Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Where to from here?

I heard the owner of an independent sales showroom say recently that 2010 has been a challenging year in women’s contemporary fashion in the US – quite an understatement! The on-going recession has steadily crashed the entire industry deeper and deeper, forcing seismic changes – some resulting directly from the collision while others have been shaken loose by the impact.
Drained away is the disposable income that is the lifeblood of the fashion world. Sure, there are still those out there who will still only shop at the hippest boutiques; but the majority is now watching their pennies. In the words of a career garmento, “…the recession has allowed the Forever 21-ization of women’s contemporary fashion”. But it’s not limited to the fashion mega-store.
Price point is the priority for the majority of buyers, both wholesale and retail. They get discounts wherever they can – even if it means cruising fashion neighborhoods that no one would have dared to think about going years ago. One would never have been caught slinking around the discount manufacturers’ showrooms in broad daylight. When you needed to beef up the season’s orders with extra margin or have your own label made there to flog it off as another designer, you went there under the cover of darkness.
But these days the Santee Alley effect is in full flourish in Los Angeles. Buyers shop the contemporary showrooms in the downtown fashion district as they always have, but now are likely to stroll down Santee and cherry-pick the endless cut-price cornucopia.
This is having a disastrous effect on the traditional wholesale contemporary sales industry. 30-year veterans are losing showrooms, well-known brands can hire experienced sales reps for a fraction of the base salaries they could 5 years ago while requiring them to bring their customer base with them at reduced commissions, marquee retailers are naming their own payment terms, and no-one knows the way out.
Another big issue is that everything looks the same. While walking MAGIC last August, I thought I was seeing the same lines over and over. Same cut, same color, same focus – “no risk” designing. This is understandable in the current economic climate. Everyone is playing it safe.
So, where to from here? How about we step things up a bit? Where’s the next Betsy Johnson? If you are out there, and want to take the plunge into the US market, let me know.