In Europe, temperatures are already creeping up and it looks likely to be another long, hot summer on the continent. Last year, France and Germany both recorded one of their hottest years on record and over the past 24 months or so, some of the world’s biggest apparel companies and retailers have blamed that kind of weather for their business woes. That includes everyone from Gap to H&M, Primark, Uniqlo and Superdry.
But as the hot days drag on and world temperatures continue to rise, what can companies actually do about it?
Europe’s largest fashion e-commerce site Zalando is doing its best to adapt, Federico Rossi, the company’s director of demand planning and analytics, told WWD. “We are developing strategies to better respond to potentially difficult market situations, like unforeseen weather changes,” Rossi said in a statement. “For example, we buy in a more flexible way — that is, during the season, rather than before the season starts. Another measure we take is to include more categories and products that are less seasonally dependent, such as cosmetics and accessories.”
Turning the web site into more of a platform for other brands like Nike and Hugo Boss has been a recent focus at Zalando. Besides eliminating some of the risks that come with holding inventory and manufacturing clothing in-house, this also means “we are leveraging the expertise of our brand partners and their seasonal planning,” Rossi added.
A spokesperson at Hugo Boss, a brand that also complained about 2018’s long, hot summer, said the German company was trying to mitigate the impact of unseasonal weather by continuing the drive toward more digital design, which means less waste, smaller inventories and more flexibility. Hugo Boss was also concentrating on what the brand calls “never out of stock” pieces — that is, classics like shirts and suiting. Boss estimates that just under half of its stock fits into that category.
All of these adjustments are in line with what industry consultants say fashion brands should be doing to deal with an overheated environment. The advice seems to have two things in common: flexibility is key, as is data.
Businesses of all kinds are paying for advanced analysis of consumer data to try to mitigate the impact of volatile weather. But this doesn’t mean forecasting the weather in advance, said Evan Gold, executive vice president of global partnerships at Planalytics, the U.S.-based firm that has been helping companies “weatherize” their operations for about 20 years. As Gold pointed out, one can really only forecast the weather accurately about two weeks ahead of time.
But what can be done is crunching the numbers, Gold told WWD, to analyze consumer data to try to find opportunities in adversity and smooth out the weather-related bumps in the road. For example, as Planalytics and other data analytics firms have noted, consumers have changed their spending habits. Nobody buys their whole fall wardrobe at the end of summer any longer; they buy in response rather than in advance.
“People are waiting until the last minute. They buy at a time of need,” Gold said. And they also have more information, he noted. Thanks to online weather forecasts and smartphones, customers know if next weekend is going to be wet or warm.
“So if I’m a retailer, and I know there is a hot weekend coming up, maybe I would send an alert out to my most loyal customers telling them about a sale on summer dresses,” Gold suggests. This can mean micro-targeting customers by relevant niche, in real time — for example, by geography because it might be stormy in Paris and steamy in Berlin.
The emphasis on trans-seasonal styles — that is, not definitely summer nor winter — is also part of this kind of flexibility. Brands are switching between lighter and heavier-weight fabrics and as London-based fashion data company, Edited, discovered in 2018, summer clothing is actually becoming more important to the industry in general. According to Edited’s information, there were more warm weather outfits in stores, more marketing that featured phrases like “heat wave” and “hot sun” and when it came to sell-outs, consumers were buying more summer than winter clothing.
But weather-proofing your company is about more than just retail. Extreme weather patterns can disrupt everything from supply chains — including the availability of, and price fluctuations in, raw materials like cotton and cashmere — to consumption choices and whether people even want to travel to the mall on a hot day, Elisa Niemtzow, Paris-based managing director of BSR, a global consultancy that formulates sustainable business strategies, said.
“Once fashion companies understand the impacts, then it will depend on how well they adapt and develop resilience,” Niemtzow told WWD.
Other digital technologies also become all-important here, she said. Predictive information coming from nodes on the supply chain is particularly useful for managing inventory and increasing agility — for example, being able to ship products quickly from one store to another. This helps if a company is making small batches of products closer to home, better adapted to their customers’ “here and now” demands. Working with an omnichannel strategy, where there is just one universal inventory, also makes a brand nimbler, Niemtzow added.
Both Gold and Niemtzow pointed out that the trend for this kind of flexibility is already well underway in the apparel industry. But it would be a mistake to focus on only on one side of the business, Niemtzow warned. She advocates a holistic approach and suggests companies develop an all-round sustainability strategy because “so many of these effects go hand in hand.” Responding quickly to consumer desires around the weather means there’s not only potential to sell more and discount less, it also equals smaller inventories and less waste of resources.
And one must not forget what might best be described as the growing political-psychological aspect to Europe’s long hot summer. After all, the sweating locals are well aware that it’s hotter this year than last; that means they’re worrying about global warming, which in turn must affect their buying decisions.
“These days people are looking for timeless pieces they can build a look around, that are also sustainable,” suggested Ashraf Splittgerber, marketing manager with three-year-old brand, Funktion Schnitt, based in Cologne, Germany. He and his colleagues see this as an advantage for their deliberately trendless range of wardrobe staples in consciously sourced fabrics. “In general, people are more aware of climate change and what it means for their own personal consumption,” Splittgerber concluded.
How to Beat the Heat
- Better analysis of consumer behavior during and after weather events
- Direct-to-consumer production
- More agile production facilities and micro-factories closer to customer base
- Faster production in small batches, according to customers’ reaction to weather
- More in-season production
- Focus on seasonless, evergreen, utilitarian pieces
- Focus on seasonless products, like accessories
- Medium-weight and high-tech fabrics that bridge seasons
- More focus on warm weather clothing than before
- Capsule collections with colors and styles that connect to main seasonal collections
- Micro-targeted marketing, depending on niche, weather and location
- Digital sales, because it is too hot to go shopping