People carry shopping bags outside a shopping mall in New York, New York, USA, 20 December 2017.Holiday shopping in New York, USA - 20 Dec 2017

Over the years, there’s been a somewhat obvious shift from quality clothing to the fast-fashion brands, with reports indicating that fast-fashion retail — compared to mid, premium and luxury brands — accounted for 66 percent of all online fashion traffic in the first half of 2018. The continuous growth and popularity of retailers like H&M, Forever 21 and even smaller online-only brands like Zaful and Shein.com are contributing to this shift — and convincing consumers that it’s essential to stay “on trend,” and in order to do so, you must have a new look every month.

This excessive supply and demand has not only perpetuated a trend-driven world focused on items with little value but has also created excess waste and diminished our concept of the long-term value of an item. And though we’re seeing some brands, like Zara, attempt to combat this, with consumers’ mind-set shifted toward a revolving door of clothing and accessories, what room in the market is left for the quality item? And how is the trickle-down effect impacting the industry on a larger scale?

How Fast Fashion Has Impacted the Watch Industry

For those inside the industry, most would agree that watches sit at the top of the spectrum of prestige and quality, even despite it being impacted by fast fashion. But because consumers are so conditioned to shop for “looks” that fade — sometimes in less than a season — we’ve seen accessories brands jump on this opportunity to market to consumers based on the trend of the moment. With this, new companies emerge to meet consumer expectations. We’ve not only seen fast-fashion brands produce low-cost — and quality — watches, but an emergence of watch brands — like MVMT — specifically designed to meet today’s consumers’ ever-changing taste.

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Because of this, even industry publications are treating fast-fashion watch companies with validity, and while we don’t deny there’s a time and place for these items, the increased popularity of these brands has fragmented the watch industry in a way that it has never seen before. Consumers now view watches as something more temporary, meaning they are priced as such. This causes a few additional issues, including the fact that because these products are not created for long-term wear, they are contributing to a high-waste cycle that fast fashion has come under fire for quite often.

Additionally, this has created a big gap in the market, forcing customers to choose between an out-of-budget. high-quality timepiece, or a fashion-focused wristwatch, and it might even be speculated that this could be the cause of slowed growth among the Swiss watch industry. This gap has left an opportunity for the emergence of brands that understand today’s consumer but haven’t let go of the idea of the quality timepiece. But brands who are finding themselves at home filling this gap still have an uphill battle to fight.

Educating the Consumer About True Quality

Historically, a watch has always been viewed as a meaningful item — something of a symbol of status and accomplishment, cherished by many and passed down from generation to generation with a unique, timeless style. But as consumers’ expectations have changed, this concept has become somewhat muddled.

The emergence of fast fashion isn’t the sole reason that the quality timepiece has lost some of its glamour among consumers, but it’s certainly a strong catalyst. Because with fast fashion, shoppers are less concerned about how the item is made, and how long it will last them, there’s a concerning lack of knowledge on what it even means to own a high-end watch. That’s where we need to begin: education.

At Jack Mason, we take full responsibility of this mission. We want the shopper to ask: What defines high-quality or luxury watches? And when they do, we need to dive deep into the actual components of a watch. Is the strap real leather? Is it made with stainless steel? Gold? What’s the movement? What are the details behind the craftsmanship? Whether it’s a watch they’ll wear themselves, or one they’ll present as a meaningful gift, consumers need to know how to seek value.

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Marketing the Idea of Long-Term Value

Part of the problem with fast fashion is that it has had a domino effect on the broader fashion industry, and because of this, the marketing cycle has begun to follow a trend-driven approach. Fashion and accessory marketing campaigns focus on seasonal items. Even design fashion brands live by this — just look at the cycle of fashion week. The pressure to produce unique designs for the season has always been part of the culture of this industry. But just as we need to begin to remind people what it means to own a quality timepiece, we have a responsibility to market the idea of long-term value, creating an aspirational feeling around it. It’s only once we’re successful with this endeavor that the consumer mind-set will begin to shift again.

The quality timepiece remains an item of personal status and value. It speaks to who a person is, what they’ve achieved in life, and where they intend to go in the future. It represents a special moment in one’s life and has significant sentimental value that fast-fashion accessories can’t replace.

Despite the continued dominance of fast fashion, we need to continue to showcase why the watch industry must elevate above this (hopefully) short-lived cycle that’s taken hold. Thoughtfully designed watches are so much more than an accessory — they are pieces that are forever, representing both personal style and status, holding sentimental value for generations to come. By investing in one, you’re not only gaining a beautiful item, but you’re investing in a movement to bring glamour back to a truly prestigious industry.

Peter Cho is a creative director at Jack Mason.

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