Winter coats in July. Summer shorts in January.
Those are just two examples when merchandise hits the floor so early that the clothes aren’t, well, ripe for retail yet, turning off many end consumers — particularly the growing number of shoppers looking to walk into a boutique, snap up a piece and show it off immediately.
And by the time these garments hit the “buy-now, wear-now” moment, they have often been hanging from the racks for so long that shoppers have grown tired of them, and retailers are forced to mark them down heavily to make a sale — and, presumably, room for that next, ill-timed shipment.
The cycle seems out of control and almost impossible to fix unless the fashion industry comes together and makes a communal shift. Many say it’s high time for the change. Retailers and designers have become painfully aware of this problem during the recession, and many are now seeing an adjustment to deliveries as the main Rx for the fashion business.
Donna Karan, for one, has long been a relentless advocate of bringing clothes into stores in-season.
“With the overabundance of clothes that are out there, we have got to change the model,” Karan said last fall. “I think the stores are finally getting it. I say, ŒIf we all get it, why don’t we just do it?’ How about no pre-fall? Pre-fall goes in during the summer. Get fall in when fall needs to be in.”
Stores agree the issue needs to be addressed.
“If there’s been any upside to the recession, it should be a heightened drive to retool the status quo of how we have assumed business was to be done,” said Linda Fargo, senior vice president of fashion and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman. “We took for granted for too long that women were eager to buy a little slip of a summer dress in January and a heavy dark wool tweed jacket in June and store it in her closet for three to four months until she could wear it. It would be a certain win-win for everyone if the entire fashion cycle of production and consumption shifted closer to a need-it-now cadence.”
Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, agreed the mind-set of the consumer is more “buy-now, wear-now” than ever. “There is that customer who plans her wardrobe in advance, but more and more, the customer is shopping to need, and we have been experiencing this for many seasons,” he said.
Downing said the challenge lies mostly in pre-collections, specifically pre-fall, when many designers dabble in heavy fabrics for a May, June or July delivery — which can be off-putting to shoppers at that time. “It really needs to be an early fall message through colorization and silhouettes, and not translated into heavy fabrics at an early time,” Downing said. “The customer is truly looking for seasonless clothes more than ever, and the idea that it becomes frigid as soon as the calendar hits September is not a reality.”
Downing added this is an ongoing conversation in the market, and, “We see designers pay more attention to clothes that have a more seasonless quality in resort and pre-fall collections. It shows in the selling.” But can a real shift be at all possible?
“The logical linchpin could be the simple shifting of all the markets back by a month,” Fargo at Bergdorf’s said. “In turn, the deliveries would naturally move back and fall sales would naturally not start until January. [That would] allow for full price selling in December, when people are most compelled to shop. The positive ramifications are endless. We’ve solved more complex things than this in our lifetimes.”