the mix, this could be the answer for these growing companies. The designer brands will probably want to keep it on the down low to avoid it eating into retail sales, or put the 'sustainable' spin on it, but it could be a good way of making money from last season’s stock.
Will you carry on lending? “For sure”. says Kate.
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