Extinction Rebellion Fast FashionIf things weren’t getting hard enough for ‘fast-fashion’ retailers along comes ‘Extinction Rebellion’ (XR). Protests the world over are warning of impending doom and trying to ram home and ostracise those who continue to shop at brands and retailers vilified for producing clothing that is deemed to be disposable.

While the traditional high-street has struggled, both here and in the US, Forever 21 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, for example, the winners of the fashion internet, such as ASOS and Zalando, appear to be slowing. Recent profit warnings and falling share prices have put a wobble in this bright spark of retail. 

Left - An impromptu anti-fashion show in London's Oxford Circus

While ASOS is expected to show an uplift in revenues this week, could this be the peak for these types of retailers? Is the much publicised message of Extinction Rebellion cutting through to the buying public and will this prove to be a tipping point for ‘Fast-Fashion’?

Morgan Stanley recently said the volume of clothes shoppers buy has plateaued, "we suspect it's primarily because consumers are now buying clothing in such large quantities that they get very little marginal 'utility' from any additional items.” they said.

Retailers such as Primark, H&M and Boohoo rely on large volumes with small profit margins. Is this slowing more a result of saturation rather than the start of a boycott of ‘fast-fashion’ brands for environmental concerns?

“There is some very muddled thinking around the debate on how to make the 21st-century world more environmentally-friendly.” says Eric Musgrave, fashion industry commentator and former editor of Drapers. “I am sure the fashion industry is wasteful, but I’d like to know which large-scale industries are not. Who, for example, ever talks about mass-produced furniture, or pots and pans? I am not an apologist for the fashion business, but it is seen largely as a frivolous unnecessary luxury, not a necessity, hence it is an “easy” (or some would argue “legitimate”) target.” he says.

“I see no desire from the mass of the British public to change their buying habits. It would be wrong to confuse problems that may have risen at individual companies like Quiz and ASOS with overall trends.

“Too often overlooked in all this analysis is that the UK is a very troubled economy, with little sign of it improving any time soon. We have had 11 years of austerity and many people do not have much money. Asking them to forgo the pleasures they derive from cheap fast fashion is the epitome of wishful thinking.” he says. “Fast fashion is here to stay for decades to come – within the sector there will always be winners and losers.

And ask yourself, seriously, what lasting impact on fast fashion did the grim Rana Plaza disaster in Dhaka in 2013 have?”

“The fast fashion firms will not adjust their model. If some disappear, others will appear to take their place.” he says. “Finally, I await the explanation from Extinction Rebellion and the like about what all the many millions of people who earn a living in the fashion supply chain will do if it were to shut down tomorrow.”

Fast-fashion retailer Quiz, a fast growing newcomer to the market, recently announced lower sales in the first half of the year in the face of a “very challenging” high street. The retailer said its stores and concessions had suffered weaker-than-expected sales over the six months to September after a slump in footfall. Quiz reported that total group revenues slipped 5% to £63.3 million during the period, as online growth (7%) failed to offset its high street decline.

The entire fashion industry seems quite content to push all the heat onto these ‘fast-fashion’ retailers. Now public enemy No.1, ‘fast-fashion’ has become a scapegoat for the fashion industry in general. Arguably, all fashion is fast and in its nature it is disposable. People are being forced to question their purchases and asking themselves if they really need it, but is it significantly changing behaviour?

As part of Extinction Rebellion’s #XR52 weeks of direct action, they are urging people to #BOYCOTTFASHION for a whole year, in order to disrupt business-as-usual and send a message to government, industry and public alike that enough is enough.

Olly Rzysko CMO + Retail Advisor, says, “It will take something big for there to be a significant shift, eg the ‘blue planet’ plastic straw moment.”

Kathryn Bishop, Deputy editor - LS:N Global, says, “On Question Time last week, an audience member said David Attenborough spoke to her more than XR activity did. Sadly…”

It appears people are still buying clothes in volume, but we reached a peak a few years back. Kantar data suggests consumers in the UK are buying 50 items of clothing a year, up from 20 items in the 1990s but down from 52 three years ago. In the US the figure is estimated to be as high as 65 items a year, compared with between 40 and 50 in the 1990s and almost 70 in 2005.

"Put simply, consumers would rather spend their marginal dollar on, say, going out for a meal, than on buying a 60th item of clothing in a year,” Morgan Stanley analysts Geoff Ruddell, Kimberly Greenberger and Maki Shinozaki said in their report.

"It is our contention, therefore, that the apparel markets in many developed countries may now be entering a lengthy period of structural decline.” they said. The main catalyst for increased consumption was falling prices. "If clothing volumes are plateauing in developed countries, the only way the apparel markets there can grow is if clothing prices go up," the report said. "But (potential US tariff impacts aside) we think it more likely that they will continue to fall ... as production continues to shift from China to lower-cost countries in the region (such as Vietnam and Bangladesh)," it said.

US clothing prices have fallen by 0.8 per cent a year since 2001, while UK prices fell for 13 consecutive years until 2010. Volumes in the UK have more than doubled since 1998 and US volumes have grown almost 50 per cent since 2001, driving 28 per cent market growth. "Expecting consumers to buy clothing in ever-larger volumes, in response to ever-lower prices, was never likely to be sustained in the very long term," the Morgan Stanley report said. The allure of buying has also gone with consumers already own so many clothes that each new item they purchase doesn't spark happiness the report also said.

Personal stylist Elsa Boutaric with a focus on sustainable fashion and helping people build a sustainable wardrobe, and spend less, says with regards to the #ExtinctionRebellion movement, “I think it is definitely raising awareness of the issues surrounding fast-fashion, and putting it into the minds of the consumer. Publishing reports, stats and figures of the actual effect that the message is having has the potential to be more valuable in driving change.” she says

Extinction Rebellion Fast FashionIs this the tipping point for fast-fashion?

“Consumer behaviour patterns are changing and though we still live in a generation of convenience, consumers are looking for more sustainable and ethical options than a cheap pair of jeans and shoes.” says Boutaric. “People shop on ASOS because it is a viable option compared to other online shops, so when their customer base moves away to look for sustainable alternatives, they don’t have anything to fall back on. 

“ASOS is middle market, combined with high street and doesn’t really have a place in the future of fashion unless it learns to adapt, and this is what it is going to have to prove it can to do both its customers and its investors in order to secure its future.” she says. 

“The disadvantage they (fast-fashion retailers) have is that they deliver huge volumes on low margins, so would need to change their business model drastically. This isn’t easy to do when you have developed a position in a market place and it would mean working with new designers and increase their prices. This not only has the potential to reflect badly on their own brand, but also the designers that they work with." she says. 

Right - Are you ready to boycott fashion for a year? #ExtinctionRebellion

“They would need to introduce charitable angles or work with ethical designers without damaging their reputation or losing their market. Also, they would need to manage their stock and not have so much go to waste sitting in warehouses waiting to be sold. This could mean a change in manufacturers and distributors which could prove costly and time consuming. There are several factors that businesses would need to consider, and not all of them will survive.” she says.

 “There has certainly been a shift, and it is being driven by consumers and some brands are struggling to keep up, but others are adapting and thriving.” says Boutaric. “I don’t think it’s a case of reducing their consumption, it’s more consumers buying more ethical options. More people are only buying what they need, or shopping charity shops, or attending clothes swaps. Buying new seems to be a new slur, unless it’s from ethical brands and designers.” she says.

We are constantly told that young people are the most engaged in these types of environmental movements and it’s their future we are ruining, but they are also fast-fashion’s target demographic and consumers. There’s a big disconnect here. 

There could be a perfect storm brewing for fast-fashion with XR. If it connects with young people’s behaviour it could be significant. A swing away from this type of consumption could be detrimental to these giants of fashion. 

Fast-fashion retailers are starting to make green noises with second hand stores - Read more here - popping up and others like H&M and Next moving into selling other brands to off-set the malaise in their own - Read more here - but investors think long term and will need to feel confident that these retailers will continue to grow and be profitable. One thing is certain, brands and retailers will want to distance themselves from the term 'fast-fashion' and its negative connotations. There needs to be a groundswell from the people passionately protesting at Extinction Rebellion to the average British consumer.

'Fast-Fashion' is the OxyContin of the fashion industry. Going cold turkey could have some serious side effects.

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments here 

Sunday, 13 October 2019 18:58

The New Cult T-Shirt? Wagyu Beef

Wagatha Christie Ozzy Shah logo t shirt Colleen Rooney Rebekah VardyFashion gets even faster. Move over DHL and that crappy ironed-on Gucci logo T-shirt, there’s a new cult tee in town. Thanks to the wagyu beef that exploded into the public between Mmes. Rooney and Vardy, it’s all about the 'Wagatha Christie' T-shirt. Today's chip paper is tomorrow's logo tee.

Left - Wagatha Christie Tee - £11.99

Fashion stylist, Ozzy Shah, decided to print a few tees to celebrate the feud. (There’s hasn’t been this much tea split since Boston in 1776).

“I’ve sold 6300 now!” says Shah. (That's over £75,000's worth!) “But I’ve had to stop taking orders now because the supplier doesn’t have enough T-shirts left! 

“The T-shirts are ready made and they just need printing so the supplier can churn them out fast. Luckily the delivery time was put as 3-4 working days so that gives us time to get everything ready then we can deliver next day!” he says.

Expect an explosion of wearers tagging themselves on social media just as Vardy gets forensic with hers... 

“I didn’t realise it was actually going to be a success, I just made the logo on Canva myself and had my brother’s graphic designer perfect it, which he did in a matter of 30 mins, then I sent the AI file to the supplier who supplies Boohoo etc and has ready made tees, so it was a matter of printing. I didn’t buy any stock, it was just on demand.” says Shah.

“Luckily, the supplier is a close friend of mine and he thought it was a funny idea, so he printed 300 tees in 20 mins to show me what it would look like. Deliveries will be coming straight from the factory.”

What’s been the split between males and females buying into this new Wagatha Christie cult?

“It was 50/50 to be honest, a lot of men bought it too." says Shah.

This could be a rare case of making more money selling the T-shirts than those stories!

fashion menswear hunting scene corduory shirt men's emmettThe majority of printed shirts are produced in plain cotton, so to find something this fun in baby cord is a pleasant autumnal surprise. Hardy Amies (RIP) did a collaboration with the East London retailer Present (RIP) a few years back featuring a hunting scene. And, while I missed out then, I wasn’t going to miss out on this shirt from Emmett.

A bucolic English hunting scene with dogs and horses running boldly through a light green and white field is as timeless as any British seasonal event. Looking like a child’s bedspread, in a good way, obvs, team with a masculine sober suit in navy or brown and traditional English shoes.

Left & Below - Emmett - Hunting Scene On Baby Cord Shirt - £175

Disclosure - This shirt was gifted by Emmett 

fashion menswear hunting scene corduory shirt men's emmett

Review 
Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous Conditioning Beard oil tried testedA decadent oriental leather fragrance in a blend of almond, jojoba, grapeseed oil and vitamin E.

TheChicGeek says, “A beard oil is a real treat product and one from Tom Ford even more so. Beard oil nourishes the beard and facial skin underneath and adding a fragrance makes this a product you could use instead of a traditional fragrance.

So, I had high hopes for this one. I was expect to keep rubbing my hands on my stubble and moustache to inhale the fragrance. 

The cult ‘Fucking Fabulous’ fragrance in this disappears very quickly and putting more on doesn’t counteract that. Also, at only 30ml, you’ll get through this very quickly and at £60 that’s very expensive. Within an hour or so the smell had completely disappeared. Men buying Tom Ford are buying into long lasting and powerful fragrances and this, sadly, falls flat in that department.”

Read more about 'Fucking Fabulous' here

Left - Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous Beard Oil - 30ml - £60

Disclosure - A sample was gifted by Tom Ford for review

Tuesday, 08 October 2019 09:22

ChicGeek Comment Pride of Place

Local stores anti clone towns or shopsWe’re often bombarded with marketing speak talking about “local”, but it’s mostly just that, speak. Remember when HSBC used to refer to itself as the “The world’s local bank.”, it meant nothing more than operating in lots of different markets and countries. Local became more about geography than anything else. It joined the group of words, such as luxury, modern and sustainable, that get used all too often, but have become meaningless. 

Trying to balance the idea of a much loved local, independent retailer and the scale of a larger chain is the dream of any contemporary brand or retailer. According to CACI Consulting Group’s ‘Location Dynamics” engine, 75% of the UK high streets have the same brand profile. They say “The concept of clone towns is well known, but we believe clone stores are the real issue.”

Left - Welcome to clone town - Can brands decentralise and empower its people on the ground to make decisions?

It’s boring and in a saturated market many cookie-cutter, anonymous chains are no longer appealing to consumers and as such we’re seeing those with too many stores close or reduce their footprint.

“In a market where consumers are seeking localisation and engage in brands that mirror their values it is essential that a store is part of the community in which it sits.” says Alex McCulloch and John Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.

“Customers can buy generic product sold in a uniform way online, they seek out stores for the personal, curated, local and engagement. Brands that therefore dictate homogenous stock and store fit out regardless of the local customer will not deliver that experience and as a result fall away.” they say. “The brands that trust in their people on the ground, invest in them and empower them to know their shopper as well as supporting them with forensic data analysis on what sells, what doesn’t, which marketing worked etc are the ones that will succeed.”

“Data alone cannot fix the problem, but nor can people. Good brands leverage both. A great example of this is Waterstones, finding a similar one in the fashion sector is a challenge – typically independents lead the way here. One fashion brand that doesn’t shine in this area is M&S, which serve up the same store, stock and fit-out regardless of market, and have only just entrusted their store managers to know their own P&L; the antithesis of employee empowerment.”

The type of store finding it hardest to adjust to modern retail was, originally and ironically, the most localised. Nearly every town and city had their own individually named department store up until quite recently. It was only in the early 2000s that John Lewis, with the exception of Peter Jones and Knight & Lee, which is now closed, rebranded each store to the company umbrella name. Tyrrell & Green in Southampton, Bonds in Norwich, Trewins in Watford, Jessops in Nottingham, Bainbridge’s in Newcastle, Robert Sayle in Cambridge and Cole Brothers in Sheffield all disappeared. They were all recognisably John Lewis because of the store interiors and branding, but retained their historical monikers into the 21st century and the affection that each town would have for them.

DH Evans on Oxford Street was re-branded as House of Fraser in 2001 along with many other well known names such as Rackhams of Birmingham and Kendals of Manchester. (It will be interesting to watch House of Fraser’s next rebrand to Frasers in 2020, back to the original Glasgow store’s name, with a new store in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre following the exit of Debenhams. “Frasers of Wolverhampton” could have quite the ring to it?)

Local stores anti clone towns or shops Banksy

Up until 2018 the Newcastle based department store chain, Fenwick, had individual buyers for its 9 department stores. In order to save costs they centralised their buying last year saying, ”Fenwick has today announced a proposal to modernise and reorganise the business, moving to a functionally led structure while retaining our local focus.

“These proposals are part of a broader strategy to modernise the business and to invest in both Fenwick’s multichannel offer – including IT upgrades and ecommerce – and its flagship Newcastle store.” Previously each store ran autonomously.

It is understandable the desire to have everything centralised under one name and buying team. It saves costs and doesn’t confuse the customer. It also makes more sense because of the internet and having one unified website, but it loses the personalisation and affection that people had for these brands and nobody wants to think that their town or city is the same as everywhere else. (In out-of-town shopping centres it doesn’t matter quite as much because their isn’t so much ownership of place). 

Right - Do clone towns need a pop-up Banksy store like this one in Croydon?

This reblanding doesn’t take into account British idiosyncrasies or quirks and our love of personality. Many chain stores want bland boxes. The historical nature of the fabric of many of these older brands and their buildings have been looked at as a problem, money pit and not conducive to modern retail rather than embracing their uniqueness. It’s only poor and long term under investment that has let these retailers down. Liberty of London wouldn’t be the same if it was in another building. The building is the brand.

"There is a fear that localised = expensive. It doesn’t need to – you know a Waterstones when you go in it and the branding is universal, but each store manager has autonomy over the look and feel of the product, what is on promotion and maintains local charts etc.” says McCulloch and Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.

"Chains need to trust that their staff on the ground can make decisions on how they sell and give them space to do so within the brand framework. Equally they should be able to use POS data, online sales data and customer data to inform the manager on which lines have worked, which initiatives drove sales and how to better them.”

Engaged employees make better employees especially if they are personally invested in decisions. It’s the opposite of automation and the robotic attitude to manual shop employees.

“By trusting in the people on the front line, educating them, training them and supporting them through data will you also likely see key staff retention increase because staff will be empowered in their roles.” says McCulloch and Platt.

Is the design of stores an issue here and how can design catch up with consumer behaviour? “I’m not sure design is at fault here, there are many truly innovative stores and spaces in the market. The issue is more typically underinvestment in stores and a homogenous approach to stores. A brand can tailor its social ads based on geography and consumer (a 20-year-old single male in London will get served a different ad. to a 28-year-old mother of two in Liverpool) but don’t consider the same approach and nuance with their stores.” says McCulloch and Platt.

Facebook has been putting ‘Beacons’ into stores to send consumers personalised ads and to track their movements. Retailers also need to work backwards from this and tailor the stores to the people who are frequenting them. They could find out this information from peoples’ Bluetooth being turned on and then change the buy of the store according to the breakdown of the consumers and visitors. 

Obviously, not each and every store is identical. Stores are different in size and can accommodate different levels of ranges. Some chains specifier different product for different locations, but, it’s more a mindset and preconception that they’re all the same which is the main problem here. People want to be pleasantly surprised. “I’m-not-going-to-go-in-there-because-I-already-know-what-they-sell-and-I-can’t-be-bothered” is the modern attitude to many chain stores. The more individual or local they were perceived to be, the more often you’re likely to take a look. If you want anonymous and clinical you’ll shop online, it’s about pride of place.

Onilne halo effect with physical retail CACIJust as Boohoo shutters all Karen Millen and Coast stores and relaunches both exclusively online, it could be worth rethinking their strategy. We often think of physical retail going head-to-head with online. It’s one or t’other. The digital upstart appeared, grew quickly and is making the former, and in many cases painfully, contract as we head towards a new balance of consumer retail. But, before you decided to close all your stores in your retail network, there’s something you should know. Ninety per cent of all UK retail spend if influenced by a store and, according to research by CACI Consulting Group, across the UK, online sales are 106% higher within a store’s catchment area. Fashion, in particular, was 127% higher. 

CACI Consulting Group provides solutions to make the best possible location planning and customer targeting decisions for brands and this UK wide survey was conducted with over 2,500 consumers across 20 different brands. They are calling it the ‘Halo Effect’ and it describes the uplift in online sales due to the presence of physical stores. “We know that stores facilitate showrooming and click & collect and we can quantify them as well, but what was less known until today is the uplift that stores have on what were considered ‘pure play online sales’ – or what we characterise as the ‘sit on the sofa with an iPad, get it delivered to your house or office shop’. These sales are twice as likely to take place within a store’s catchment than outside it – demonstrating the effect that physical stores have in driving online sales.” says CACI.

The catchment area is defined using drivetimes based on where 80% of customers who spent in store come from according to the survey data. The size of the catchments therefore varies by brand so, for example, John Lewis has a much larger catchment than a Boots.

“The presence of a physical store gives a customer the security of knowing that should something go wrong there is a store you can go to. In addition, seeing the store as they go to work and shopping puts the brand front of mind and builds trust with the shopper, and store led marketing in the catchment area reinforces the brand. All of these secondary effects drive online behaviours up. It is no coincidence that bar a few notable exceptions some of the biggest online brands also have national store networks: Argos, John Lewis, Next. This is also why Amazon are increasingly exploring what a network might look like.” says CACI.

Fashion, in particular, was noticeably higher at 127%, why is this? “We believe that fashion is higher because it is more of a discretionary purchase. This has two impacts – you are more likely to see it, consider it and then purchase later, at home (a subconscious showrooming) and you are also more likely to return it, particularly if you live within a store’s catchment. Therefore, being near a store triggers increased engagement.” says CACI.

For every £1 spent online outside a store’s catchment, £2.06 is spent online inside a store’s catchment. According to CACI, consumers still value a trip to the shops. Although frequency is down, average spend is up per visit and net promoter scores in shopping locations have increased by almost a third. Suggesting we’re more, rather than less, satisfied when we visit. “In this environment the role of the store can be far more nuanced. No longer a place that just shifts stuff, it is simultaneously a marketing hub, fulfilment centre, experiential destination and showroom.” says CACI.

Norfolk Natural Living's founder, Bella Middleton says, "The fact that online sales are 106% higher within a store's catchment is not a surprise. Nor should it be. It is evidence that the internet simply cannot replace the trust and community feel of visiting a physical retail store. 

"At Norfolk Natural Living, we have a retail store in Holt, Norfolk, and a website selling our products internationally. Despite some incredible media coverage having grown awareness of our sustainable products internationally, we still see more orders from within the Norfolk area than any other region. 

"To me, this is an opportunity for retailers to remember that the internet isn't everything. It is fast, convenient and comparatively easy to manage your business online, but people still cling onto that desire for trust and community. Even if they ultimately put their card details into a website rather than a card reader.” she says.

It appears that people also like local online. “As an online retailer based just outside of Sheffield when we have looked at our regional sales we found it really interesting the sheer volume of sales we have in counties close to home compared to further away and when our website shows us the locations our customers are from there is a spike in cities within a 35 mile radius.” says Lucy Arnold from Lucy Locket Loves, a women’s sportswear brand.

Could these kind of stats be the motivator to see pure play online retailers open physical stores? “We already are and the false distinction between on and offline will only blur further.” says CACI. "If you are a pure online retailer today, you only have 15% of the available spend in the market open to you because 85% of consumer spend touches a store. In addition, your competition online will often already have a store network and operate at a competitive advantage in marketing and brand awareness. In those circumstances why wouldn’t you go play in store?”

Is there any evidence where stores have closed and online sales have gone down? “Mothercare is the clearest one. As they embarked on a store closure program, they have seen online sales fall as well.” says CACI.

Is this information compelling enough to keep stores open is the real question? If rents and rates drop then stores will have a far brighter future and this type of online ‘Halo Effect’ will be another reason to keep stores open or be reopened. Having the shops in the right places to maximise this catchment area theory is key and reducing overlapping stores will be the obvious step for those with a larger retail network. It’s all about finding the perfect balance and looking at physical and online working together rather than against each other. 

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