Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Business of Fashion: Fashion Week and the Retail Cycles

Ever wondered what the significance of fashion week was or still is? Or how it was that when you walked into a retail outlet, boutique or department store, the clothes displayed for sale were of that season?
Well, logically, that is what one would expect to happen. However, has it ever crossed your mind what it takes to ensure that that logic stayed on track with the seasons and didn’t arrive months after its season had changed.
With this post we take a look at the fashion week system, its role and responsibility, as well as its relevance. We also dig into the retail cycle in South Africa and look at a light and broad understanding of its workings and the influence it has in ensuring trends are dispersed in a timely fashion and tight deadlines are met.

Season Change
South Africa (SA) is situated in the southern hemisphere. Our seasons are catalogued as follows: December, January and February are considered the summer months; March, April, May are autumn; June, July and August are known as winter months; and September, October and November are our spring months.

In the Northern hemisphere, where you will find the fashion capitals New York, Milan, Paris and London, the seasons are flipped on their axes. When we experience spring/summer, the northern hemisphere experiences autumn/winter. When we feel the chill and rain of autumn/winter, they glee in the fabrics of spring/summer. So for the purpose of staying relevant and as close to home as possible, this post will focus its topic around our seasons’ timeline.

Patterned Retail
A retail year consists of two (2) retail cycles. These two cycles are split between spring/summer and autumn/winter seasons. What tends to happen is that fashion trends are forecasted annually, per cycle. So you get a trend forecast for autumn/winter and one for spring/summer.
According to some people in the know, it takes about six months to get a collection from idea or sketch to clothing rail in store, ready for sale to consumers. Which then means, the autumn/winter retail cycle is designed, showcased, manufactured and distributed to various points during the spring/summer cycle. And the same goes for the spring/summer collection, which has everything done during the autumn/winter cycle in order to meet deadline.

Garment Evolution
The construction of garments can be a daunting task depicted in a long and detailed process of involvement from many parties. For a more in-depth look at this process, read through my previous post, “The Business of Fashion: Evolution of a Garment”, to get a more detailed understanding.

The illustration below depicts the process of creating a garment and delivering it in store for sale to a consumer.

Fashion Week
Fashion week is probably the one element in fashion everyone knows something about. It’s very simple really. An organising committee is developed, usually privately, which creates a platform for designers and fashion brands to showcase their collections, twice a year, for upcoming seasons. This platform is understood as fashion week.

Essentially, fashion week is about key people attending a designer or clothing brand showcase to see what trend is being set, what the styles or cuts are and what will be available in store to sell to consumers on a mass market level. This then means your key players in attendance would include fashion editors, journalists or bloggers, stylists, publicists, fashion photographers, buyers, retailers, exporters/importers and potential investors. These are the people who can make or break profits for the brands showcasing at fashion week.

Over and above fashion week being about the abovementioned people making designers and labels credible, bankable and profitable, fashion weeks have evolved to becoming launch platforms for young, unknown brands and they are also now spaces for exhibits of untapped talent and open dialogue amongst those in the industry to work and talk together to create a better, stronger and profitable clothing and textile industry in South Africa.

A Tailored Fit
So, every six months new clothes have to hit the stands and stores. These clothes will follow predetermined trends and would be gradually displayed for sale over that season to keep our shopping experiences a bit more interesting. In order for spring/summer collections to be delivered on time, in spring, the designers and clothing labels need to know and set the collections in autumn. This is also why it makes practical sense, especially in South Africa, that spring/summer collections are showcased in autumn, and autumn/winter trends showcased in spring.

This timing allows for, 1) buyers to discuss with designers and labels which items from the collections they would like to stock in retail outlets across the country, 2) print and broadcast media to prepare shoots, interviews and content around the trends to publish to the general public making them aware of future trends, 3) designers and labels to find time to create ready-to-wear versions of their sometimes overtly dramatic pieces for both their independent stores and any other boutique retailers where they stock their clothes, and 4) local brands to ensure they make their mark in the local market through gaining local consumer support, which can only happen if the collections are available locally, in season for us consumers to buy.

South African Fashion Week (SAFW) is currently the only showcase platform in South Africa running a logical business model when it comes to the business of fashion and fashion weeks. Showcasing spring/summer collections in March and autumn/winter in September, SAFW allows for a stable and profitable relationship to be developed amongst the countries three major players: the designers or labels; the retailers and/or department stores; and the consumer. Working with this cycle, we stay true to buying locally produce goods, we assist with sustaining jobs and in some instances, help create employment opportunities. Using the business model applied by SAFW, we are proactively working towards creating a viable local market for designers and a more stable and sustainable economic environment for our country.

Evidently, the relevance of the retail cycle is to clothe us. To ensure what we see and know as fashion is made accessible to the greater mass consumer in South Africa. The role of fashion week in all this, is to introduce and showcase the trends coming up in future seasons and ensure inspiration is transferred from catwalk to store rails. Fashion week is also responsible for a more superficial element of the industry. That is, to create some glamour with this events and ensure a buzz and talkability about the industry and designers.

I personally believe it’s imperative that we all play our roles: SAFW to continue creating and making available such an exciting platform for designers and labels to showcase their talents; For designers and labels to continue creating inspirational collections, season after season; For buyers and retailers to continue taking the best of the best and making it accessible to the greater mass consumer market; And essentially for us, consumers, to continue supporting local designers and locally made produce by being their biggest and best ambassadors.

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