While influencing others isn’t new, the idea of an ‘Influencer’ is. We’ve seen a huge growth of individuals with large followings on social media pitching themselves as the magical conduit between brands and consumers. Vast sums have been spent, but there’s a new mood, and an anti-Influencer sentiment is building.
One of the surprise Netflix hits of recent months was the documentary, 'Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’. It focused on the naive attempt to hold a luxury music festival on a Caribbean island. ‘Influencers’ were vilified and blamed for enticing people to part with their cash. More than regular models, because they used their huge social media following to promote the festival, they we’re given, rightly or wrongly, some of the responsibility for the festival’s spectacular failure.
Left - Fyre Festival catering, not quite as promised
Buzz Carter, Head of Outreach at Bulldog Digital Media, a digital marketing agency, says, “Negativity towards Influencers has been brewing for a while now, following multiple scandals over the past few years, like Warner Brothers paying YouTube Influencers for good reviews for ‘Shadow of Mordor’, multiple Influencers not marking paid posts as ads, Influencers pushing gambling and scams to a young audience (RiceGum & Mystery Brand) and the ongoing issue of fake followers and interaction.
“This has been in the background for a while, but with the Fyre festival documentary, it’s boiled over.” he says. “Influencers only work when their audience trusts them, but all of these have shown an untrustworthy aspect to Influencers, but I definitely think the Fyre Festival doc. was a catalyst for a lot of the negativity going around now, as it showcased the issue to people who wouldn’t have thought about it.”
The general public are finally understanding the meaning of the term ‘Influencer’. What first started with bloggers and YouTubers has morphed into ‘Influencers’ and ‘Content Creators’ over the past few years. The dictionary definition of ‘Influencer’ states; “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.” It is usually focussed on the Instagram platform.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers, a social media marketing platform, says, “It is centred around Instagram because Instagram really is the social media platform from which influencers were born. Because of the highly visual nature of the content posted on the platform, it is the place where brands are seeing the most engagement on their content. Hence it is also the place where celebrities and influencers are able to interact with these brands to drive mutual benefit.”
The Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) has issued guidelines to tidy up the difference between sponsored posts and non. Recently, sixteen social media stars including Rita Ora and Alexa Chung have been warned by the Competition and Markets Authority that their posts could break consumer law. Shahriar Coupal, Director of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said: “Responsible influencer marketing involves being upfront and clear with the audience, so people are not confused or misled and know when they’re being advertised to. The relationship between Influencers and their followers relies on trust and authenticity, so transparency is in the interests of all parties. This guide on the standards will help influencers and brands stick to the rules by being upfront with their followers.”
The guidelines state you have to declare #AD or similar, when you’ve been ‘paid’ in some way (can be freebies, doesn’t have to be money), AND, had some form of editorial ‘control’ over the content. It’s not an ‘either/or’ – there has to be both ‘payment’ and ‘control’ for this type of post to count as an #AD under the CAP Code.
The BBC’s recent broadcast of a Panorama provocatively titled ‘Million Pound Selfie Sell Off’ focused on the negative types of things Influencers are promoting like fad diets and teeth whitening. It jumped on the Influencer backlash which is rippling out to the wider public. It’s creating feeling of being hoodwinked or cheated.
Erica Davies, a former newspaper fashion editor and womenswear and home Influencer with 130K followers on Instagram, commented on Twitter in response to the Panorama programme, “Transparency and honesty is key. But equally, the playing field needs to be level. If one platform is under the microscope, then there should be a united set of rules targeting ALL advertising across newspaper and magazine journalism, print titles AND social media.
A few people’s untrustworthy ethics on social media platforms is bringing negative heat onto Influencers in general. “There are a lot of responsible, trustworthy people trying to provide interesting, creative content on social media, that doesn’t just involve ‘selling stuff.’ It’s a shame #BBCPanorama didn’t talk to any of them.” she says.
Anybody can be an Influencer, and there are many crossovers between jobs, but it’s the fixation on the numbers of followers and engagement that is creating an environment for people to cheat the system. There have been recent articles calling out people for buying followers and “cheating” the system. Is this a sign of the bubble bursting for Influencers and the saturation of the market or is this an element of jealousy of those “living their best life”?
If you consider yourself to be an Influencer then everything is self-promotion. Your entire business is based on pushing yourself and proving your influence and trying to monetise that. But, people are growing tired and suspicious of vacuous content.
William Matthews, Menswear Marketing Specialist, says “Anti-Influencer sentiment is being fuelled by opportunistic, uninformed individuals who can’t base their opinions on relevant frames of reference or experience. “I love this” means nothing unless you can explain in a meaningful, informed way why that is.
"Hats off to the fantastic influencers who have worked hard to evolve their taste, opinions and truly understand their subject matter (in the same way journalists/editors do) with hard-won experience and relevant frames of reference. They add huge value to the media mix for brands.” he says
Consumers are also switching off. According to a report by Mindshare, Google Trends queries like “social media harms your mental health” and “social media seriously harms your mental health” have risen in the last 12 months, by +5,000% and +4,000% respectively. The report by Mindshare entitled ‘Trends 2019’, which holds quantitative research from more than 6,000 consumers aged 18+ across the UK found 61% of consumers are doing more to monitor their own screen time, 72% of consumers have begun to unfollow certain people and accounts altogether and 66% of people have started to hide social media posts from people with differing views.
With the decline of print, digital, including social media, is going to be a more important way to reach consumers for brands. “While influencer marketing has been around in some form or another for a long time, it's really only in the last year or so that it has become such an important tactic for marketers.” says Ben-Itzhak. “As with anything that involves exchanging money for a service, the practise is open to a certain amount of fraud and misbehaviour. It will bring greater dependency on marketing technologies to help brands identify the right Influencer and as to help Influencers vet the brands before they work with them.
"If you look at celebrity throughout the ages, there has always been competition from within and jealousy from the outside. Influencers are very much an extension of that. What will be interesting to see in the next months/years is how much credibility consumers will continue to give to macro influencers, such as the big name celebrities who have a high price tag for each post, versus the micro-influencers, who have smaller follower numbers but greater credibility with their niche communities.” says Ben-Itzhak.
Influencers wear many hats and celebrities promoting products isn’t a new concept. What Influencers have to realise is, this direct dialogue with their followers makes them look more responsible. How much do brands employ Bella Hadid or Kendall Jenner for their modelling skills rather than their social media numbers?
“For the future of the industry, I can see Influencer marketing being put under tighter regulations on what they can promote and how they promote, as well a crackdown on fake followers, Social Chain are actually working on a tool to see through follower fraud. So in the future I think influencer marketing will thrive, but it will be more carefully used by brands than it has been over the last few years.” says Carter.
These documentaries and programmes have put a spotlight onto this Influencer world and is making the general public become more cynical and wary of social media Influencers. It will be interesting to see whether this new toxic environment makes brands want to distance themselves and implodes the entire market entirely.
I’ve also written - Digital Hindsight
It was while at Barcelona Fashion Week, looking over a German Influencer’s shoulder, that the digital world looked incredibly small. She was busy scrolling, liking and commenting on pictures on Instagram. All the images looked like fellow Influencers.
We’ve had all this talk of “engagement", and brouhaha about methods of promotion, see bots, but it dawned on me that this is an audience invested in their own engagement. It’s real, but then what is real in the virtual, social media world? What is the correct form of “engagement”?
Left - No Likey
It’s basically people engaging with themselves and why are we surprised that people who like their own self-image are doing it? People have created pods to allow groups of other people to know when they have posted and to mutually like and comment the posts, increasing engagement. It’s basically what you do with your friends, but more organised and business like. It’s fine if you’ve got the energy for it. I haven’t.
She needs to like and engage with other influencers, and vice versa, to keep the momentum up, but are the numbers outside these circles actually worthy of note? It’s really hard to know. It’s pretty much the same with magazine circulation figures.
It’s also like the Fyre Festival. How were the influencers to know that a festival, scheduled months in advance, was going to be a disaster? People promote things in good faith and hope people stick behind their promises and obligations. We can all look back in hindsight and wish to do things differently or not at all.
The “Instagram police” are busy telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, but people are manipulating things all of the time. Who made the rules for the game in the first place? It’s the nature of SEO, or even more old fashioned, people buying mailing lists. It’s businesses trying to promote themselves, which certainly isn’t new.
I would never condone buying followers, that’s plain wrong, on any platform, but getting software to do what you could do yourself is a clever use of time, isn’t it? I tried the follow/unfollow method a few years ago, when I was struggling to grow followers and asked a friend how they were growing their’s. I saw it like scheduling posts or using something automated. I stopped when I realised I really didn’t care enough. Others saw it as cheating. I’ve never denied it.
We’re all at the whims of giant corporations moving the digital goalposts all of the time. Whether it’s Google or Facebook or whoever, people are continually adapting and trying new things. It’s the nature of the business. It’s how they promote themselves and work things to their advantage. We’re all digital micro-plankton bobbing along on their electronic sea.
In the decade since I started TheChicGeek I’ve always valued words and opinion and that’s why Instagram never really worked for me. It did give me TheChicGeek character, though, which I’m grateful for. I pride myself on having a distinct point of view and opinion and it would be odd if I didn’t have an opinion on this subject. I feel like I owe some sort of explanation to the people and brands I’ve worked with over the years. This blog has always been my passion and focus and always will.
We’ll probably look back on this hysterical witch hunt in a few years and wonder why anybody really cared. Hopefully, all this negative energy will implode the whole darn thing. It’s time for something new anyway.
Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...
Fashion trends come and go, it’s in their nature, but, every so often, there is a trend which seems to carry on, continue to grow, get bigger and bigger, look unstoppable and you can’t judge when it’s going to run out of steam. One thing for certain is, they always will, but it’s just trying to pinpoint the moment when something peaks.
Left - Buy? Bye, Balenciaga?! - Zapatillas Triple S - € 725
The trend I'm referring to is the chunky, fugly trainer. The have proliferated so far down the fashion food chain that every designer, brand and retailer has brought out their own version, so, it was obvious to ask, when will this fugly trainer madness end?
This is a trend that started building three years ago, which, in fashion trend terms, is a long time. During that time we’ve seen them get bigger and badder, with the end result of people looking like they were wearing concrete blocks on their feet. I’m looking at you, the Triple S!
Learning when to call a trend in fashion takes experience, but, also, a lot of guess work. It takes instinct, an amount chutzpah and the early data to say when something is about to start its descent.
“It’s a “trend” that will see people paying £150 for a pair of shoes which they won’t be wearing in about 4 weeks time. I think many are over it already.” says Katie Owen, Founder, Sargasso & Grey, a British shoe company that create fashionable wide fitting shoes for women who have wide feet.
Right Tod’s - Shoeker No_Code_02 in High Tech Fabric - £450
I knew it was all over when I saw a chunky trainer from LK Bennett. Yes, the home of the home counties kitten heel has moved into the chunky trainer arena. A stylist friend had been to their #SS19 press day preview, before Christmas, and had taken an image of the shoe and put it on their Instagram Stories. Instantly images of Sam Cam in a Roland Mouret or Kate Middleton picking Prince George up from school flashed across my mind, and it was then that I knew it was over. Stabbing a stiletto into the heart of this youth driven trend, this is what kills trends; when the parents start to wear it.
Another case in point, Tod’s, long the bastion of the nobbly driving shoe, flew the fashion press over to Milan for the big reveal of a new product in October, 2018. It turned out all the fuss was over a new trainer/sneaker or “shoeker”, as they’re calling it. The Tod’s “No_Code”, they said, “represents the constantly evolving change we’re seeing in the design industry, a progressive more elastic world that has no boundaries. We are living in a world where we are constantly on the move, whether it’s a boardroom meeting or weekend coffee with friends, the way we dress needs to adapt with ease.”
While not exactly a chunky trainer, the Shoeker - this name is not going to catch on - showed the attention these middle aged brands are giving to casual footwear and trainers. It was unveiled as part of the Tod’s No_Code brand umbrella, designed by Korean designer Yong Bae Seok who before joining the world of footwear at Tod’s, worked in the automotive industry. This is a trainer or sneaker for dads, who want to spend £450 on a pair and wear it to work along with their Donegal tweed jackets and slim jeans.
“Fashion is constantly trying to reinvent and occasionally we come across a novelty style that sticks. It then doesn’t matter if it’s flattering or a clever design, the hype takes over and makes it a sellout. The chunky trainer is a classic case of shoe marketing that we will look back at, and.. well, cringe, in all honesty,” says Paula O’Connor, Fashion Director. “You wouldn’t see Sarah Harris.. Jackie Kennedy , or (all hail ) Kate Moss in a pair, so leave we’ll alone .. “ she says.
When “Sneakers” is the first drop down on the shoes section on zegna.co.uk you know what the brand’s new priorities are. Another luxury “dad brand", the minute the kids see their parents in these, they’ll be ditching them faster than you can say “Jeremy Clarkson”.
When ASOS announced its shock slowing of growth before Christmas, one of the most interesting snippets of information from ASOS CEO, Nick Beighton, was that, in menswear, they had seen "a slowdown in sneaker brands, which has been quite dramatic”, he said.
It is well known the young male shoe buyer was becoming the biggest consumer of footwear - read more here - and it was trainers and sneakers he was buying. There could be many factors at work here, but undeniably the market is saturated and the trend has run its course. Trainers will continue to be a huge business, but it won’t be a “thing” anymore.
Left - Ermenegildo Zegna - Leather Cesare Sneakers - £540
Designer brands liked this trend because they could increase the prices for chunkier styles and nobody would complain that they were made from plastic and glue. The margins and volumes are huge.
There was interesting data from the NPD - the industry authority for the footwear market - on Q4 2018 footwear: "The 'democratization' of Adidas’s Yeezy franchise also led unexpected gains, with sales up more than 6X. Whether Yeezy can withstand the pressure of the expanded allocation remains to be seen.”
This is a classic case of over exposure and the generation gap killing a trend. The clock on your chunky trainers is counting down, so get stomping in them now.
London Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - was stripped back in more ways than one, this season. While the bones of the skeleton schedule were showing through, it was the lack of themes on the catwalks that really raised questions. What we were given was a genderless, season-less and sex less display of menswear: a casstratrated men’s fashion week. The rumour mill was flying that LFWM will soon be merged with the women’s London Fashion Week. It’s worth noting, there were as many female models as men, so, if gender is becoming less of a differentiation, then London Fashion Week will become just that, and the two separate halves could make a whole.
Left - Alex Mullins AW19 - Girls for Boys?
If the men do return to the women, it needs to be as equals and not just a day tagged on at the end. Menswear is outgrowing womenswear, and is always seen as the less established and important sibling from brands who see ii as an add-on and not a priority. It’ll be interesting to see which brands are brave enough to give menswear equal billing.
Men’s fashion needs stereotypes to challenge, it needs boundaries to push and lines to blur, if all the lines have been erased, aren’t you just floating into nothingness? And that’s what it felt like a bit here. Menswear collections entirely shown on females models - Alex Mullins produced an entire men's show featuring only female models - more non-binary club kids dressing up in dated womenswear or six pack revealing T-shirts for the coldest months of the year: it was the male minimised.
As for gender, the whole big reveal of a chick-with-a-dick is no longer shocking, nor interesting, nor original. Art School showed a collection that didn’t look good on either gender and, Charles Jeffrey, the Uri Geller of the London scene, continued with more theatrics, but, in his defence, when the feathers stopped flying and the smoke and mirrors were turned off, the collection looked more accomplished and could hold its own alongside any other designer in-store.
This lack of focus made for a schizoid season, and it was brands like E. Tautz, which didn’t do anything particularly new, that created a pull and yearning for collections featuring something beautiful again. Bored with sports, bored with fugly, the next men’s movement will be a return to something you want to enjoy and cherish rather than Instagram and discard.
That most British thing of all, the weather, was totally missing during LFWM. It’s all about “drops”, and “Autumn/Winter” is delivered in the middle of the summer, but, before, many brands and designers would start with this idea of “Winter” or, rain, which made Burberry. That probably had something to do with bigger budgets and fancier staging. Larger and more established brands used to like to ram home the cold weather feel, already visualising the windows, and while this idea is dated, at this LFWM, many of the clothes could have been for any month, anywhere, at anytime. So, what makes it 2019?
Sex was missing too. Even the hyper masculine muscle boys at Astrid Andersen were covered up for a luxury pyjama party. It was as though men were getting ready to go into hibernation until all this woke madness blows over. Though, Per Götesson, showed T-shirts pulled up to reveal the stomach, perfect for those social media body fascists. “It’s about equal parts vanity and fragility.” he says. “Each piece is designed three dimensionally around the body. We are applying techniques perhaps more common in womenswear and couture where lines and proportions in movement are taken into consideration. The jersey pieces are developed using this process, it is about finding a balance between strength and fragility.” And, there was me just thinking it was about likes on Instagram. Back to creating a male pecking order, As soon as one thing disappears, a new line or goal is revealed to differentiate the masses: that unattainable 8-pack separating the men from the boys.
Right - Art School AW19
Fashion is about selling change and, as a designer or brand, you need to create desire for that change into what you are presenting at that moment in time. Genderless, season-less, sexless, can equal nothingness. Just please don’t make men redundant.
At the end of a tumultuous year for traditional retail, and at the start of another, which doesn’t appear to offer much respite, there’s been a distinct trend in rebranding for both luxury and high-street brands. While you’d expect them to want to stand out, it seems as though they all want to blend into one another. This homogenisation is a case of an expensive “reblanding” exercise. Rebranding means creating a different identity for a brand, from its competitors, in the market, which, in fashion, is even more important especially when you're trying to flog luxury goods and the idea of difference and individuality. This feels like the opposite.
The recent rebland list is long: Belstaff, Celine, Calvin Klein, John Lewis, Burberry, Berluti and Balmain have all gone for simple and bolded logos without any of the details and distinct serifs. Playing it safe, what these new logos and fonts say is a lack of confidence and often change for change’s sake.
Left - The recent logo "reblands"
In August, Burberry unveiled its new logo. Replacing the Burberry Equestrian Knight logo with its bespoke Bodoni font, which had been used by the clothing company since 1901, the new logo is the work of celebrated British graphic designer, Peter Saville. It’s also worth noting he rebranded Calvin Klein with a similar font when Raf Simons took over and wanted to refresh.
"The new logotype is a complete step-change, an identity that taps into the heritage of the company in a way that suggests the twenty-first-century cultural coordinates of what Burberry could be," Saville exclusively told Dezeen. Somewhat cryptic and full of marketing speak, he describes what he and Riccardo Tisci, the new Burberry Creative Director, settled on as “modern utility,” adding, “It looks like it’s been there forever, but it’s still contemporary.”
Right - Hedi's masterstroke?!
Tisci said on Instagram ‘Peter is one of our generation’s greatest design geniuses. I’m so happy to have collaborated together to reimagine the new visual language for the house.’
Burberry are in the throes of changing everything way before the new Creative Director’s impact has been proven. As his first collection hits stores to a rather muted response by the fashion press, it’ll be interesting to see how it sells, especially the items with this new logo on.
Seb Law, Fashion Copywriter & Journalist, says, “I really hate that they’ve added’ ENGLAND’ to the Burberry logo after London. As if it’s London, Texas or something.”
It “Seems like an attempt to look ‘international’ and more premium, but also it’s now becoming an established way of a new designer starting at a different house to mark the start of their chapter. Does the general consumer care about this, or is it dive behaviour? Also rebrands cause plenty of chatter in fashion circles and build publicity – see Hedi’s previous rebrand of SLP. All press is good press, apparently.” says Law.
Hedi Slimane is a designer who likes to put his mark onto a brand and in September it was announced that the French house, Celine would be, controversially, losing its accent. Law and others have been defacing the brand’s posters by returning the accent to the first e.
“For me, it’s a matter of good use of language. As a copywriter and journalist (with a degree in French), diacritics aren’t just a pretty typographic tool to be played around with at the will of a designer, they’re an integral part of the word.” says Law. “‘Celine’ and ‘Céline’ are different words, pronounced differently (‘sell-een’ and ‘say-lean’, respectively). he says.
“It’s a continuation of the cult of personality over brand, in both cases. Causing a splash, in whatever way possible, seems to be the aim of the game. With Burberry, I’m disappointed that the logo doesn’t have a more uniquely British feeling, which the old one did IMO – I do love the interlocking TB print though.” says Law. “With Céline, it’s a classic case of Hedi doing whatever he wants. Brands should be aiming to exercise their unique personalities; this uniqueness is what attracts customers and maintains a brand’s personality. Homogenisation might attract sales, at least initially, and while change is obviously necessary, and often good, these two rebrand exercises feel like they’re a bit half-arsed. They’ve succeeded at building publicity, but is that what a logo redesign should do?” he says.
Left - The new logos are all very similar
On the high-street, John Lewis, in September, rebranded as John Lewis & Partners at a reported cost of £10m. Its first rebrand in 18 years and inspired by the company's 1960s "diamond pattern" motif, John Lewis managed to not only complicate its name but also lose its trademark dark green. Opting for safe black, it was yet another example of this reblanding trend.
In an age when these brands should really be trying to expressive confidence in themselves, these boring logos show a striving for safety and an anti-criticism blandness. It’s hard to be critical and negative about something so simple, yet they aren’t memorable or standing out. These aren't utility companies. Fashion’s current love of the sans-serif is definitely missing something.
The darling of British online retail, ASOS, today, issued a statement saying it saw “significant deterioration” in trading in the run-up to Christmas. Blaming the weather and a high level of discounting and promotional activity across the market, it said it lead it to increase its own special offers, which typically eat into profit margins.
November 2018 is set to go down as one of the worst retail months in recent memory. Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct boss, was recently quoted as saying, “November was the worst on record, unbelievably bad”. He said “No one could have budgeted for that. Retailers just cannot take that kind of November. It will literally smash them to pieces.”
Left - ASOS' HQ - Black cats for Black Friday?
While ASOS only saw a slowing in sales growth - it now expects sales growth of 15% for the year to August 2019, down from 20% to 25% - it also shows the chill running through the entire retail sector.
A perfect storm of lower footfall, Black Friday discounts, Brexit shaking consumer confidence and a highly competitive market in general, is making things very dicey for the retail sector. Retailer, Stuart Rose, formerly of Marks & Spencer, told ITV News, “I sense this is a very slow Christmas … You have the uncertainty of Brexit, people are uncertain about what the future is going to look like next year. [Consumers] have their hands in their pockets. Car sales? Down. House sales? Down. Big ticket sales? Down. I suspect there will be some uncomfortable trading statements in the early part of January.”
Even the juggernaut of Primark is reporting a slowdown. It has warned of “challenging” trading conditions. John Bason, the finance director of Primark’s parent Associated British Foods (ABF), said “I think it is a call on quite mild weather during November and I think it’s affected footfall.” This is important to Primark because it doesn’t sell online. Bason told Reuters that while sales at stores open more than one year were “just positive” in September and October, they had turned negative in November.
On a brighter note, overall consumer spending rose 3.3% year on year in November, but it was the lowest growth since March, despite the boost from Black Friday, according to Barclaycard. Clothing spending contracted by 2.9%, the biggest fall since October 2017, while spending on household appliances was down by 14%.
One thing interesting to note is ASOS mentioning its slowdown in Europe. It said trading conditions across Germany and France, which account for 60% of the retailer’s EU sales, have become significantly more challenging, which means this is a wider problem than Brexit. ASOS said “The current backdrop of economic uncertainty across many of our major markets together with a weakening in consumer confidence has led to the weakest growth in online clothing sales in recent years. We have recalibrated our expectations for the current year accordingly.”
So, let’s look at this weather. According to the Met Office, “November began with relatively cold quiet weather, but from the 3rd to 14th it was mild with a predominance of southerly winds. It was cold with easterly winds from the 19th to 26th, with frequent rain or showers for the east and south-west. It turned very mild, wet and windy in all parts of the country from the 27th onwards. The provisional UK mean temperature was 7.3 °C.” This up and down weather isn’t particularly unusual for November and we had two decent cold spells to help shift more seasonal, colder weather stock. The weather is always an easy excuse for retailers reporting bad figures.
Right - Primark is opening its largest store in the world in Birmingham this month
Black Friday, though, is wiping out profit margins for retailers with consumers expecting huge discounts and it’s stopping people from hitting the high-street. UK retail endured the biggest drop in footfall for the month of November since 2009. It also marked the 12th consecutive month of footfall decline. Discounts were made for online; no pushing and shoving to then leave disappointed. If they’ve got it, it’s in the basket, and you probably don’t buy anything else while you’re there unlike if you’d gone to the high-street or a shopping centre.
Laura Ashley just announced it was closing a further 40 stores and, last week, Bonmarché issued a profit warning and Blue Inc fell into administration.
Many retailers will be praying for a good Christmas, but to make up these sales in the three weeks to Christmas will be tough, especially with so many factors working against them. Primark and ASOS are strong retailers and will weather this storm, but many will not. To continue the weather metaphors, this could be the hardest frost to hit the retail sector in many years and anybody small or not hardy enough will be dead before the winter is out.
Luxury brand names were once a signifier of quality and craftsmanship. In the race to grow and hit those billion dollar turnovers many luxury fashion brands have diminished their quality to a point where you can no longer tell the difference between a real or fake product.
In the Evening Standard, this week, columnist, Charlotte Edwardes, spoke about the difference she’s noticed in the quality of designer clothes. “Yani at my local dry cleaner informs me: ‘Clothes don’t last any more.’ We are standing on either side of the counter in his shop with an almost-new shirt lying between us. It is silk, but like some reverse sow’s ear, it has developed the consistency of polyester.” she writes.
Left - Bombinate homepage
“I tell him that two beautiful Celine shirts (don’t judge: they were 70 per cent off in Bicester) were stripped of their vibrant colour and silky texture after a few runs through the ‘gold standard’ service. The trousers I am wearing in the picture accompanying this column have also lost their shape. Yani shakes his head. It’s the fault of the manufacturers and not his new - ‘organic’ - machines. In the 65 years and three generations that his family have run this business ‘we’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of clothes.’ What, even expensive brands? ‘Especially expensive brands.’”
Edwardes goes on to say that her contact at Net-a-Porter confirms that the quality of clothes is in decline with two famous fashion houses being the worst offenders.
Personally, I’ve even heard of a story where the cotton logo-ed T-shirts of one huge “luxury’ brand were so thin and, of such poor quality, that the department store they were in couldn’t attach security tags without making a hole in the garment.
This all confirms something I’ve long suspected and, something, I expect, you may have noticed.
All is not lost, though, there are still some amazing producers and manufacturers out there and there’s a new trend in bringing these, often unknown, labels and makers to a wider audience.
The Bombinate marketplace, launched in 2017, and, recently relaunched, specialises in brands of quality for men and has secured an alliance of 100+ brands.
“The main stipulation for being part of the Bombinate community is that each brand aligns with Bombinate’s quality criteria and have a compelling story. Men from around the world can now easily discover a curated selection of European brands that all share the same commitment to quality and design.” says the website.
Founded by European entrepreneurs, Massimiliano Gritti and Elliott Aeschlimann, who were both students studying marketing and finance at different universities in London. “The story of Bombinate started on a bumpy road, somewhere between Russia and Mongolia. Something during these two months traversing the legendary Silk Road inspired us to take the plunge,” says Gritti. “Driving at night didn’t prevent us from having a clear vision of what we wanted to create: an online destination that would be both a home for high-quality brands and a source of inspiration for men who care about quality,” he says. “Back to London, we set sail again to discover the finest menswear and lifestyle goods Europe has to offer. We soon realised that the future of craftsmanship lies in the hands of extraordinary people, and made it our promise to promote them and deliver their craft from their workshop to your door,” says Gritti.
The word “Bombinate” means to make a humming or buzzing noise and the website offers a platform to quality producers, but how do they decide which brands make the cut? “The promise to bring the world’s finest craftsmanship brands to men who care about quality does not come without its challenges,” says Gritti. “At Bombinate we have created a scorecard to source craftsmanship brands. It is based on 5 different factors: Design, Story, Materials, Founders, Skills,” he says.
Many of the brands on the website, such as Arkitaip, Juch and Oscar Deen aren’t well known, and that’s really the point. You’re trusting Bombinate as the umbrella brand for quality and therefore it’s very important for this nascent online brand to fulfil the expectations of its customers. While you’re not paying for a designer name, you are paying for quality and the majority of people know quality when they see it and these brands need to over deliver on this front.
“The real issue at hand is discoverability and accessibility of quality pieces at a fair price today,” says Gritti.
Bombinate has secured investment from a former Richemont Group and Cartier CEO and lastminute.com’s founder and has the potential to sweep up shoppers disillusioned with the quality of some luxury goods at the moment.
Another website offering luxury quality without the name is ‘Italic’. Italic is a marketplace that lets consumers shop unbranded luxury goods. They say by removing brands and labels from the equation, manufacturers earn significantly higher profits while passing "brand markup” savings onto customers.
The website proudly announces, “Shop luxury goods straight from the source”, and “Handbags made by the same factory as Prada and Celine”, but this only really means something if the factories and suppliers are of quality. “Based in sunny Los Angeles and fast-paced Shenzhen, Italic is a members-only marketplace where normal people (not sure what that means) can shop for luxury goods directly from the manufacturers behind the most desired brands and designers.” says the website.
Right - Italic homepage - This only works if Prada and Celine use a decent factory, which is often debatable today
Shoppers pay a $120 annual membership fee, this is free for a year for early sign-ups, and can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to sheets and toothbrushes.
The company’s investors include Index Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Global Founders Capital among them. The company says 100,000 people have joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, and is initially limited to the US.
What these platforms both suggest is a growing movement back to quality. Consumers are growing dissatisfied with luxury goods which seem to grow forever more expensive. This growing niche needs curation and also control, but if they can deliver what they promise they can expect to grow rapidly. Trust is paramount here.
A 2017 Deloitte study of over 1,000 millennial consumers aged 20-30 across the US, UK, Italy and China found that “quality and uniqueness” are the most important factors that attract them to a luxury brand. Good luck finding that!
Move over Millennials, sadly, it’s not all about you anymore. Generation Z is primed to take centre stage and retailers and brands are asking this constantly ‘on’ generation exactly what they want.
Generation Z are those born between 1995 and 2010, which means that the oldest are about 23 and are entering the workforce. Their spending power is increasing, their influence growing and they are a generation who doesn’t know life before the internet and mobile phones.
Younger focussed fashion and sports brands want to know what these young people want and what better way to do that than getting them to design the clothes themselves.
Left - ASOS's new Generation Z designed COLLUSION label
This new trend in Generation Z designers is mirroring the multifaceted desires and identities of this group of people.
Online behemoth, ASOS, recently launched its ‘COLLUSION’ brand. The entire brand is shaped and ‘focused' by Gen-Z with a line-up of 6 collaborators. The brand is exclusive to ASOS and can be found on COLLUSION.com which links through to the main ASOS site. The blurb says it “is built for a new generation united in their pursuit for inclusivity and representation. The 200-piece, animal-free collection is designed to fit seamlessly into the wardrobes of those who helped shape it”.
It goes on, “From the cut of a jacket, to the way that it is marketed, photographed, styled and sold, this collection is the result of extensive research into the values that this generation sees as non- negotiable”.
The brand speaks as a collective. Categorisation by gender is unnecessary, COLLUSION is ranged as one collection – for everyone. The brand’s website allows for navigation by product category, style or mood, rather than by men’s or women’s. The debut collection and the regular drops beyond it will be available up to a size 6XL. Price points for launch range from £5 for jersey basics to £70 for statement outerwear.
The initial six collaborators were selected by COLLUSION's cultural social team who find tastemakers and talent. The six were chosen from a wide pool of young creatives and all come from different backgrounds, areas, and professions. Students, stylists, activists, image-makers, authors and YouTubers.
It says, “COLLUSION is a manifestation of what this first contingent of six want the future of the fashion industry to look and feel like. Working in collaboration with a team of standalone designers and creatives assembled by ASOS, each industry experts in affordable fashion, the six are consumers of, consultants to, and architects of this brand. Their brief: to realise an authentic, vibrant wardrobe which speaks directly to themselves and their Gen-Z peers”.
Chidera Eggerue, 23, blogger and author, says, “I joined Collusion because I wanted to be part of something that created the change that I want to see,”. Chidera is known to her followers as The Slumflower.
Right - Brands giving the next generation what they want by getting them to design it - ASOS COLLUSION
The collection is animal-free and has been recognised a number of times in PETA’s vegan fashion awards, first launched in 2013, celebrating the most desirable cruelty-free clothing and accessories on the market.
So, what’s been the reaction? The brand says, “COLLUSION has been applauded both on social media and in the press for its unwavering commitment to diversity and body positivity. Publications such as Vogue, i-D, Dazed and Grazia have featured the brand and commended the daring approach for a big backed brand towards gender neutrality and its direct involvement with Gen-Z”.
I’m not sure this generation even read these publications anymore, but, it’s commercial success will be judged with how many follow up collections there are.
This burgeoning woke generation has also come to the attention of sports brand, Champion. They’ve just launched a capsule line of T-shirts inspired by the power of words and how the negative labels used to describe young people can influence and determine their identity and behaviour.
Partnering with the London-based charity ‘London Youth’, which represents 400 community youth projects across the city, and called ‘Champion London Youth’, the T-shirts are each inspired by the personal stories of five young people who have faced stereotyping and have overcome this with the help of their youth clubs and organisations.
Local authority youth service budgets across London in 2017/18 are £39 million lower than in 2011/12. This represents an average cut of £1.5 million or 44% per local authority. During that period, 81 youth centres were closed and there were 800 fewer youth workers.
Gill Goodby, Head of Communications at London Youth, says “We combined with The Corner agency to produce a film to challenge the perceptions of young people and every newspaper headline having ‘youth’ and ‘violence’ in the title wasn’t representative. The T-shirts with Champion came from that film,” she says.
Subira Damali, 23, from Lewisham is one of the chosen designers of the T-shirts, and describes how she became involved, “I’m part of Lewisham Youth Theatre. They send me acting opportunities and I applied to be on the film”.
Left - Subira Damali & her daughter
A young mum, she was interviewed for the film and wrote a few words that people used negatively to describe her. “Then somebody said, ‘This is going to be on a T-Shirt’. It’s about breaking down stereotypes and designing clothes helps confidence, leadership and is therapeutic,” she says.
Renowned designer Tim Head transformed the experiences of these young people into limited edition designs, which will be available for sale in Champion’s Soho store and at Urban Outfitters. Champion will be donating all profits to London Youth to help fund the charity’s arts, sports development, youth social action, employability and outdoor learning programmes.
If they design it, then, hopefully, they’ll buy it. Or, so the thinking goes. Asking the next generation what they want seems almost too simple in its concept. But, this generation is very individual and it wants to be seen that way.
This feels like the natural progression of personalisation and customisation and a step to the future where we’ll all be able to share a hand in designing what we want.
Today, retailers and brands are up to the size and speed of being able to tailor collections for certain generational groups or be reactive to their wants and desires. It makes business sense, but will it be this straightforward?
This is a generation of confident young individuals who know what they want and want their clothes to reflective their disparate identities. Brands will just have to try as hard as they can to keep up.
Things often speed up towards the end. It’s probably in one of Newton’s laws and it best describes the recent carnage in the printed media industry. It feels like we’re finally at a tipping point, and, in the past week, we’ve seen the men’s style media hardest hit with Esquire halving the frequency of its print edition and Shortlist, the biggest UK men’s title by readership, closing altogether.
Add in Johnston Press, which owns more than 200 titles including the i, The Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post, going under, and it’s free-fall in the newspaper and magazine publishing business. You’re doing very well to stand still.
According to a recent Evening Standard article, in the past decade over 300 local newspapers have closed, circulation has more than halved, advertising revenues have nosedived by 75% and 6000 fewer journalists are employed.
What’s killing these businesses isn’t the falling number of copies being sold - while that doesn’t help - it’s been the giant migration of advertising and marketing revenue to the online monopolies of Google and Facebook.
It’s obviously a shift to online, but the big question is, why have all the magazines and newspapers happily sat back and watched both these businesses take away all their revenues?
In 2017, Google's revenue amounted to 109.65 billion US dollars. Google's revenue is largely made up by advertising revenue, which amounted to 67.39 billion US dollars in 2015. Facebook made $39.9 billion in ad revenue in 2017. Mobile advertising represented approximately 89% of advertising revenue for the period, up from 84% of advertising revenue in the fourth quarter of 2016, while the company saw the biggest jump in revenue in Europe (31%).
Not amount of rebrands or editors being replaced will compete with this dominance.
Condé Nast just announced it was closing American Glamour, this follows Teen Vogue, and there are rumours W is next, if it can’t find a buyer.
While Google keeps its nose relatively clean, it’s Facebook that seems to jump from controversy to controversy.
At the beginning of this year the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal revealed Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. It opened the eyes of the general public. Facebook wasn’t this cuddly and friendly village notice board anymore, but rather an aggressive marketing tool selling access to their lives. This was a huge sucker punch to this online Goliath and the newspapers and media should had been encouraging us all to close our accounts and walk away.
The media should have pushed for us to delete Facebook. It was a huge opportunity for them to damage Facebook and take back a slice of revenue. Much in the same way we joined, if all our friends left, we would leave or no longer be active on there.
Recent evidence also suggests Facebook knew about Russian political activities on its platform even while Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Founder, publicly denied it. The Facebook culture is said to be one of ‘delay, deny, and deflect’ and is full of ‘fake news’.
This has had a slight effect on visitor numbers. According to the company's latest figures, the number of Europeans logging onto the site every day dropped from 279 to 278 million, while monthly European users fell from 376 to 375
However, total global user numbers continue to slowly rise, with more than 2.2bn people using the platform every month. The latest results showed total revenue of $13.7bn dollars (£10.8 bn), an increase of 33 per cent on the same period last year.
After its financial results in July when Facebook said it expected revenue growth to slow and costs to rise, more than £90bn was wiped off the company's value. The latest figures show costs rose 53 per cent on the same period last year to $7.9bn (£6.2bn).
Facebook is trying to change its image, with adverts telling you how much they care and it publicly committed to recruiting thousands of new content moderators to help improve its ability to remove malicious content from the site - an area it has been widely criticised over.
It also just announced they have partnered with regional publishers Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), Newsquest, Archant, JPI Media (formerly Johnston Press), and the Midland News Association to launch the ‘Community News Project’, a scheme that will help fund 80 community journalists.
Ironic when you consider they have mostly disappeared because of Facebook. This is, now, media as charity, subsidised by Facebook to give a veneer of unbiased and local coverage. The scheme follows in similar footsteps to the BBC‘s ‘Local News Partnership’ which has helped fund over 140 local democracy reporters.
What all this shows is Facebook isn’t unstoppable. People and their time is the value in Facebook and if we walked away we could damage it. It’s probably naive to think it would disappear, but just a small slice of those huge revenues returning to more independent media would make for a healthier and broader media landscape.
The current traditional media feels very passive and defeatist with regards to these advertising revenue giants when they should making them public enemy number one and encouraging us to walk away.
Are you ready to delete yours?
Superdry has been a British retail phenomenon. In under a decade, the brand went from its first store in Covent Garden to a huge multi-storey flagship on London’s Regent Street.
Established by James Holder and Julian Dunkerton, the Superdry name first appeared in 2003. It has been an unstoppable juggernaut since then, racking up yearly sales of over £750 million (2017) and operates in 55 countries.
Left - Superdry went from a single store to a huge Regent Street flagship in under 10 years
At the beginning of this year, the remaining founder, Julian Dunkerton, announced he was stepping down from the company. In a statement, Mr Dunkerton said he had “other demands” on his time, and stepping down was “the right point for me to transition my focus and responsibilities”. Handing the reins to new Superdry chief executive Euan Sutherland, Dunkerton bowed out quietly until this October when Superdry issued a shock profit warning blaming warm weather and bad foreign exchange hedging. Shares in the group crashed 20%.
Dunkerton has been vocal in his disagreement with the direction the company is heading in, saying, “I cannot sit back and watch my shareholding — and those off all the pensions invested in the company — be dissipated”. He’s trying to gather other shareholder support to return to and steer the company in his direction, but, have they got their strategy wrong or has the Superdry brand simply peaked and run out of steam?
Mat Heinl, CEO at global creative business Moving Brands, an independent, global creative company, says: “It has become unclear who Superdry is for and it feels like its brand and purpose has been entirely lost.
“There, now, seems to be a clear disconnect between what made the brand successful and its core base of customers. With the mid-market being hit hard by competitors, brands like Superdry fall into a sea of sameness,” says Heinl.
The strategy in question has been Superdry’s move into fast-fashion. In September, Superdry hired Brigitte Danielmeyer as its new chief product officer to launch a new fast-fashion range called "Superdry Preview”. Formerly Tommy Hilfiger’s global head of womenswear, Danielmeyer, leads the new Superdry Preview label aimed to attract a “younger, more fashion-driven” customer through limited-edition capsule collections. The range will go from design to delivery in just six weeks and be supported by a social media campaign targeted directly at 16 to 24-year-olds.
Yet to be tested, with no results yet for these ranges, Dunkerton thinks it’s a mistake for Superdry to move into the competitive fast fashion arena. He thinks Superdry should stick with fewer, core ranges in store and massively increase the designs and varieties (known as SKUs) being sold online.
“Last Christmas we were at a point where we could hit fast fashion online. We were such a strong brand that we could really increase our SKU count. But they [the new management] did the reverse.
“If you put that product online you would expand brand awareness and create excitement online while combining it with the classic store base.” he said.
Not everybody disagrees with the fast-fashion approach. Natalya Johnson, Marketing Manager, Shopest, who create location- based shopping experiences helping “independent stores to stay vibrant, profitable and nearby”, says “Early on the brand appealed to their target demographic which at the time was young men and women aged around 16-30.
“Over time, their consumer has changed, developed new interests and shop in a new way. Although brand identity is strong, the brand has failed with adapting into the fast fashion cycles, meaning their products seem to be outdated,” she says.
“Superdry are beaten by big brands such as ASOS and Zara, who not only offer consumers constant variety, but also a difference of style.
“Superdry do have great potential to revive the brand, tapping into current trends in the fashion industry that would attract their ideal consumer. It seems that they keep missing the mark in trends that would complement the brand e.g. streetwear and also brand collaborations.
“Once the product becomes more relevant, the brand can offer new innovations in store and develop stronger marketing strategies. In conclusion, Superdry appear to be very stagnant at the moment, but definitely have the potential to make things right,” she says.
The shares now sit at roughly 780p. They began the year above 2000p. The October profit warning said it expected to make £83 million in profit this year, well shy of the near-£110 million expected.
Superdry is heavily reliant on sales of heavy winter items such as jumpers and jackets, making 45% of annual sales. It said “unseasonably hot weather” in the UK, Europe and the east coast of the US was hitting sales.
“Superdry is a British phenomenon who’s growth has been nothing short of miraculous,” says Anthony McGrath, Lecturer and Editor-in-Chief of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com.
“In their heyday, celebs galore were spotted in their trademark casual wear and they set up home in a huge flagship emporium dedicated to all things Superdry on the retail Mecca of Regent Street. BUT! They have rested on their laurels and the whole nature of the beast, that is fashion, is that it changes at a break neck speed. Tastes, styles, trends change and unfortunately Superdry haven’t. So, yes, I do think Dunkerton is right,” he says.
Right - Is Superdry too reliant on coats and jackets?
Dunkerton, who retains an 18.5% stake, said “The management team remains hell-bent on their strategy, publicly supported by the chairman; but the numbers and the market warnings speak volumes. It is very clear that the company needs to change strategic direction; I have a clear and simple plan to correct the problems, and I have been explaining my plan to shareholders over the last couple of weeks.
“This company and brand has such a great opportunity - we must grasp it now,” he said.
This added pressure onto the Superdry management comes at a time when the retail landscape is looking schizophrenic. Long one of the darlings of the British retail scene, could this just be a case of the brand losing momentum and consumers growing tired of the Superdry brand regardless of the strategy? Has the ubiquitous Superdry branding reached its zenith, and, regardless of what the brand does, exponential growth can’t go on forever?
“Another challenge for brands like Superdry is the rise in people turning away from highly disposable and consumerist brands as they become aware of the massive pollution and poor working conditions associated with those brands which emphasise profits over ethical business practices,” says Heinl.
“To claw back momentum, Superdry, and other struggling brands, could do a number of things to help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. They could become a champion of sustainable fashion, improve and showcase high quality products, define a distinct design direction or take a leadership position in improving supply chain transparency and quality,” he says.
Dunkerton said, “My model means less wastage. It is far easier to manage and you have lower stock risk.
“There are too many products in the stores with short shelf life. You shouldn’t try and change it all the time. Get the product right and be confident in it. There’s no reason a jacket in October shouldn’t stay until March. Now, you see jackets on sale already. Can that be right?” he says.
Shareholder Aberdeen Asset Management is supporting current management, saying Dunkerton left after multiple profit warnings. Superdry chief executive Euan Sutherland has said “it will take up to 18 months for the benefits to come through” and Superdry chairman Peter Bamford said: “The Board of Superdry has huge respect for Julian Dunkerton as an entrepreneur and founder of the business. Julian has raised a number of issues with the board regarding strategy since he left the business. We have reviewed and discussed these issues and, while we have sympathy with some of his points, we have a different view on the best strategy or approach to addressing them.
“Superdry is an ambitious, global, multi-channel brand and the Board believes that Julian’s view of strategy has not evolved with the needs of the business. We remain fully committed to our successful global digital brand strategy and the board is confident that Superdry has in place the right leadership to ensure the continued development of our highly relevant brand.”
The management will have to start seeing the fruits from this new strategy and fast, otherwise shareholders will push for change. The next set of results will either quieten Dunkerton or add fuel to the fire for a reversing of the company direction. Superdry is too reliant on coats and jackets, but this has also helped them grow to the size they are. Regardless of strategy, what if consumers are simply bored with Superdry? That’s going to be an even harder job to fix.