By and  on September 15, 2010

Welcome to the world of fast fashion — really fast fashion — and it’s being created by the consumer herself.

Fashion on demand is here, from sped-up deliveries at Burberry to businesses in which the consumer acts as buyer, backer and even the designer, and can get the products to her door within weeks if not days. Driven by the Internet, new forms of retail combine urgency with mobile commerce, social media, gaming and crowdsourcing.

The growing power of the consumer is stirring the potential of a tug-of-war with the brands themselves as shoppers demand exactly what they want and how they want it — and they want it right away. The balance of power between retailers, shoppers and brands began to shift long ago, but now consumers are no longer content to steer the fashion vehicle — they want to own it.

Yet even as some brands respond to the growing consumer pressure for an ever-faster fashion cycle and openness, others, like Tom Ford, are attempting to wrestle the reins back from consumers’ hands and return to a slower, gentler era. “I get fashion immediacy.…I don’t get the need for fashion immediacy. I think it’s bad,” Ford told WWD.

He may be fighting a losing battle, for Ford appears to be the proverbial boy with his finger in the dike. As he tries to push the pendulum back, scores of businesses are launching to cater to consumers’ every wish, whim, idea and fantasy — and at low cost. Then there are brands like Burberry, which are fully embracing the rush to immediacy. Burberry this season not only will live-stream its show but will enable customers to order select pieces that will be delivered directly to them within seven weeks.

“It’s another way of talking to a customer,” said Burberry chief creative director Christopher Bailey. “There’s a lot of excitement around the shows. Traditionally, there have been 1,500 people who are invited to a show. Digital technology and the Web allow huge global audiences to be a part of that energy and excitement. We have so many customers wanting to see the show and be a part of the show, it was a natural progression.”

During the showing of the spring 2011 Burberry Prorsum women’s collection Sept. 21 in London, customers will simultaneously watch the live broadcast in 25 stores around the world. They can purchase outerwear, bags and beauty from an iPad app in the store for delivery seven weeks later. The items are made in the U.K. and Italy. Customers who do not attend the broadcasts will also be able to order the same items over Burberry’s Web site from home or at work (the iPad app is in-store only). The company calls the concept “Burberry Retail Theater” and it will replace trunk shows, said Bailey. The company may expand the sped-up deliveries to all Prorsum merchandise in the future, but not to other Burberry collections, because they are not shown on the runway and because of manufacturing realities, he said.

The immediate orders and faster deliveries were a natural consequence of bringing the show directly to the consumer, Bailey said.

“I think it’s very important not to treat digital technologysuperficially,” he said. “It’s not just there to check off a box and say‘Yes, now we live-stream a show.’ It’s important to think of theconsequences of that, and one is that customers will say, ‘I love it andI want it now and I don’t want to wait.’”

New retail conceptsare coming fast and furious. Deal-a-day group buying site Groupon may bethe fastest growing company of all time with estimated revenues thisyear of $500 million after less than two years in business. This seasonhas been a big one for launches, from private sale firm Kembrel toretail game Retail Therapy, and the latest may very well be the firsttruly custom, crowdsourced business from a major mainstream player —Jeff Silverman, the ex-president of Steven Madden Ltd.

Anyonecan upload a sketch or photos to communicate their original design of ashoe or handbag they would like to order to andreceive that exact shoe or a bag in three weeks or less from China for$125 to $250 (existing and tweaked designs are available for $100 to$175).

“There’s a new sheriff in town — it’s called theconsumer,” said Silverman. “This project is all about letting theconsumer tell you what they want. The industry would say they don’t knowwhat they want, and I disagree with that.”

The lead times infashion are laughable, he said. The fewer markdowns a retailer has andthe more it sells, the more successful it will be.

“Havingmust-have fashion and having it continuously — newness drives visits toWeb sites. The words “sale,” “new,” “exclusive” — those are the bigwords,” said Silverman, who is no newcomer to fashion or the custombusiness.

He started working in retail at 16; worked at Nike;created two children’s shoe companies, including custom shoes atPreschoolian; started running Web sites in the mid-Nineties; created andran the Steve Madden custom shoe business, and started The Custom Footusing scanner technology. His Web company, Jeff Silverman Creations,runs the Nina custom shoes and Kenneth Cole design-your-own T-shirtbusinesses. is also tapping into the power offashion bloggers and viral marketing by creating an additional revenuestream for bloggers and anyone else who designs a shoe or promotes thestore on their Facebook page.

The “store” is actually a widgetthat can live on a blog or Facebook page. Anyone in the world can putthe store on her Facebook page and receive $15 if someone orders fromit. Likewise, anyone who designs a shoe will receive $15 if someoneorders it, even if it is altered with different colors or materials.

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