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Wednesday, 20 October 2021 13:14

Comment Creative Influence

Kendall Jenner as creative director influencersHow valuable is influence? Modern marketeers are continually grappling with how to use ‘influence’ and where to put their time, focus and investment. ‘Influence’ is nothing new, but, thanks to social media, it has become the Holy Grail of marketing as traditional channels have declined. While measured in followers, engagement etc. the ultimate measurement is sales. And volumes speak volumes for the majority of brands.

Left - Super-influencer Kendall Jenner was made Creative Director of designer multi-brand site FWRD

Brands have partnered and collaborated with influential people for many years, but, in order for them to be more invested, many brands are now appointing influencers as  ‘Creative Directors’ or inviting them in as shareholders or investors. This creates longer term relationships and exclusive parties both invested in the success of the arrangement.

Recently in womenswear, PrettyLittleThing announced Love Island’s Molly-Mae Hague, while FRWD announced Kendall Jenner as Creative Directors.

Molly-Mae Hague, 22 years-old with 6 million followers on Instagram, found fame on the ITV dating show. In August, she was announced as UK and EU Creative Director as well as launching her first exclusively designed collection since her announcing new role.

She had previously worked with the brand as their UK Brand Ambassador ‘curating iconic edits’, BTS videos and podcast interviews. In her newly appointed role, the brand said Mae-Hague will take an active position in creatively directing upcoming campaigns for the brand and signing new faces within the UK and EU. Umar Kamani, CEO at PrettyLittleThing said, “This felt like a natural fit for us. Molly has been a huge part of our PrettyLittleThing journey.”

Amy Simon, Global Head of PR and VIP at PrettyLittleThing says, “We have been working with Molly for a few years, way back when she had a much smaller following and she has always been a supporter of the brand.

“We have followed Molly’s career and she was a no-brainer for us when it came to selecting our new Brand Ambassador for the UK. As our relationship has grown with Molly, her input into her shoots and creative has been amazing and she is the PLT customer. She knows what our PLT customer wants, so the choice to then take it a step further was for her to come on board as Creative Director.” says Simon.

Mae-Hague’s current role will be for one year and hopefully way beyond this says the brand.

“She will be meeting the teams at HQ regularly and working across ambassador shoots, seasonal campaigns, our Influencer Marketing strategies, showroom openings, YouTube and so much more. Her role as Creative Director goes beyond her previous Brand Ambassadorship.” says Simon.

Many people are quite sceptical and snobbish about influencers being appointed creative directors at brands. It could be viewed as a kick in the teeth for true designers and creatives, but on the other is this just a natural extension of the brand/influencer relationship?

Influencers have been a huge part of the brand’s success since the beginning, and we work with influencers of a varied following across the globe.” says Simon.

“The influencer marketing team have great relationships with the ones that we work with and we know our audience relate to the Influencer. We regularly expand beyond just posts, we’ve had many successful edits, interviews for our podcast and collaborations across all our key markets.” she says.

In the US, luxury womenswear fashion destination FORWARD [FWRD], part of the REVOLVE Group has announced Kendall Jenner, 25, as the new Creative Director. Jenner has 192 million followers on Instagram.

“I grew up loving fashion and have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant people in this business. As FWRD’s Creative Director, I am excited to help curate the site’s offering with emerging designers and brands.” said Jenner on her appointment.

The multi-brand site says, as the new Creative Director, Jenner will be in charge of the look and feel of the site, curation of brands sold, monthly edits of must-have trends, styles, and looks, as well as marketing ideas, brand partnerships and brand activations. Jenner kicked off her new role during New York Fashion Week this month.

“Kendall as the Creative Director for FWRD is the perfect choice as we continue to invest in the next generation luxury consumer. We have always had an extreme admiration for Kendall’s style, creativity, and overall exquisite taste. Her multifaceted experience in the fashion industry and the vision she has outlined for the FWRD business has the potential to transform our business and the luxury business as a whole.” Michael Mente, Co-CEO and Co-Founder REVOLVE Group, Inc.

Revolve Group (RVLV) says it ‘is the next-generation fashion retailer for Millennial and Generation Z consumers’ with two sites REVOLVE and FORWARD. REVOLVE offers a more affordable assortment of premium female apparel and footwear, accessories, and beauty products from emerging established and owned brands. At FORWARD, they ‘offer a highly curated assortment of iconic and emerging luxury brands’.

Andy Murray AMC clothing CastoreKendall and Mae-Hague are the same age as the target customer for both of these brands.

Manchester based, In The Style, actively works with influencers to create collections and the influencer gets a cut of sales so has a vested interest in the success.

It’s interesting that they would choose to be so deeply embedded with one brand as it would preclude them (dependent on the contract) of taking money from others, so they deals would have to be favourable. On the flip side for consumers, are they really still mindlessly following what celebrities do? How much longer is that going to last?

Right - Sports stars are the ultimate influencers in menswear - AMC clothing from Castore with tennis player, Andy Murray

Over in menswear, it is sports stars, and more specifically footballers, who wield the greatest influence. Remember how David Beckham wearing that Superdry jacket catapulted the brand? Product placement on influential friends of friends of the brands can really kick start brands, particularly sportswear.

Two such British success stories are Castore and Bee Inspired. Brothers Tom and Phil Beahon, who both came from professional sporting backgrounds, founded Castore with a mission to deliver the ‘lightest, most durable, highest performing sportswear in the market’ and, since its launch in 2015, the digitally native business model has grown rapidly and now sells in more than 50 countries around the world. In 2019, British tennis star, Andy Murray, become a shareholder in the business and took on the role of board advisor, as part of its ongoing long-term partnership. His AMC range of sportswear under the Castore umbrella was recently seen on 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu’s coaching staff. Castore recently launched a collection with Olympic and Strictly Come Dancing swimmer Adam Peaty and are forecasting to turnover £14m this year.

In 2013 professional footballers Steven Robb and Mark Corcoran hung up their boots and were inspired to embark on a journey to change the landscape of streetwear. They launched Bee Inspired. Gifting their footballer friends and being featured on their subsequent social media channels helped the Glasgow based brand to grow extremely quickly. Lionel Messi (269 million Instagram followers), Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho have all worn Bee Inspired. They recently launched womenswear.

The sports shoe brand, On, an investment from Swiss tennis star Roger Federer, is eyeing a valuation of more than $6 billion in a U.S. initial public offering (IPO), a recent regulatory filing showed. On was founded in 2010 by running enthusiasts Olivier Bernhard, David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti, with Federer investing an undisclosed sum in the company in 2019.

“When we spotted Roger wearing On shoes around the world, we just got in touch. Turns out, he has been an On fan for a while. Switzerland is relatively small and it wasn’t long before Roger was catching up with our senior leadership team over dinner.” says the brand. Asian private equity firm Hillhouse also owns a stake.

Long term collaborations often turn into these arrangements. Many sports starts with money to invest are looking for income into retirement.

Somebody like Lewis Hamilton, who recently took a table at the Met Gala for young designers, is showing a strong interest in fashion. His collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger started in 2018, with his latest collection being entirely vegan. It wouldn’t take a genius for somebody at PVH, Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company, to want to tie him in and his 24 million Instagram followers into a permanent and invested relationship like his own label. Something sustainable, possibly?

Not all influencer investments have worked out as well. Just look at Rhianna’s Fenty clothing line or David Beckham with Kent & Curwen, where there was a price disconnect between the product and the audience. Aspiration is one thing, being unaffordable is another. The super-influencer needs to feel like the customer, but they also need to produce something that people can afford.

Super-influencers know their value and in a world becoming immune to sponsored posts it requires brands to think deeper and bigger. Tying them into a proper contracts or investments, but also allowing them to create what they want and then promote it is a major attraction to brands. The super-influencers get a deeper financial, creative and more fulfilling relationship and the chance to be part of something that could be really big. Having both invested parties pulling in the same direction and making product for the same audience is the ultimate in influence. 

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Published in Comment
Tuesday, 25 May 2021 11:48

ChicGeek Comment The Age of Independents

Independent retailers growing BroardstairsWhen a mighty oak falls the sunlight blazes in. The resulting glade sees green shoots appear with all manner of species stimulated to grow and compete for this finite opportunity.  A metaphor for business, the British high-street has seen many old oaks fall over and die recently, and, with optimism, the light that this allows to shine into the market could make it a boom time for new independents to open. With people shopping more locally, wanting the opposite of chain stores and craving something different, it is predicted that we will see a flood of independent brands and stores grasping to fill this void.

Left - Image from @ollyrzysko Twitter documenting the new independent stores in Broadstairs

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of Bira (British Independent Retailers Association) says, “It is a fact that people who have lost jobs often look to start their own businesses.”

It is worth noting how much better the leaner, and more flexible independent businesses weathered the pandemic. Recent research from the Local Data Company, the UK's most accurate retail location data company, confirmed there were 31,405 openings of independent units in 2020. Though openings were outweighed by 32,847 closures and resulted in the independent market shrinking by -0.4% (-1,442 units), it compares much more favourably to the chain market which declined by -4.5%, almost 10,000 units.

“We have also seen a resurgence in people shopping locally and there has been a significant increase in service retailing – barbers, hairdressers, cafes, etc.” says Goodacre.

“Indies have a personality and connection with their local communities that cannot be matched by the large chains. This is a good time because more people are shopping locally and care more about their local economy.

“Shopping locally, away from the large city centres, has happened throughout the UK, including London, as the boroughs have prospered at the expense of those shops in the centre or near high volume commuter stations.” says Goodacre.

Olly Rzysko, Founder of Good Candles, recently charted the arrival of numerous new independent retailers in the seaside town of Broadstairs through his Twitter channel @ollyrzysko, “I saw a lot of new units opening up, stores that were previously closed or maybe very tired reinventing themselves.” he says.

“Some of what had been previously pretty dead spots of high street were coming alive with new spaces from Affinity Brewery, a new lifestyle store and one of the most successful stores upgrading to a bigger unit. There were at least 6 new stores and several new places to eat and drink in a tiny town.” says Rzysko.

Why do you think so many independents are opening right now? And why there?

“I think it’s a mix of relatively affordably retail property, a mindset from people that they want local stores and a growing population by the coast that are willing to spend money here.” he says. “E-commerce is amazing if you have a unique product or a specific proposition but a real store can be so versatile and be a hub for the community and the brand.

“Independents can offer some choice, curated choice. I love Selfridges and their curation of product but I can’t go every week. Having some stores locally that can bring together interesting products and in some cases more local ones is really powerful. We’ve had a year of ’buy local’ messaging and I do think people really do want to spend more near to home.” he says.

“A lot of people are going back to offices this year but for many of us that will prob be 3 days a week. That has some significant impact. City centres lose 20% of footfall for every day we work from home (eg 20% of the Mon-Fri traffic for each day), this traffic is now local to where the workers live. They still want to buy lunch or a birthday card or a bottle of wine, but the money will be spent nearer to home.

“It is much easier to change tactics when you’re one store in a small town, much harder when you have shareholders and growth targets.” he says.

To kick start retail after lockdown many within the retail industry were calling for a ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme, urging the government to support the sector by offering customers 50% off the cost of goods at independent retailers up to a maximum price of £10. Positively, since then retail sales volumes grew sharply in April 2021 with a monthly increase of 9.2%, reflecting the effect of the easing of coronavirus restrictions according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. Non-food stores provided the largest contribution to the monthly growth in April 2021 sales volumes, aided by strong increases of 69.4% and 25.3% in clothing stores and other non-food stores respectively.

Independent retailers growing Durham

Masato Jones is an independent fashion designer who has recently opened his first store in Leeds. Originally from Japan, he studied at Central St. Martins and  started his eponymous label in 2012. He was based in London.

“London is so expensive, and doing bespoke I need to be somewhere in a city.” he says. “London has become slightly too commercial and I found Leeds has a very individual style. I saw young people wearing quite a unique style.

Right - Durham

“It seems the north like my style, the south are very quiet, my first impression was go north. We looked at Manchester and Liverpool, but I like what is going on in Leeds.” he says.

Selling men’s and womenswear, the newly opened store is in Thornton Arcade, just around the corner from Louis Vuitton in the centre of Leeds. It has an atelier on the 1st floor, open for pattern cutting and garment making classes, all tutored by Jones. Speaking before the move, he said, “It is very difficult to survive here in London right now, especially if a small business. The Leeds arcade has all independent shops apart from Starbucks, and we will stock artists’ work as well.”

Independents' Day is the national campaign to celebrate and promote the UK's independent retailers on 4th July. It started out as a small idea in the North of England and has grown into a multi-award-winning worldwide movement. Independents' Day UK is a not-for-profit campaign that exists to support and promote independent retail businesses across the UK all year round, but with an annual focus on July 4th. On July 4th retailers get involved by running special events and promotions including themed window displays, high street festivities, discounts and offers.There is now a network of ‘Totally Locally Towns’ across the world, sharing ideas, working together and making a difference to their independent businesses.

Further north, the City of Durham Parish Council has launched ‘Indie Durham City’. Managed by Gateshead-based retail consultants CannyInsights.com. It has been running since May 2020 to support and promote independent shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and other businesses in Durham’s historic city centre.

Graham Soult, Retail Consultant at Canny Insights says, “Indie Durham City was created in response to the pandemic to support and promote independent businesses. I’m helping make them more digital, update their Google listings, Facebook etc. all with free support from me.”

By helping them digitally it has increased awareness of the physical place to draw shoppers in.

“Initially they were really cautious about using those channels, but they are embracing them a lot more, all sharing updates in a given location which makes it a destination place.” he says.

The city social media has amplified the message. “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are really important in providing footfall, people will check you out beforehand. You get that verification, the retailers are telling me they came in today and said they saw me on Facebook.” he says.

“There has been a flurry of independents,” says Soult. “We saw this before Christmas when 5 new independents opened in that period, and there’s another 4 new independents in a 200 metres stretch in the city. There’s clearly an appetite.” he says.

“The smaller towns that already have a independent cohort already, those places are proving quote robust with people living close by.” says Soult.

"It’s the in-between towns, they aren’t top tier, nor small market towns, places like Warrington and Middlesborough, who have the biggest reinvention ahead of them.” he says. “Get all the key stakeholders, like the council and landlords all working together, and the places doing that have that energy all pushing in the right direction.” says Soult.

People are seeing more independents because they are spending more time in their locales. There’s also not as much pull from the city or shopping centres with the widespread and much publicised bankruptcies of huge retail chains. There’s something quite sad about city centres right now with empty shops and boarded up retail units. It’s currently cooler and more original shopping local and doing business directly with the owner. There’s also a need and desire to tap into their knowledge and expertise and have a human connection.

These independent businesses still need online and social media to drive people to their physical stores, and it works better collectively. It’s very much stronger together. But, they need to do more than simply exist. They are competing for the pounds in people’s pockets, and while they probably won’t be able to match online on price, they can compete on originality, convenience, service and, most importantly of all, that personal touch.

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Published in Comment
Wednesday, 17 February 2021 17:03

ChicGeek Comment Luxury Local

DFS LVMH local shopping Paris

The capitals of Europe were long destinations for foreign tourists, most notably Chinese and Arabic visitors, to fill their shiny Rimowa suitcases to bursting with luxury goods. Buying a new Hermès bag on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or a bespoke suit on Savile Row felt more authentic and could seduce many an international visitor to spend, spend, spend. 

Left - Interior of LVMH duty-free travel division DFS's T Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice

International travel and shopping have always been happy companions. One relied on the other, but, travel has all but stopped, and the millions who once flocked to Selfridges in London or Galeries Layfette in Paris are no longer arriving. This is prompting luxury houses to pivot and focus local. 
In its recent results, the world’s largest luxury group, LVMH, said there was a 28% decline in LVMH’s revenue for the full-year in Europe. It said while the Chinese domestic market saw strong growth it wasn’t enough to make up for the missed sales from their trips abroad.
LVMH’s chief financial officer, Jean-Jacques Guiony, said he hoped the group could grow its local European market to fill the void left by the tourists.
“Growing our local sales by one-third isn’t achievable in a year, or maybe even two, but we believe it’s achievable in a significant way,” he said. “We see no reason we should be shutting down stores, even in Europe where the recovery is less obvious for the moment.”
Traditionally, in the final quarter of the year (Q4) the majority of European luxury sales (50-60%) usually comes from tourism. In their Q4 results LVMH bullishly said, while Europe is still affected by the crisis, the United States saw a good recovery and Asia grew strongly.
In London, Brian Bickell, the chief executive of West End property company Shaftesbury, recently said overseas visitors may not return in numbers before “late 2022, perhaps not until into 2023, being realistic”.
With luxury European sales down by nearly a third, this potential sales time lag of up to two years needs filling by luxury brands in prime city centre locations, but how will they do it?
Darren Skey, Director and Founder of Nieuway Agency, says, “I think brands and retailers alike are finding and will continue to find it hard to grow their domestic customer.  Many stores in particular have been so reliant on the tourist trade, in particular Middle Eastern and Asian.  
“To swing both your marketing message and buy to suddenly attract a different customer takes time.  With LVMH, what accounts to a local audience? They have 5000 stores globally so I'm sure they can localise their sales a lot easier than a store who has 1 or 2 locations in the same country.  We've already heard from stores in the Middle East, they have seen triple digit increases from the localised customer who can no longer travel.” he says.  
“I think the changes to the buy/brand mix will be minimal to be honest.  I believe stores will be going through a process of thinning their brands as opposed to finding new brands to attract a localised customer.  Where brands are being picked up is if the brand has global appeal and can be translated throughout multiple customer profiles.” says Skey.  "Our brand, Holzweiler, has seen this first hand.  We are seeing a really strong reaction which is going to elevate it beyond its perceived Scandinavian success story.  Having products which are all encompassing is paramount.  A good quality sweat top and sweat pant is going to attract a multitude of customers, especially during the global pandemic.  But it's also important to offer products which have longevity and will work post pandemic.” he says.
Will this luxury local sticking plaster turn into a long term strategy?
“I think this will definitely be a short term strategy,” says Skey. “As soon as borders open and the pandemic dissipates (if that fully happens at all) I believe the concentration will return to the section of customers who were previously driving the turnover.  “In fact, I believe we could see a complete juxtaposition from the WFH attire with people wanting to go out and express themselves again. But, who knows when this might be?” he says.
LVMH, in particular with its DFS (Duty Free Shoppers) division was busy building huge temples of duty-free luxury shopping and hotels in Europe to service these high-spending foreign visitors. In its results, it said DFS saw a significant decline in its activity in most destinations due to the total suspension of international travel, but, new services were being developed for its local customers and online sales have strengthened.
But, how many local Venetians will shop at DFS’s hugely impressive T Fondaco dei Tedeschi overlooking the Rialto Bridge? Not to mention the refurbished La Samaritaine in Paris which was scheduled to open in April 2020. 
After nearly 30 months’ of renovation, a department store and a 5-star Cheval Blanc hotel with 72 rooms was to open its doors. It still hasn’t opened. In September 2020, Louis Vuitton gave us a sneak preview of the finished building by holding its womenswear show there. 

DFS LVMH local shopping VeniceDavid M Watts, Fashion Industry Advisor, says, “Given they (LVMH) have deep pockets it will be possible for them to refocus on local markets in Europe but not without its challenges given the continued state of lockdown all across the world. 

Right - Artist's impression of the new, yet to open La Samaritaine in Paris

“I believe they should perhaps consider developing a pop-up shop menu that will allow safe shopping, but also access to digital and commerce which will create a new hybrid. Something bricks and mortar retail was crying out for pre COVID.” he says.
So, what kind of new products or changes do you think they’ll make? “I suspect that homeware, wellness, beauty and casual wear will feature heavily.” says Watts. “Businesses are starting to review their own product offering; sleepwear, blankets, candles, pyjama dressing and track suit iterations abound.” he says.
Can you see this being a long or short term strategy and do you think it will be forgotten about post-COVID if the market and travel rebounds? “I think this new approach to product and more lifestyle focus on product development will become a core part of business. even for pure fashion brands.” says Watts.
“I believe that there will also be a return to stylish dressing with less emphasis on work/corporate and more on fun. The pandemic is forcing many of us to review our social habits and one suspects that people will develop an entirely new approach to meeting with friends and socialising and dressing habits may well change with it too.” he says.
A sales manager selling LVMH products at Harrods, who wished to remain anonymous, said even after the first lockdown locals didn’t have the same money so his brands were starting to launch ‘entry price’ items within the iconic department store. The problem with ‘entry price’ products is you have to sell more to reach the same sales volumes. The international tourists were an easy cash cow for these retailers and now they will have to work harder for less.
Central London’s luxury shops will have to work in stages. It will first have to entice even domestic, ‘local’ shoppers back to the prime shopping districts, and get them spending. Then hope the high-spending tourists follow not too long after that.
 
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Published in Comment

we heart shops campaignPeople love good shops. It might not be cool to admit it, but watching the hordes of people flocking after each and every lockdown to their local high-street is testament to this being true. While online shopping has seen record growth over the past year, nearly £7 in every £10 is still spent offline. According to the UK Government’s Office of National Statistics internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales (ratio) (%) hit a record 36% in November 2020. Online had been growing steadily towards 20% of total retail sales, but, thanks to lockdowns and the COVID outbreak, it has leapt to above 30%. But, eventually the growth with slow and then will plateau. So, where is the optimism around physical retail? 

Left - Do we need a national campaign to remind people how good shops can be?

It sometimes feels like, come results days, retail CEO after retail CEO laments their store networks like it’s a problem they have to deal with, and the press report accordingly. Describe like a millstone around their necks, where are the ones standing up and saying, ‘We love our shops and staff’ and really give them the backing they need and deserve? It’s like they’ve capitulated to online, held their hands up and just surrendered. All shops, big and small, need a ‘We (Heart) Shops’ campaign. Good shops, independents or chains, will never be dead and there is still lots to play for, particularly post-COVID.
Eric Musgrave, fashion industry commentator and former editor of Drapers, says “I cannot fathom how anyone could organise a comprehensive campaign to make people or encourage people to use shops. This is better done at local level.”
Musgrave cites campaigns such as ‘Independents Day’, ‘Save The High Street’ and ‘Small Business Saturday’, but many of these were very much slanted towards the David (Small Independents) against the Goliath of large national chain stores. What has changed is these both need to team up and work against online TOGETHER.
“Shops appear in many different locations, from the traditional city or town centre high street, to covered shopping centres within those settlements, and then on purpose-built out-of-town sites. All have different challenges.” he says. “The one under most pressure, I suppose, is the traditional high street, but as a nation we are over-shopped – in many sectors we have too many physical retailers before we start considering the effect of online sellers. There is not enough money in the UK for all these retailers to prosper or even survive.
“I sincerely believe shops will survive, but how and where will end up being hundreds and thousands of local stories. I believe we as humans are social creatures and shopping is a social activity. I want to examine something closely before I buy it – clothes obviously, but also books or electrical equipment. When I want to buy a power screwdriver, for example, I want to talk face-to-face to someone who knows about them, which is why the local hardware store or Homebase is vital.”
While we don’t like to admit it, shopping is part of our culture. It’s not just about acquiring stuff in the most efficient way. It’s about socialising, history, tradition and feeling inspired. It’s about something as simple as leaving the house. Browsing in real and browsing online are two vastly different experiences. 
It feels a mistake for a large, national chain like John Lewis & Partners to have the ambition to become a 60%-70% online retailer by 2025. Their shops really should be their best asset. They should look to balance and grow both avenues of their sales.
Yvonne Courtney, Founder, CollageLondon,  a bespoke clothing label, says, “People do still love shops, as they offer an alternative sanctuary – for fantasy, serendipity and surprise! 
“The trouble began when chain stores mushroomed across the country, pushing out independents due to opportunist landlords, and making every high street the same. Then they were highjacked by ruthless equity funds who asset stripped their property estates and under invested in the brands, making their stores completely joyless places. Everything is cyclic however, and the return of the independent is being much hailed!” she says. “However this will necessitate landlords taking a reality pill, to reset rents to realistic levels after 20+ years of upwards only extortion!”
Musgrave says, “The economics of running a shop in the UK is very expensive. I do not see any prospect of this government or any government abolishing the business rates system because it brings in so much money. In the post-COVID-19 world, the government will want as much money as it can get.
“Related to finance is the apparent need of local councils to use parking as a revenue stream. BIRA (the British Independent Retailers Association) has had parking charges on its action list for years. Why drive to a town centre to pay over the odds or risk getting a ticket when you can park for free at an out-of-town complex?” he says.
Why do we need a 'We Love Shops' campaign?
It worked wonders for New York back in the 1970s,” says Courtney. “Paid for by their tourism board, it makes millions every year from merchandise sales. Not only is this perfect timing, during/post Covid, but also with the onset of Brexit - shopping local will be the way to go.” she says.
“A ‘We Love Shops' campaign would give a sense of pride, hope and belonging to communities everywhere. We have such a wealth of history in the world of shops, it would be a crying shame if this disappeared. 
“Surely it’s everyone’s interest to keep shops in business, given that online platforms avoid paying full taxes, so reducing coffers for education, health, etc. If brands are talking down shops, I think this is an attempt to veil their laziness/ineptitude for evolving. So many stores come across as being on autopilot, under investing/appreciating their staff and making the whole experience pretty poor.” says Courtney.
“It’s too easy to blame online retail (or COVID) for a shop’s demise - when we know that they’ve either been under invested in or have simply not upped their game in what they are offering.” she says.
We’ve had the best of both worlds over the last few years; being able to browse offline and ordering online, but the balance is swinging and with fewer shops will this wake consumers up to appreciate what is left more? In exclusive TheIndustry.fashion data, when we asked consumers the question about where do you most prefer to shop for clothes, 51% (pretty consistently month-on-month) say physical shops. Yes, they can’t go to them now, but that doesn’t mean to say they won’t when it’s possible.
So, what makes a great shop?
“The recipe has to be product, people and location. Just as people will drive a long way to a decent pub or restaurant, so they will travel to find an interesting shop that satisfies their needs. Conversely, a lot of shops should prosper because they are very close by their target audience.” says Musgrave.
“A great shop is somewhere that draws you in with its shopfront or window display…or somewhere off the beaten track - making it a destination in itself. Somewhere you might not come across online…somewhere that encourages browsing, or even a bit of rummaging (so many stores are over-curated now, leading to same-y displays of merchandise, objects and plants - yawn!) Somewhere where you might get into an unexpected conversation.” says Courtney.
“I myself am looking to open a ‘multi-purpose atelier’ for my CollageLondon label that will also offer a repurposing clothing clinic and mini kiosk of ‘covetables’. Physical shopping has the potential to boom once we've seen the back of Covid as people will yearn that sense of discovery!” says Courtney.
“I suspect there will soon be a backlash against the environmental damage caused by thousands of vans driving around delivering e-commerce parcels. I wonder if anyone has yet measured the difference between, say, 100 people going to a John Lewis store and JL sending out 100 parcels to individual addresses.” says Musgrave.
“I like talking to experts in shops, either sharing knowledge if I know about the subject or learning something new and getting advice if I don’t. Long live shops.” says Musgrave.
This pandemic has ignited a passion for physical retail among young consumers. They were the most enthusiastic online shoppers, but now that’s older consumers as they are afraid to go out and have been introduced to the joys of e-commerce. Older consumers will stick with e-commerce now they’ve discovered it and youngsters will be desperate for human connection and experience. That is a good thing long term. It’s the experience of stores that people have that makes them special, and just seeing them as an expensive overhead misses that point completely. 
For the good retail stores remaining, it’s okay for us to say out loud, “We Heart Shops”.
 
Below - Office for National Statistics Graph showing percentage of total retail sales online

we heart shops campaign

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Published in Comment
Tuesday, 01 December 2020 16:30

ChicGeek Comment Lockdown Sizing

lockdown sizing in fragrance moschinoThere was a time when the sizing of perfume and fragrance couldn’t get any bigger. Brands and designers were piling into flacons of 200ml and upwards, trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of consumers for their hit ‘juices’. Two hundred millilitres is more conducive to the drinks cabinet than the bathroom.  Then came lockdowns.

Left - Brands such as Versace and Moschino are producing 'lockdown sizes' of 10ml fragrances for £20

A McKinsey report in May, 2020, said, with regards to the global beauty market, “2020 will be one of the worst years it has ever endured.” The report said consumer retail spending on beauty products was experiencing a sharp decline (up to 20%) as well, leading to an unprecedented projected $175 billion USD loss in revenue for the industry this year. 90% of women stated, in the report, they used little to no makeup while working from home.

It said, in May, “based on the scenarios most expected by global executives and current trends, we estimate global beauty-industry revenues could fall 20 to 30 percent in 2020. In the United States, if there is a COVID-19 recurrence later in the year, the decline could be as much as 35 percent.”

Unilever too has reported declining revenues in its personal care division. An update in April warned about shrinking personal care sales because more people working from home meant they were washing their hair less often, putting off shaving and even ditching deodorant. Four months on, in its Q3 report, it said personal care sales had continued to slump.

Graham Pitkethly, Unilever’s chief financial officer, said "fewer personal care occasions from going to work or socialising” impacted sales. Skincare declined high-single digit and deodorants declined low-single digit. Though there was a slowing of declines when we came out of lockdown during the summer.

The greedy fragrance industry has been built upon a biggest is best attitude when it comes to their products, and especially gifting, when, in fact, a little should go a long way. Brands have realised that demand has changed and are now launching smaller sizes in 10ml or 20ml editions. Moschino and Versace has 10ml options in many of their fragrances including ‘Toy Boy’, ’Dylan Blue’ and ‘Eros’ for £20. Eight & Bob has added a range with a 30ml (with optional artisan leather case), a size which isn’t often seen in bridge/niche brands. Much of this sizing was ironically called ‘Travel Size’ when, in fact, it’s the lack of travel and leaving the house which is creating the demand. Tocca has a ‘Travel Trio Set’ containing three 20ml bottles, while Goutal Paris is offering a ‘discovery set’ containing four classic 10ml fragrances from their range.

Sarah Binns, Head of Training at KGA, one of the UK & Ireland’s leading fragrance distributors, currently representing over 25 premium perfume brands, says, “Ironically I saw this ‘travel size’ trend start pre COVID-19 in response to the always on the go lifestyle and as a way to entice younger consumers into the category with a lower price point on luxury brands. Retailers had started requesting smaller sizes in fragrances to showcase in their pick ’n’ mix style locations near till points. It is interesting to see how this new size category has become so valuable in the current climate too.” she says.

“I think a lot of brands had started to develop these sizes pre lockdown for other reasons, but they have really come into their own with the current situation. Brands are aware that consumers are nervous to spend on something they can’t try first so this is a great solution.” says Binns.

The McKinsey report said, in most major beauty-industry markets, in-store shopping accounted for up to 85 percent of beauty-product purchases prior to the COVID-19 crisis, with some variation by subcategory. Even online-savvy American millennials and Gen Zers (those born between 1980 and 1996) made close to 60% of their purchases in stores. With the closure of premium beauty-product outlets because of COVID-19, approximately 30 percent of the beauty-industry market was shut down. Some of these stores will never open again, and new openings will likely be delayed for at least a year.

lockdown sizing in fragrance goutal paris

Suzy Nightingale, Senior Writer at The Perfume Society says, “We’re definitely seeing more fragrances offered in smaller ‘try me’ sizes, and although beauty products have been used less in lockdown; we’ve actually seen a huge rise in sales of our discovery boxes and brand sets, which offer sample vials, miniature bottles and travel sizes to try at home. Classic scents have even made a comeback as people reach for a familiar fragrances as a comfort blanket, reminding them of happier times.” she says.

Right - Goutal Paris 4 x 10ml fragrance sizes exclusively available at John Lewis: www.johnlewis.com - £68

“I think there’s been a desperate longing for ‘newness’, and we’ve also had fragrance lovers tell us they don’t want to associate this year with a single scent.” says Nightingale. “Simultaneously, many fragrance houses suddenly realised that, if people can’t get to shops or, when they do, tester bottles aren’t readily available anymore. This fast-tracked something we’ve all been asking for anyway: smaller size bottles we can try before we buy, or use to explore a diversity of scents or fragrance notes out of our usual comfort zones. 

“I definitely see this trend continuing - online previously had the hurdle of being a difficult place to buy your first full-size bottle of perfume if you’d not smelled it already. Nowadays, people want greater choice and the chance to flirt with lots of fragrances. Sometimes more IS more, but it doesn’t always mean a bigger bottle…” she says.

While the term ‘lockdown sizing’ won’t be used by the brands, it’s an interesting twist on the entry ‘travel size’ offer. These prices are keener and entice people to buy before they try. This is the beauty industry's version of a micro-bag; an entry level product aimed at younger and less affluent consumers. 

“Smaller sizes bring accessibility, the signature scent is becoming a thing of the past and it is much easier to build a large fragrance collection with these entry price options. In an environment when you often can’t test the product before you purchase, it’s a smaller risk to invest in a mini size first.” says Binns.

“I think this trend will continue within the COVID-19 environment as a way to experience new products before making a larger investment in the full size. Once we are able to travel again I’m sure that they will become even more popular for their portability.” she says.

How many people are wearing fragrance at home, or, at least, in the quantity they used to without social engagements and interaction with other people or work colleagues? The cheaper prices are also a factor in their popularity. When fully branded and looking as good as the full size bottles, rather than a simple tester, these items look much more desirable.

“Consumer confidence is low and this always has an effect on spending within beauty. People are reaching for products that make them feel good as oppose to looking or smelling good for other’s benefit. Fragrance sales were hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic but we have seen a steady increase as people rediscover the joy of treating themselves or showing love to others with a gift that encourages wellbeing” says Binns.

Sales in smaller sizes are better than no sales at all for the beauty industry, and the margins will be higher. The fragrance industry will hope these smaller lockdown sizes will encourage and continue the habit of individuals wearing fragrance even if we continue to be on our own.

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Published in Comment
Wednesday, 25 November 2020 19:24

ChicGeek Comment The Economy Of Bad Styling

the importance of fashion stylists celine

If a picture paints a thousand words, what does a stylist do? In fashion, they are the story tellers. Stylists, those individuals who decide what and how to dress models and celebrities for many brands’ campaigns and visual assets, have long been taken for granted. Much like photographers and digital cameras, in recent years, their magic of making something look more expensive or chicer than it is has been overlooked and labelled as simply ‘dressing’.

Left - Hedi's idea of cool or just plain bad? Celine

Paula O’Connor, ex Fashion Editor and Consultant, says, “A stylist's job is to tell a story with clothes, to put them into a narrative. This could be for glossy pages of editorial/ magazines or film, or simply co-ordinating everyday outfits to suit someone's lifestyle, whilst understanding perfectly how to translate current trends in fashion into outfits to suit that person’s needs and their lifestyle whilst maximising their image and confidence.”

The majority of people don’t recognise good styling, but they certainly notice bad, and it feels like there’s a lot of it around at the moment.

And, that’s the crux of it, a stylist’s main job is to make, professionally, things or people not look bad. With many brands making cuts or struggling to produce content in lockdowns with less travel, then bad styling is becoming much more noticeable. While some brands may go deliberately for the slightly more ‘edgier’ or grungier look, even Balenciaga has a slickness in its ugliness, there’s a difference between this and simply bad. It’s the fashion equivalent of a hipster venue asking you to drink out of jam jars. It’s a cost saving spun as being cool.

Lockdown has really brought to light the importance of good styling and therefore a good stylist. Marketeers listen up. We became so blasé about perfect images, that, I think, we took them for granted pre-COVID, but it’s only, now, we can really see the difference and it’s coming from even the biggest of brands.

the importance of fashion stylists paul smith

“Stylists are definitely taken for granted and they do not get enough respect for the skills they have”, says Jessica Punter, Freelance Stylist with almost 20 years’ experience, associate lecturer and Ex GQ Style and Grooming Editor.

“Stylists usually have an eagle eye over the whole fashion industry and draw on influences from a wealth of other areas such as art, music and pop culture. They can help steer or hone a collection and create fresh appeal. They can bring a lot to the table creatively, if given the chance.” she says.

Good styling has many contributing factors; concept, art direction, casting (model choice), location, props, looks (outfit choice), lighting, and, finally, how it’s all put together. It takes a refined eye and that’s worth paying a professional for. Many brands look like they’re doing it all DIY and it does nothing for their products.

Like anything visual, what is good and bad is subjective, but there’s a level. It also changes according in local markets and who they are targeting. It’s knowing which images to use when and where. While Europeans may scoff, the images could appeal to Asia or America.

Right & Below - Paul Smith AW20 looking like a hot mess?

“First, international brands cater to different markets. What appeals to one territory might not appeal to the next.” says Punter. “I often think of how different Nike US is to Nike EU. I know which I prefer, but it's all about knowing your market.  Second, in the pandemic era we are seeing skeletal crews and brands needing to improve 'efficiencies'. During the first lock down I heard models were dressing themselves with samples sent to the photographer. I also heard celebrities were wearing outfits they had worn before for public appearances, rather than relying on a stylist to bring fresh looks. Third, there's a lot of dross product around. If a collection is really weak it can't necessarily be saved by styling.” she says. 

the importance of fashion stylists paul smith

Even the biggest brands have trimmed their expenditure. Do you think brand’s making cutbacks can be seen in their visuals? 

“Yes, I am sure it is deemed necessary to make cuts, to use in-house staff and to limit outsourcing, but these short term savings inevitably have a negative impact on overall quality.” says Punter.

“There is definitely a noticeable difference in shoots that reflects that cutbacks. E-comm is increasingly shot flat instead of on a model, and there is a simpler approach to selling.” says O’Connor.

Can we put this down to lockdown issues of lack of expensive locations or doing things from home etc.?

“Certainly the impact can't be ignored. At the same time there have been lots of amazing distanced shoots. Self-styled Robert Pattinson for GQ US was a highlight for me. However, the clothes he wore were still selected in advance by a stylist, and no doubt heavily mood boarded and pre-styled into looks, which he may well have adapted. But the overall lesson is really that nothing can replicate a strong creative crew working closely, physically together.” Punter says.

“I think, previously, stylists researched and referenced a lot more.. films, art, photography catwalks .. but now everything is so fast and immediate, so there is a lot of imagery that is 'thin' in content.  Also social media has boosted consumerism.” O'Connor says.

There is no formula for good styling. You need talented people, but it’s also an instinct, especially in something as unpredictable as fashion. A good stylist will be able to make the best of what they have, even if the budgets are tight.

“No one realises how much hard work goes into styling, It depends on the client, but there is never enough budget for what they want, so stylists sometimes have to work miracles!” says O’Connor. 

the importance of fashion stylists superdryThere too isn’t a formula for bad styling, but get a few of those contributing factors - listed above - wrong and the chances are the pictures won’t be very good. It’s a false economy for brands and marketing departments to make cuts in this area, especially if they’re trying to peddle ‘luxury’. They are devaluing the product and the brand.

Left - AW20 Superdry styling looking far from contemporary

A great stylist is “someone who creates trends rather than follows them and has an innate understanding of what makes a great image.” says Punter, and this is something not worth skimping on.

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Published in Comment
Wednesday, 18 November 2020 16:04

ChicGeek Comment The To-Wear List

to wear list wearing old favourites in wardrobe

Forget all this overblown hubris on buying resale, most people will be sustainable, in the short term, by simply rediscovering their own wardrobes. Regardless of size, we all have favourites we haven’t worn for a long time and are itching to get back out again. This ‘To-Wear’ list is a mental check list which grows ever longer the more we think about it. If you’re a lover of fashion, you’ll have plenty of items you can’t wait to get on your back again. Add a few future looking events and your To-Wear list keeps getting bigger and bigger.

So, if we’re busy wearing all of our old favourites, what will this mean for new fashion sales?

Admittedly, after each lock down there is a flood of pent up demand. Even this week, as the Welsh lock down ended, there were reports of long queues outside stores in the Welsh capital. One woman told BBC News she was getting it all done now in case of shop closures in the event of a return to lockdown measures. Public Health Wales' coronavirus incident director Dr Giri Shankar warned, "We do worry sometimes when we see such large number of queues outside shopping centres, outside pubs pars, cafes and restaurants.” He said we would see the effect of that “in the next couple of weeks”.

A few post-lockdown photo opportunities outside the nearest Primark and people buying necessities soon fizzles out. I’m talking about items for special events or things you love and hold on to.

The longer life takes to get back to normal, the longer our To-Wear lists become. It will be nearly a twelve months break since we wore our best clothes, add in a few extra lockdown, knockdown online purchases and we won’t need anything new for a while. Well, that’s how it feels.

While new fashion purchases could suffer while consumers work through their To-Wear lists, many people have money burning a hole in their pockets. Consumerism isn’t dead as those long queues testify.

Many people on lockdown have accumulated a lump sum of saved income to potentially splash on a once-in-a-lifetime purchase like a watch, a piece of jewellery or some art. According to data retail analysts GfK, a global leader in data and analytics, watch sales were on course for a perfect V-shaped recovery before the second national lockdown. By the end of October, the total value of sales at all price points for the whole of Great Britain over the first 10 months of the year was just 15.6% below the same period in 2019. And this was without tourist spending.

The average price paid for every watch sold in Great Britain fuelled a rise in the overall value of sales by 34.4% in October 2020. Average transaction values rocketed by 57% in the month, far higher than the increase in prices of 19.5%. Ecommerce revenue rose by 63.1% in October, up 40.3% for the 10 months since January. London saw a large lockdown bounce back in October, with sales rising by one third.

These figures clearly illustrate a demand for more expensive watches and how people are spending on considered purchases like watches even during all this turmoil. Money that would have been spent on fashion items is going into buying premium items like these. Items like watches require the confidence of having a lump sum, even just for the deposit. Lockdown has given people this opportunity.

The To-Wear list could delay the returning of fashion sales to pre-lockdown levels for a while. Many of our clothes are seasonal and we’ve missed out on nearly all four this past year. The anticipation of wearing our favourite things is an exciting prospect. The kind of items you never want to get rid of and every wear is a reminder how much you like it.

This rediscovery will be fun for a while, but then we’ll be bored again, and off it all starts, but it’s definitely something we’ve all been thinking about. We could wear them them at home, afterall, but it's not the same, Once we’ve worked through our old favourites we’ll be looking for something new, no doubt. Crazily, many of us don’t even remember what we own any more, and this could definitely propel people into thinking about what and how much they own.

What's on your To-Wear list?

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Published in Comment
Wednesday, 11 November 2020 16:05

ChicGeek Comment How The Jockstrap Went Mainstream

jockstrap goes mainstream Nike Calvin Klein Kust

When Nike released its first branded men’s jockstrap in the middle of October it was an instant sell out. Twitter went into a digital meltdown and demand was palpable. It was the perfect product at the perfect time and was a great debut for Nike’s new men’s underwear range.

Left - The Nike Jockstrap sold out on ASOS (Nov. 2020)

The year before, in April 2019, Nike and PVH Corp. announced a new licensing agreement to design and distribute Nike branded men’s underwear worldwide. It was a natural product category extension for the nearly $40 billion a year sportswear behemoth.

“We are incredibly proud to be working with Nike, as this is an opportunity for two great companies to build on each other’s strengths, making it a win-win for everyone, especially consumers,” PVH’s Cheryl Abel-Hodges, president of Calvin Klein North America and The Underwear Group, said in a statement at the time. It also said PVH Corp.’s The Underwear Group would expand its strong portfolio which includes Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Olga, Warner’s and True & Co.

The men’s underwear category was ripe for a tie-up with a sportswear company and their expertise in technical support, cleaning and fabrics. The new Nike jockstrap was the debut product to make a digital splash while illustrating how this traditional sports style has hit the mainstream.

Troy Daniels, @justcantstahp, says, “Nike has a jock because Calvin Klein released a jock. Calvin Klein manufacturers the underwear for Nike. So the question is actually why did Calvin Klein release a jockstrap?” he says.

“It’s because a cadre of homosexuals who work at the European Corporate Office saw the trend of niche jockstrap manufacturers exploding (Exterface, Bristle, Coyote, Darkroom, Jock, Bad Butt, Gizeppe, etc.) and thought that the world’s most identifiable underwear brand would be remiss not to have a jockstrap in their underwear portfolio. So blame it on the gays.” he says.

jockstrap goes mainstream Nike Calvin Klein Kust

If the branded jockstrap at Calvin Klein hadn’t proven to be so popular, then PVH Corp. wouldn’t have pushed it as one of the first products of the new Nike license. They would have gone for something far safer. Add the huge trend of male exhibitionism, on some social media channels, and its opportunity to showcase branded underwear, and you have a huge marketing opportunity.

The jock straps roots are in sports. Wikipedia states, “The jockstrap was invented in 1874 by C. F. Bennett of a Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp & Smith, to provide comfort and support for bicycle jockeys working the cobblestone streets of Boston. In 1897 Bennett's newly formed Bike Web Company patented and began mass-producing the Bike Jockey Strap.”

Jane Garner Co-Founder of Deadgoodundies.com, an online retailer stocking the best international brands of men's underwear and swimwear, selling to customers in more than 80 countries, says, “Deadgoodundies has always stocked jockstraps. Early on designs were mostly cotton, sporty and practical, but in recent years sexy, colourful and uplifting fashion jocks have taken over and proved very popular. With DGU customers, the smaller the underwear the more popular it will be.”

Right - Polish underwear brand, Kust

Regarding the Nike launch, Garner says, “We love any brand launch that encourages men to discover and try new underwear shapes, styles and fabrics. Male shoppers are not always the most adventurous when it comes to men's underwear choices. If a guy starts wearing jockstraps as everyday underwear, rather than purely for sport or exercise, they will start to seek out the best, most comfortable and most carefully shaped designs.

“In mainstream fashion there has been a strong trend towards sporty clothing, so maybe the jockstrap's increasing popularity is part of that - not that too many men will be discussing their new undies as much as a pair of hot trainers.” she says.

The jockstrap definitely taps into the ever present sportswear category and as such is styled by many brands with trainers, caps and sports socks to illustrate this link.

Jakub Stachowiak, Founder & Owner of Kust, www.kuststore.com, a cult Polish underwear brand based in Sopot and specialising in modern and sustainable underwear, says “We do sell jockstraps. It was always one of the bestseller since we launched in 2018. Our version is minimalistic, with a wider waistband, inspired by retro aesthetic and what’s most important made of sustainable, organic cotton. We are targeting millennial + customer, who is looking for minimalistic, well designed and premium quality products.

“As the jockstraps’ origins are from sports, this is kind of matching for NIKE. Most of the brands now have a jockstrap in their offer. It has only been a few years since it became more gay and a fetish product rather than sport underwear. So it really depend how you present it in your offer.” says Stachowiak.

Versace and Armani already have jock straps in their range. For a product that is pure branding and combines sex and near nudity, it is being picked up by an increasingly younger group of male fans, particularly amongst gay men. The Nike jockstrap taps into this market while making a step into the mainstream.

Alex,@retr0fag, says, “I think that the Nike jockstrap is probably most popular amongst gay men. Jockstraps have become a staple fashion item in most gay men's underwear collection. Sportswear brands are fetishised by gay men, so it figures that a Nike jockstrap would sell very well with gay guys.”

He says, “I’m not sure why Nike would release it, whether it was a clever marketing strategy or just worked out well by chance. Exhibitionism on the internet has become quite a normal thing, with many guys posing in their underwear. And all the guys posing in their Nike jocks has heightened the appeal and made it a desirable fashion item.”

Alex P, @notorious_twub, says, “I think it’s a good idea from Nike, they’ve obviously analysed the jock market and have realised that they’re very popular with gay men. It’s a great idea as Nike’s already a pillar brand and I’m kind of surprised that it’s taken this long.

jockstrap goes mainstream Nike Calvin Klein Kust

It’s kind of putting this predominantly gay thing, which is fetishised, and bringing it to the main stream and taking the jockstrap back to its sporty origin. I’m not sure what their angle is, if it was meant to be seen as this revolutionary moment to bring jocks to the heterosexual male as a sexual look, or if it’s capitalising on a product we already know sells well and just using Nike’s brand popularity to boost sales. I feel that it’s great that a major brand are getting behind it. It’ll definitely cause some waves in the underwear industry.” he says.

Left - Men's underwear brand, Charlie by MZ, showing the connection between contemporary sportswear & the jockstrap

One thing is certain, men now knows that Nike does men’s underwear even if they're not ready for the jockstrap style . While women have had sophisticated and sexy underwear for many years, men haven’t, or have felt embarrassed about it showing off. It was a choice of boring, mundane styles or tacky, fetish type underwear. This is being readdressed by niche underwear brands, like Charlie by MZ, Kvrt Stvff and Kust, offering provocative yet cool imagery which proves to be cat nip on social media channels. The large license partners and brands have seen this and want in. They are tapping into this demand, particularly amongst young gay men.

The jock strap is an opportunity for a brand to make a splash online, but looking at Calvin Klein’s continual expansion of its jockstrap range, it must be selling. They also wouldn’t have risked producing a product for a new license partner that they didn’t think would sell well.

Thanks to social media, there is an increasing trend in demand for sexier underwear for men. By linking it back to sports will appeal to a broader range of guys. The jockstrap is now a must-have addition in any brand's underwear category. Expect brands like Tom Ford and adidas to follow.

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Published in Comment
Wednesday, 04 November 2020 13:23

ChicGeek Comment How Will Fashion Wake?

how will fashion wake post covidHibernation, coma, mothballed; however you want to label it, fashion would have been in a very deep sleep before all of this is over. Even if we’re being optimistic, and life returns to a sense of normality in the spring, it would have been nearly a full year of disruption. Fashion would continue to be affected well into 2021, without fashion and trade shows in at that time to show AW22 and and we would be not fully back to normal until spring 2022 at the earliest, when the fashion cycle would have resumed.

Left - Sleeping Beauty woke up to something good, but what about fashion?

In the classic fairytale, when the princess was cursed to sleep for a hundred years she was awakened by a handsome prince, but what will be waiting for ‘fashion’ and what state or style will it be in?

Let’s recap where we were at the beginning of this disaster. All the Kering brands - Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga - were flying. Gucci was slowing but still steaming ahead and was hopeful on becoming the world’s largest luxury brand. Bottega Veneta was gaining momentum and hype was translating into sales.

At LVMH, Louis Vuitton was still the major cash cow, Dior seemed to be doing well in sales rather than critical success and Celine was doing a stealth commercialism which, I’m sure, was being reflected in sales and exactly what Slimane was hired for and what he did previously at Saint Laurent. The main style was a mix of Gucci’s dress-up maximalism and embellishment and contemporary sportswear based on fugly chunky trainers and overpriced loungewear.

So, what can we predict for the future?

It might be worth casting an eye back in history. We’re told by the Bank of England boffins that this will be biggest recession in 300 years. Based on the bank's own best estimate and historical data, the coronavirus crisis could push the British economy into the fastest and deepest recession not seen since the huge economic slump of 1706 and the Great Frost of 1709. This was a baroque period at the beginning of Georgian Britain when fashion designers became more recognisable and fashion magazines appeared for the first time. While we’re too far away to know the minutiae of hemline changes, but it was certainly the beginning of a new era of British style and design.

The most popular comparison has been with Spanish Flu in 1918-19. After that came the Roaring Twenties, one of the most modern and dynamic decades of the 20th century. After WWII we got Christian Dior’s New Look. And while it was a feminine look back, it propelled fashion forward into the next decade and was hugely influential.

China luxury fashion gdp

The troubles of the 1970s gave us punk and the recession of the early 90s was reflected in American Grunge.

The most recent 2008 financial crash was all about the rise of China, and, undoubtedly, the growth in billon dollar brands and the associated logos and status.

Right - GDP growth of the world's three biggest economies - USA, Japan & China

While this is all simplistic, it offers some form of hope.

During the 20th century many economists cited the 'Hemline Theory'. It being the current fashion’s skirt length are a predictor of stock market direction. According to the theory, if short skirts are growing in popularity, it means the markets are going to go up.

Probably lucky everybody is wearing tracksuits right now.

And then there’s the ‘Lipstick Effect’, which is when consumers still spend money on small indulgences during recessions, economic downturns. For this reason, companies that benefit from the lipstick effect tend to be resilient even during economic downturns.

Market research firm Kline found evidence for the lipstick effect through four recessions from 1973 to 2001. Though during the financial crisis of 2008 lipstick sales dipped disproving this theory. Add a face mask and it doesn’t look like lipstick sales will be picking up anytime soon...

So, where does that leave any predictions post-COVID?

Here goes:

1) China will dominate even more. GDP Annual Growth Rate in China averaged 9.23 percent from 1989 until 2020. China’s gross domestic product expanded by 4.9 percent over the third quarter of 2020 on rising trade and consumption. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is “putting China’s economy back toward its pre-coronavirus trajectory half a year after the pandemic gutted its economy.” Brands are using China and Asia to currently support their businesses and as such more products will be tailored to these markets. China will fuel the growth in ‘Power Brands’ owned by the big groups and events like the Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition opening in Shanghai, following its success in Paris and London, will help to further educate and create this branding magic within this market.

2) Fashion will be more woke when it wakes, but the progress we were making on greening fashion will slow as many firms fight for survival and any expensive new initiatives will be put on the back burner. This is a fight for survival so we’ll see inexpensive greenwashing.

3) We’ll see a whole raft of new start-ups in the middle of next year, to launch later on that year, or in 2022. Many will be kitchen table brands with a strong and individual personality behind them.

4) Local will continue to be a focus and we’ll see more ‘luxury’ Bond Street type brands consider smaller stores in affluent neighbourhoods and design them in a less international and generic style and more of the locale.

5) They’ll be a slower reaction to the bad quality of most ‘luxury’ fashion, which will further fuel ‘fast fashion’.

On a purely aesthetic level, will people continue to want the escapist approach from brands like Gucci and what we saw during the glam 1970s downturn, or will we see a more austere and minimal look mirroring the rise in unemployment and shrinking of people’s disposable incomes? Well just have to see. Whatever happens it can't be too literal or obvious. The consumer is more sophisticated than that.

Fashion is too big now to follow the dictatorial approach of hemlines and lipsticks theories of the previous century. But, what is positive is the desire for consumption. That hasn't gone anyway. While remaining, big brands will try and monopolise for a while, we’ll see fast growing start-ups, from the most unexpected of places, give them a run for their money in a less competitive landscape which will have plenty of scope for growth due to brands disappearing.

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Diagou reseller DiorDespite the unprecedented turbulence in the world’s retail markets the luxury conglomerates reported strong bounce back results this month. Both LVMH and Kering, two of the world’s largest luxury goods groups, reported extremely strong sales in the third quarter of 2020.

Left - Dior AW20 - Many luxury brands no longer have limits on how much people can buy

Considering many people aren’t even leaving the house, letting alone travelling, it was surprising to see that LVMH saw sales at its fashion and leather goods division rise 12 per cent to €5.9 billion. This was much higher than market expectations and saw standout performances from the Louis Vuitton and Dior houses. The LVMH results said Christian Dior “showed remarkable momentum.” while Louis Vuitton “continued to display exceptional momentum and creativity”.

Kering too reported better than expected results. Revenue in the third quarter totalled €3.72 billion, a fall of 4.3 per cent, but representing only a decline of 1.2 per cent in comparable terms. This represented a sharp rebound after second-quarter comparable sales had plunged by 43.7 per cent.

Kering’s main cash cow, Gucci, saw revenues rise sharply in the third quarter, compared with Q2, with revenue only down 12.1 per cent, whilst retail sales were down 4 per cent on a comparable basis. Gucci reported a 43.7 per cent rise in North America and a 10.6 per cent growth in Asia-Pacific. LVMH too saw strong spending and growth in Asia and the US.

What could be behind this huge recovery surge?

Luxury companies always had a good ‘problem' in the Chinese phenomenon of ‘Daigou’. Daigou or 'Surrogate Shopping' is a term used to describe the cross-border exporting in which an individual or a syndicated group of exporters outside China purchases commodities for customers in China. Often these are luxury goods from big-name designer houses. The main reason Diagou exists is because of the price differential in the Chinese market and buying abroad is often far cheaper even after the middle men take their cut. There is a huge amount of money to be made because of the volumes and value of the goods.

Many luxury companies tried to limit the amounts sold to Diagou so as to preserve their exclusivity and not flood the market. Rarity and scarcity naturally make things more desirable. But, it appears that some of the biggest fashion houses have opened the floodgates to these buyers and organisations, no longer limiting the amounts they can purchase. Having buyers queuing up and wanting to buy as much as you can give them looks like a temptation few brands could resist as they saw their sales fall off a cliff due to COVID 19.

At the end of 2018 it was announced that Kering was ending its joint venture with Yoox Net-a-Porter and taking charge of the e-commerce for its brands including Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta. The partnership was slated for renewal in 2020, by which time Kering’s digital operation, which looked after Gucci separately, would have, hopefully, matured to an advanced level.

Diagou reseller Dior

While many of the world’s busiest luxury streets have been quiet since the beginning of 2020, Kering has been using its stores to process online orders rather than its warehouse in Bologna, as it had done previously.

Right - Diagou sending Dior gifts to China?

These ‘distance sales’ are up 25 to 30 per cent throughout the group and, according to an unnamed source, they are now letting the Korean and Chinese Diagou traders buy everything they want.

“The fact that the traders are now allowed to get what they want definitely helps those brands. Even at Dior, they can buy without restrictions now.” they say.

“Some companies do it everywhere. Particularly Louis Vuitton. And Dior. For the Kering Group, before the confinement, they had vague procedures that were changing depending on what items were selling. For example, for whatever reasons, some stores were selling huge amounts of the same item (usually cheaper leather goods with a logo, like pouches). When that happened, some accounts were flagged by the directors. There is a system at Kering called ‘Luce’ where you can see who bought a particular item. Every time, a trader would come, the sales assistant had to check their purchase history.

"At one point, they also checked that the credit card they use matched their profile name. (Companies would send different people who would all use the same company card. That was flagged during audits). After the confinement, every company has relaxed the procedures. I know some traders and they told me that for instance, at Gucci or Moncler, there are no limits on items purchased.

“Even Dior doesn’t do limits of items anymore. Although I hear that Louis Vuitton and Goyard still check accounts. At Saint Laurent, there is a limit of 3 of the same item per transaction. (But they can come every day and buy 3 items - they couldn’t do that before). I understand it is happening everywhere. Also, brands like Dior have resumed doing export sales. But Saint Laurent still refuse export sales unless the client has a good reason (if there is no store in their country that carries what they want to buy). It used to be a huge market for the brands until about 2 years ago when they decided to stop it all ‘to protect the markets in Asia and the Middle East’ mostly.”

Export sales are by a foreign buyer asking for it to be shipped to their territory from a store overseas. The Korean and Chinese traders often buy closer to home in other Asian markets. The Koreans are now the biggest traders selling into China.

“When they used to call stores and ask for an export sale, they would be able to have the VAT off and the European price.” says the source.

Many Daigou are or work with sales staff, using their staff discount as an extra price differential. But, it is not really possible anymore at some brands, like YSL, because they've put a limit on staff purchases. However, the limits are not imposed throughout the Kering group and Gucci doesn’t have limits. I regularly see or hear of people buying the same products. The directors have started to flag it.” says the source.

“One would think the procedures would be the same throughout the group, but it varies drastically and depends on the CEO/ Director’s decision. There are so many odd decisions though. For instance, I heard that Gucci had cancelled the VIP discounts ... which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Diagou reseller YSL China Chinese consumer Covid luxury brandsThere are limits in the stores but not online for Kering.... which is beyond stupid. Again, something that doesn’t make sense.

“At Kering, there is a separate online system called 'Sellsy' which is like ordering online, but through the store stock. The directors can check the accounts and stop some people from buying (if they suspect that it is for resale), but the traders can call the stores (if they cannot find items in the website) and use a different name. The credit card used cannot be checked by the stores.” says the source.

Left - Saint Laurent AW20

“Although they are starting to check the accounts again. I heard that one Korean trader got flagged and is not allowed to buy anymore. But I am sure he still does.... using various names. Some clients have more than a dozen profiles.... with same email but variations of their name. Quite surreal.” the source says.

Speaking to a Diagou reseller in China, via WeChat, they say they have direct cooperation with many of the brands, but nothing is ever ‘official’. Louis Vuitton is the best seller, followed by Dior, then Gucci. They say that COVID 19 has forced the luxury goods companies into this loose cooperation. 

As for the end consumer, “Most of the clients don’t know anything about luxury. They just want to show off”. says the owner of the Diagou store on WeChat. “They don’t even have passports.”

Asked which products were most in demand at the moment and from which brands. “Every season is different. Which one is best depends how we promote.” they say.

Diagou buy and then export the goods themselves with their commission priced in. It will be interesting how the UK Tax Free shopping changes - Read more here - alters things for Daigou buying in the UK. But, then, the vast majority of reselling sales are made in more localised markets to China, hence the huge uplift in Asia.

What it does signify is the continued huge demand for named luxury goods. Which is a good sign for the industry overall.

Daigou has always been a game of cat and mouse for the brands. In one respect, this great demand is flattering for any brand, but they also want to be extremely protective of their image and how their goods are sold. COVID 19 was a massive jolt for any business and it’s understandable why many brands panicked and became more relaxed about knowingly selling to Daigou for resale into China. It could explain some of the huge bounce back in Q3 sales.

COVID created a vacuum and distorted the balance between buyer and seller. The luxury brands have turned the taps on for the Daigou market. Just don’t expect them to be on for too long.

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