What you need to know about fashion buying
The fashion industry is definitely facing a turning point, sustainability continues to grow from strength to strength and the latest voice to defend slow fashion is none other than Giorgio Armani.
Earlier this month, the renowned Italian designer wrote an open letter to WWD expressing his discontentment with the overproduction of clothing and the rhythm of the commercial fashion seasons.
"It's bizarre that in winter there are only linen dresses in stores, and in summer jackets made of alpaca wool (...) Who buys a garment and then leaves it in the closet for months, waiting for the right season? This mindset is wrong and must change.” Giorgio Armani
Presented last year with the Outstanding Achievement Award in London, Armani took the lead and announced his summer collections will remain in the shops, at least until the beginning of September.
Giorgio Armani with Julia Roberts and Cate Blanchett at the British Fashion Awards 2019
A good way of understanding how the current fashion system works is by looking at fashion buying. It may sound a glamorous role, attending fashion shows in the most sought-after capitals of the world, selecting what to order, basically getting paid to shop…
This was how I saw it before doing a short course on fashion buying and merchandising at The London College of Fashion a few years ago.
At first glance it does seem like a tempting career path, but the truth is, the buyer has one main aim: to sell as many garments as possible and achieve high profit margins on each product.
It’s a highly numerical role, and one of the major aspects of the buyer’s work is dealing with garment suppliers, often overseas where labour costs are much lower, negotiating prices and delivery dates.
The fashion industry traditionally splits the year into two main seasons: spring/summer and autumn/winter, but the highly competitive fashion business requires a frequent injection of merchandise, resulting in stores introducing new products as often as twice a month.
The buyer constantly reviews sales figures to build upon for predicting trends for future seasons, deciding to run one or more versions of a best selling style.
The performance of a range is often associated by comparing current sales figures to those in the same period during the previous year.
There are also specialised trend forecasting publications and agencies to serve as indicators of what customers may be more inclined to buy in the future.
More and more data is available about customers, particularly online, not only demographic but also psychographic: lifestyle, type of employment, family aspects, type of housing, typical holiday locations, likes, dislikes…
Seasonal sales are held in order to clear stocks for the new season merchandise. Most items in sales tend to be a style where the buyer has overestimated the order quantity or price.
What doesn’t sell goes back into the head office, which distributes it to outlets, sample sales and in the worst case scenario sends it to a landfill or an incineration facility.
Fashion buying is undoubtedly an educated guess-work. Yes, it’s great to slow down fashion and have the current season in store, but what if the fashion cycles would be totally disrupted?
Nowadays, anyone can watch fashion shows live on their phone, what if production was based on direct customers orders instead of a buyers guess-work? That would considerably reduce waste and safeguard the planet!
There are already direct to consumer and made to order fashion businesses, but they are an exception to the rule. Could they be the norm in the future? If people love something, they’re willing to wait for it. After all, the best bags and restaurants in the world have a long waiting list…