The CFDA started talking to people in January. I was one of the 50 industry insiders who were invited to come in for a formal interview with the Boston Consulting Group and share my thoughts on the future of New York Fashion Week. And the results of the study are finally in. Steven Kolb wrote in his thank you note that the unanimous consensus is that “the time is ripe for change. The Fashion Week as it was known for decades is at the beginning of a seismic shift. ‘In-season relevancy’ emerged as a recurring idea. Additionally, the delivery cycle at retail emerged as a paramount issue that needs to be addressed.”
The complete study is revealed below and on cfda.com:
“The responsibility of the CFDA is to provide information to help designers decide what is right for them, alleviate the pressure and give them the freedom to allocate their resources in a way that is best for them,” said Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA.
New York Fashion Week opens the season of global Fashion Weeks. Its purpose is for designers to show their upcoming collections, for press to review those collections and for buyers to place orders. Many American designers will continue to take orders from buyers in London, Milan and Paris during subsequent weeks. These collections are then delivered to stores and available for consumers to buy four to six months later.
In recent years, evolutions in technology, consumer behaviors, weather, and retail cycle have challenged the role and impact of the current fashion system:
- Technology has made fashion shows – originally mostly trade events – accessible to a vastly larger audience in real time, amplifying excitement around designs up to six months before the product is available.
- Deliveries have been pulled forward, resulting in more misalignment with the actual, physical season, triggering early markdowns and reduced full-price selling, and furthering consumer confusion.
- Several designers and retailers observed two significant consumer trends impacting business: the rise of a “buy now, wear now” consumer behavior, and an accelerated adoption – and also accelerated fatigue – of trends and designs.
- Fast Fashion brands have gained the ability to deliver interpretations of designs to retail before the actual designer collections that inspired them.
As the organization representing American designers and the organizer of the official New York Fashion Week schedule, it is CFDA’s responsibility to evaluate the purpose of New York Fashion Week. The intent of the CFDA study undertaken with The Boston Consulting Group in January was to question the status quo for our market, bring up all the issues, and stimulate a dialogue in the American fashion industry; it is a first step to then move towards long-term solutions together.
Over the past six weeks, more than 50 fashion industry stakeholders, mostly in the U.S., were formally interviewed by The Boston Consulting Group, and dozens more informal conversations have taken place. Of those formal interviews, 20 were designers or fashion executives, 8 wholesalers and online retailers, and 15 editors of both traditional and new media. The remaining 7 included show organizers, casting agents, fashion bloggers, and international fashion trade organizations.
‘In-season relevancy’ emerged as a recurring idea: although brands still have to show their upcoming collections to press and buyers in the most inspiring way several months before deliveries, there is an opportunity to alleviate the pressure to have large-scale presentations / shows and potentially re-allocate resources and budget to activate sales when collections are delivered to stores and available online. Multiple formats, locations and timing could be considered for these in-season activations.
In fact, several U.S., U.K. and other designers have tested this idea this past February. Rebecca Minkoff showed in-season clothes at New York Fashion Week, and Tom Ford and Burberry announced a similar approach with men’s and women’s at the same time. Michael Kors, Proenza Schouler, Lela Rose, Theory, Tory Burch, and several other brands featured a selection of clothes immediately available for sale.
Although ‘in-season relevancy’ was a recurring idea, the study also highlighted a diversity of opinions on the topic, and future approaches are likely to be brand-specific with regards to tier and in-house strategy. The CFDA encourages designers to evaluate what is best for their brand, and will support innovation and experimentation.
Beyond fashion shows, the delivery cycle and subsequent markdown cadence at retail emerged as a critical issue that needs to be addressed in our market to better match the actual, physical season and our consumers’ behaviors and needs. The CFDA will create working groups to continue this dialogue between designers and retailers.
Interviewees were given the opportunity to express their thoughts about the current system, what they would ideally change as well as their industry and brand visions for the future. Interviewee-led solutions were explored and tested by interviewers for support, differences, and operational / logistical details.
[Note that given the size of the industry sample (50 formal interviews) the results from these interviews are qualitative directional only: we are showing visual exhibits in order to facilitate interpretation.]
THREE KEY CHALLENGES IN THE CURRENT SYSTEM EMERGED CONSISTENTLY ACROSS THE INTERVIEWS
• Perceived “early” deliveries and markdowns hurting full-price sales: The race to earlier deliveries and therefore markdowns is leading to merchandise at retail that is seen as increasingly out of sync with the physical season, while our consumers are looking to buy clothes closer to when they need it. This results in retailers and brands failing to capitalize on “see now, wear now” consumer trends as well as in-season clothes’ being on markdowns during relevant time / season, hurting full-price sales potential.
• A decreasing perception of newness: Technology and social media have rewired the fashion system as everyone knows it. Shows no longer just reach retail, industry insiders, and press. Images and livestreams from shows are accessible worldwide in real time, exposing consumers to designs months before they are available for purchase and providing sufficient time for so-called Fast Fashion brands to manufacture and deliver such trends. Even for industry segments and brands not directly challenged by Fast Fashion interpretations, this contributes to the ubiquity of trends and designs. As a result – as our interviewees saw it – trends and designs can seem out-of-date or stale by the time they reach stores, causing general consumer confusion and fatigue and ultimately hurting designer full-price retail.
• The danger of designer creative burnout: The confusion of the fashion cycle, coupled with the increased importance and complexity of pre-collections, leaves less time for the creative process and artisanship and puts immense pressure on critical design and creative talent. Our interviewees expressed a desire for a future system that creates more structural, predictable downtime for design and creative talent.
A CLEAR CALL FOR CHANGE
As a result of the collective experiences of our industry participants, the CFDA believes it is time to open up new ideas for New York Fashion Week to be more relevant and alleviate the pressure for designers and brands to conform to a singular model. Future approaches to New York Fashion Week should:
• Celebrate and protect the creativity of U.S. designers and brands • Put product and designers’ big ideas back at the center
• Keep consumers top of mind
• Act as the platform for brands to build a global brand image
• Generate excitement in our market among retailers, press, and consumers around fashion • Help emerging designers grow their brands and businesses
POTENTIAL MODELS FOR THE FUTURE
‘In-season relevancy’ emerged as a recurring idea in the study, with various tactical configurations, including the following model: More intimate retail / press appointments or presentations 4-6 months before deliveries, with an option to then have in-season activations when collections are delivered to stores and available online for sale.
• Keep retail and press appointments / presentations as the culmination of the design process to allow buyers to place orders and provide long-lead press with original content early enough, but make them more intimate and exclusive:
- » Presentations will convey the creative tone and themes of a collection for the traditional fashion industry with a focus on the products, designer big ideas, and story-telling. Editors and buyers interviewed expressed they do not need all the ‘bells and whistles’ for these presentations.
- » Designers will likely need to implement measures to control the amount of released images.
- » The timing is aligned to allow for production and long-lead press placement, without compressingcurrent manufacturing timelines.
• Consider creating bi-annual, in-season consumer-relevant activations during or after New York Fashion Week around the main and pre-collections to be delivered to stores immediately and for the next several months:
- » It is up to designers and brands to decide if they want to re-allocate resources and budget to create in-season activations, and what format(s) would best fit and serve their brand.
- » An “in-season event” does not have to be a traditional runway show, nor does it have to feature only “shoppable” looks. While the clothes are at the center, designers may choose to show an artistic or lifestyle interpretation of the collection.
- » Similarly, “consumer-relevant” does not have to mean having consumers as guests at the show. Examples could range from digital campaigns to small parties / events, to short films, to large-scale, high-production entertainment shows.
- » In-season activations do not necessarily need to happen during New York Fashion Week. Alternative locations and timing could be considered based on the brand. For example, Tom Ford brought his Fall 2015 runway show to Los Angeles on Oscars weekend.
- » Partnership — e.g., between designers / brands and retailers — or multi-brand models could be developed that would promote younger designers.
Benefits of this idea for Brands, Retailers and Press:
- Brands: Boost full-price selling and increase return on investment; free up more time for designers to focus on creativity, inspiration and developing products between the two Fashion Weeks; limit the ability of Fast Fashion to imitate original designs
- Retailers: Increase the perceived newness as deliveries will be timed closer to consumer need (see ‘shift in delivery timing’) and marketed to the public at the same time; provide the ability to leverage New York Fashion Week to increase traffic, develop special experiences for top customers; explore opportunities for collaboration with designers, especially emerging designers
- Press: Create timely and relevant content for readers; increase relevance of advertising and ability to measure return on marketing spend for both traditional and new mediaThis model does not imply any compression or compromise in the manufacturing lead time or additional inventory risks. However, it has implications that each brand would need to assess to make a decision:
- Brands would have to think about the right format of retail / press appointments and in-season events to be more consumer-relevant, while protecting designer creativity.
- They would have to adjust their logistics and resource allocation during New York Fashion Week to manage the in-season activation as well as the retail / press appointments or presentation for the next collection.
- Brands also need to rethink their press strategy around both retail and press appointments and in-season activations.
This model is not the only way to think about the in-season relevancy idea: a hybrid model also emerged, that maintains the current timing but includes ‘capsule collections’ available immediately for increased “shoppability.”
- Main show would still be the culmination of the design / creative process but include a capsule collection available for sale immediately with brands taking appropriate inventory risk.
- This idea was particularly preferred by luxury and select accessible luxury participants.
- Benefits: addressing the demand for more immediacy with the capsule while keeping the show at the culmination of the design process and still building excitement for the future collections. This would avoid the potential complexity of decoupling the trade event from the consumer-relevant event.Although variations on ‘in-season’ relevance were the predominant ideas, alternative ideas were also suggested, such as merging men’s and women’s shows, merging design for main and pre-collections or moving retail / press appointments or in-season activations to pre-collection timing (December, June).Ultimately, it is up to the brands to decide what works best for them, and the CFDA will support designers as they experiment and define what is right for their collections.
THINKING BEYOND FASHION SHOWS: SHIFTING THE DELIVERY DATES
Beyond New York Fashion Week and fashion shows, the majority of people interviewed highlighted the need to rethink the delivery cadence to better match the actual, physical season and boost full-price selling. To achieve the goal, retailers and brands need to engage in a targeted dialogue. Topics for discussion include:
- Retailers shifting their delivery calendars later
- Designers thinking about the optimal cadence and content of deliveries, with the right balance between: seasonless items; “buy now, wear now” items; and products shipped in advance to create excitement, scarcity, and desire
- The industry considering a more structural shift of New York retail appointments / showroomsTHE CFDA’S ROLE IN THE CHANGEThe CFDA will support designers as they define what is right for their brands.
The CFDA will:
- Continue the dialogue between designers, brands, retailers, editors and influencers
- Liaise with international fashion councils on our market: the British Fashion Council, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode
- Launch working groups to continue the dialogue as the industry evolves
- Organize the schedule of both trade and consumer-relevant shows / presentation through a retooled New York Fashion Calendar
The CFDA will also help designers who are interested in transitioning to a new format. Support could include the following:
• The CFDA has developed a guide book to help designers make the transition and mitigate some potential risks or concerns expressed by interviewees; it will be released on CFDA.com within the next two weeks as designers start planning for September New York Fashion Week.
• The CFDA will monitor designer / brand experimentations and disseminate sharable case studies for collective industry learning.
• The CFDA is also looking at providing a turn-key solution for emerging designers who wish to show with consumer relevancy. The CFDA may partner with online retailers, social media outlets, production partners and / or content creators to feature emerging designers who may not otherwise have enough resources for in-season activations.
Designers interested in experimenting with new formats can reach out to the CFDA to further discuss potential options. **
There was an overall consensus on the need for change, specifically for exploring new models for New York Fashion Week and the timing of retail deliveries.
The study highlighted a diversity of opinions with regard to specific solutions, which is expected of an industry rooted in creativity, individuality, innovation and inspiration.
The purpose of a fashion show depends on the brand maturity, the brand tier (e.g., contemporary, accessible luxury to luxury), the product focus (e.g., accessories vs. ready-to-wear), target consumers, share of wholesale vs. retailer business, and the level of digital influence in the business. Therefore, it is up to each designer and brand to define what is best.
While the CFDA will not promote only one specific idea at this time, it was imperative to bring out all the issues. It will encourage designers to try and experiment with new concepts and will foster continued conversations on the topic through stakeholder meetings, panel conversations, and workshops throughout the year. The CFDA owns the New York Fashion Calendar and will accommodate all types of shows and events and continue to support all designers regardless of how and when they show.