Radical Social Measures Have Flipped Fashion Retail on its Head

Photo by Simon Launay on Unsplash

Thousands of businesses across Australasia and the rest of the world are being forced into indefinite closure. Some owner-operators have lost their entire livelihoods, and unable to see the wood through the trees are shutting shop for good. The loss of income and cash flow for an unforeseen amount of time is not only scary but also completely unsustainable.

The loss of jobs at all levels within the fashion industry — from design, production, and the supply chain are far-reaching. The ‘coronavirus economy’ has permeated every corner of the industry. Not only are local brick and mortar boutiques buckling, but department stores and retail giants are too.

I work, let me rephrase — I did work (up until two weeks ago) in fashion wholesale in Melbourne, Australia, selling women’s clothing to hundreds of independently owned fashion retail outlets across Australia and New Zealand. And now I, like many workers Australia wide and globally, have lost work due to the extreme social restrictions that have come into place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This sudden departure from regular life as I knew it, crept up ominously quickly.

Confusion and uncertainty are rife, and I feel personally devastated by the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and the countless economic casualties because of it. After scouring many sources in the online space, on the very real and raw struggles that fashion retailers are facing right now, I wanted to offer up some practical advice and hopefully some encouragement to stay on the path of perseverance.

Consistent communication with your customers is crucial

Transparency with businesses’ supply chains and modus operandi is now more imperative than ever before. Identify and utilise your customers preferred social channels to reach them at this time. Your customers are looking for a thread of what life looked like before the global Coronavirus pandemic. You can use this time to promote stories of kindness and compassion, humour and joy — reinforcing the spirit of solidarity. If your business already has a sound e-commerce channel established, then ensure your order and returns procedures are as seamless as possible. Your customers will remember how you chose to act during this time. Were you flexible with your returns policy? Or were you shamelessly trying to plug new products without a second thought? Be tactful, smart, and creative. And most importantly — continue to show empathy through all of your communications with them.

Ask your customers to maintain their relationship with you. Keep up your weekly social media posts or email newsletters (although the subject matter may be different). Yes, the economy is slowing down, but it’s still important to remind your customers you intend to be in business for the long haul and are prepared to stay the course. By demonstrating your strength and perseverance, you, in turn, encourage them to do the same.

What does solidarity between retailers and their customers look like at this time?

As all of society retreats inside for the foreseeable future, for many the idea of purchasing ‘non-essential’ items, such as clothing, is at the very bottom of their expenditure list. For others who are still working in industries which remain relatively unaffected by the Coronavirus crisis (for now), may find themselves in a position where they have more disposable cash; due to less social outings and cultural experiences.

When speaking with friends who still find themselves in the privileged position of employment, I have discovered that they are still willing to inject some of their precious, yet precarious paychecks back into the dwindling economy. Independent retailers were already competing with online giants, chain and department store conglomerates — who are perpetually in discount mode. Supporting local designers and local boutiques where possible, must be the prerogative. Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times writes…

“Shopping now is as much a moral as a consumer question. Where you spend your money matters. Before you buy, think: What is this about? It could be about helping save a generation of small designers and independent businesses.”

Buying directly from a local designer, as opposed to a behemoth multi-chain, means the money goes directly toward the designer, and their overheads — providing them with crucial cash-flow. Buying from independent, small and medium-sized businesses is one small way to keep a part of the fashion ecosystem alive.

All challenging times present an opportunity to innovate and use resourcefulness beyond what we may have ever thought was possible

I’ve worked for several local and international fashion brands over the past 5 + years in Australia, all of whom I have seen succumb to the mercy of the fickle and forever changing world of fashion. What has become most evident to me is that the brands and businesses that have survived the unsteady and competitive times are the ones who were game enough to take a chance and change the way they operated. The retailers and designers who managed to stay ahead of the curve (or at least, even on the curve) closely monitored what their customers’ changing habits and demands were, and then adapted and innovated to meet those new demands; or better yet — pre-empt what their customers would want next.

“Necessity is the Mother of Reinvention”– Doug Stephens (Retail Futurist)

In my most recent experience working in wholesale fashion, the major reason for the agency’s rapid upward trajectory was due to a change in its supply model. Around 3 + years ago, the agency moved away from primarily offering its retailers traditional ‘made-to-order’(indent) buying and refocused on in-season ‘stock’ buying. This enabled retailers to be more reactive and responsive in an unpredictable and fickle retail environment. In-season buying from a pool of available stock eliminates some of the usual risks associated with traditional ‘made to order’ buying; whereby retailers would take a punt on bestsellers, 6 months ahead of delivery. This old mode of operation had become increasingly challenging for wholesalers and retailers alike, due to the uncertainty of extreme weather changes and the fast-fashion, trend-driven mentality of consumers. Stock buying for delivery within the same week alleviates the guesswork for confused retailers and eliminates some of the financial burden and stress that has long overshadowed the retail industry.

“Commerce doesn’t have to die; it can be used as a time of reinvention if they (retailers) start to think creatively about it.” Doug Stephens

Businesses that already have a sound e-commerce platform established, will absorb the impact of this tumultuous time more easily than those who do not. Unfortunately, the reality is that many ‘traditional’ retailers have built their businesses entirely upon face-to-face customer service. This is how they have always done business and let’s face it — would never have envisioned the now desperate need to operate so differently. Retail futurist Doug Stephens, on the BoF (Business of Fashion) podcast, has commented that retailers and fashion brands alike, MUST use this time wisely and consider it a time for ‘reinvention’. If you don’t have an online platform or a strong social media presence — then start building one!

Consumer behaviour is not normal right now and may never return to the ‘normal’ we once knew it to be. Therefore; how retailers choose to now position themselves and their offering is more important than ever. Continue to think up new alternatives, be creative with this time. How can you offer your key customers value?

Reposition your products as more ‘essential’, emphasise and push product that you know will be most beneficial and suitable for your customers’ current ‘stay-at-home’ lifestyle. Yes, this means pausing on promoting event dressing and cocktail attire (obviously). Your customers still want to maintain a sense of normalcy and they may choose to do this with their day-to-day dressing and grooming. This is why we are currently seeing a surge in the athleisure fashion sector. Many of your customers are still working from home and running daily, albeit brief, errands. Refocus your offering if possible, to more readily appeal to your customers’ current way-of-life.

The power of perseverance

In his post ‘The Power of Being Perseverant for your Vision’ — Kaan Demiryurek discusses the importance of not losing sight of your vision, not losing sight of the belief and drive that you once felt so strongly towards achieving whatever it is you first set out to achieve.

The Dictionary defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties.”

Embrace the struggle, the hardship and use it as fuel to keep on pushing beyond what you may have ever thought was possible. With a reframing of perspective, you may just see another avenue of potential, yet to be explored.

Mitigating some of the Coronavirus effects

Marc-Andre Kamel & Joelle de in ‘Defending Retail Against the Coronavirus’ recommend assessing the risk of any forward deliveries; of your stock being delayed or cancelled entirely, due to extreme stress on supply chains. It is wise to seek out new local suppliers, who do still have stock on hand, should you be required to act swiftly when things eventually do pick-up again. Early seasonal mark-downs are unavoidable at this time and this is a loss that must be factored in when deducing your bottom line.

They also suggest that the lessons and new experiences gained during this time of crisis can serve as a type of blueprint for future external shakeups.

On a positive, but realistic note, Oxford Economics predicts the following global outlook:

“The near-term outlook is extremely challenging. But we believe that — consistent with historical experience — the eventual resurgence will be strong, with annual growth next year rising as high as 5% in early 2021 and averaging 4.4% for the year.”

Continue to nurture your customer relationships, paying close attention to the ones who supported you throughout this time. Ensure you take care of and support your professional team and personnel as best you can. Your team members and the people you do business with will remember your actions and communication, beyond this time.

“This is a defining leadership moment. Embrace the challenge, take decisive actions that put people first, show empathy, overcommunicate and empower the team around you.” Marc-Andre Kamel & Joelle de

Circumstances may be spiralling beyond our control. However; we do still have control over our thoughts and our actions. We are being asked to dig especially deep right now. Don’t lose your creativity, your spark, your love of culture and all things that make us uniquely human.

Fashion has always represented a wonderful outlet for freedom of creative expression. Humans — your customers, will return to that intrinsic desire to partake in the art of dressing, not only out of necessity but also for fun again. It is important to remember that life will eventually return to normal; it will just be dressed as a new kind of ‘normal’.

Stay brave and stay sane.

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Freelance SEO copywriter at New Copy | www.newcopy.co.nz

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ninacorleison

ninacorleison

Freelance SEO copywriter at New Copy | www.newcopy.co.nz

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