As summer winds down, fashion brands and retailers have their sights set on the critical fourth-quarter holiday shopping season. And while merchandise plans for the period have been set for some time, one looming question remains: will consumers spend?
The short answer is yes. But Gary Wassner, chief executive officer of Hilldun, which offers the fashion industry accounts receivable financing and factoring and other personalized financial services, notes that the consumer spending environment has shifted in such a way that the tried-and-true strategies of the past might no longer work. And regarding spending patterns, price points are significantly depressed.
Here, Wassner discusses the impact of Millennial preferences, the growth of new businesses and other trends while offering some insights into how companies can navigate this challenging market.
WWD: What are some of the trends you are seeing in the apparel and accessories space?
Gary Wassner: The biggest single trend I’m seeing is a dramatic change in the desirable price point for ready-to-wear and accessories. The expectations for price have dropped significantly.
And I’m seeing much less concern for the brand and much more concern for the product look and feel. The brand is secondary. Product, price and quality are dominating the consumer’s choice. Pop culture has a tremendous influence on Millennial shopping choices. If it looks good on Gigi Hadid then the Millennial shopper wants it and seeks it out.
Product trends are obvious — novelty fabrics, lots of lace, geometrics — not florals — in prints, tech-inspired fabrics. Lighter-weight, year-round fabrics. Softness, ease and unbuttoned-up looks. Stiff and conservative and serious is not of the moment. Unusual pairings of fabrics and trims. No obvious branding details on the exterior of product. Interior finishes aren’t as important, but quality feel and heavy hardware when hardware is used, zippers that feel rich, along with subtle exterior details prevail.
WWD: What’s your sense of the current business climate from a financing/factoring perspective?
G.W.: Other than worrying constantly about dilution on the receivables, we’re very bullish on new brands and new designers. We’re signing more new business than ever, and the majority of our clients’ sales are up, not down. The shift of percentages of product being sold through omnichannel has also changed dramatically. Brands are looking to increase their e-commerce business to a 25 to 35 percent total of sales. This is unprecedented.
Many brands are talking about and actually pulling their collections from the major department stores because they cannot do business with them profitably.
Margin agreements and markdowns are stealing every dollar of profit. Many many of the new, young start-ups I’m seeing are introducing their collections direct-to-consumer only. The idea of wholesale isn’t even on their radar. This raises an entirely new set of financing issues, since DTC requires inventory for fulfillment. It’s not a factoring model.
WWD: You previously noted the current “environment is creating the attrition we need.” What do you mean exactly?
G.W.: Many brands, large and small, are so thoroughly disenchanted with the state of their current retail relationships that they’re choosing not to sell into certain stores. The promotional environment that we’ve created is killing full-price sales, coupled with the easy access to product and best prices via the Internet.
In addition, the stores are dropping brands that aren’t currently performing at retail the way they would hope. Between these two groups, there will be less product available at retail. Since everyone is complaining that there’s too much product and too much sameness in the stores, this may be the kind of correction that will ultimately help.
WWD: With Millennial shoppers, what role does a brand play? Are brands important to these consumers? Why or why not?
G.W.: It seems to me that brands play less and less of a role. Millennials don’t seem to care about polo players on their shirts or double G’s and H’s on their belts. They care more about who in pop culture is wearing what and who looks good in what, and they’re buying based upon those impulses. There’s no loyalty to brand, since in every image the people are wearing something different.
The Gigi Hadids of the world are not brand ambassadors per se, and they haven’t chosen to wear Chanel or Dior exclusively. They make their choices based upon what appeals to them in a more authentic way. They’re not paid promoters. And their audience responds to this. People live with their phones in their faces. The imagery is constant. So it’s whatever appeals to us today that matters.
WWD: Do you think there are too many brands, products and options in the market? How does this impact business?
G.W.: Far too many mediocre brands, yes. We can never have too many options really. But far too much of the same. Very few brands are telling a story that’s emotional and compelling. Very few brands are must-buys today. With all the imagery assaulting us regularly, it’s difficult to choose. And with all the promotional product from high to low, luxe to fast fashion, it’s almost impossible to decide when to buy.
WWD: What strategies would you suggest a brand or retailer deploy to better navigate the current market?
G.W.: Be cognizant of the specialness of your product. Be aware of the season and the buy-now-wear-now mentality. Understand your consumer. Work really hard to do that. Visit the stores. See what’s selling, what looks really good and what doesn’t. Be aware! Continue to build an e-commerce platform and make it as easy to navigate as possible. Less back story, more great product and emotional imagery. Time is short, patience is short. You convert the consumer immediately or you lose them.