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Beyond the Bale : December 2016
Predictions about the fashion industry are as plentiful as flies in an Australian summer, and often as distracting. One thing that is clear to most observers though, is that there is a tangible change in consumer behaviour, both in the way they weigh up buying decisions and also how they consume information. Some of the sentiment drivers of this are macro and global that we are unable to influence. That includes factors as diverse as Brexit market wobbles, the uncertainty about the US election, changes in climatic patterns, wildly oscillating currency fluctuations, and the demise of the conspicuous consumer mentality, to name just a few. However, other issues such as changes in the ways consumers evaluate product, increasing fibre performance knowledge, a plethora of available channels to market, a desire for return to authentic products, wholesaler- model challenges and a drive to value we do have to be aware of, and we do need to actively help our brand partners manage. Traditional models are challenged. We now see direct from runway to store collections, a conflation of men’s and women’s lines and a headlong rush to the highly-competitive athleisure space from the fashion houses and designers facing declining sales in traditional segments. We also see retailers challenged by an always-on-sale mentality and a breakdown of the traditional die-hard designer allegiances. People shop around. They mix and match the high-end with the mass-merchant, the new with the vintage. We see designers hopping fashion house to fashion house in an attempt for competitive differentiation and creative license. We are deluged with stories of retailers reducing store numbers or folding entirely depending on their level of management expertise and/ or depth of their pockets. In a recent conversation with a leading fashion house here in Paris, the head of the company opined that the consumer driver mix had changed to where now the quality, value and authenticity of the product are the key differentiators and the designer name a secondary consideration... and this opinion from a designer himself. Sacre bleu – how dare they do this! Hard times for the old school design aficionados indeed. Consumers vote with their wallet as well as their heart. So as our potential brand partners change their approach, we as an enabler of wool consumption need to adapt our marketing approach accordingly. We have to be more agile and nimbler as selling seasons truncate and clients want products to market in increasingly rapid production cycles. We have to be more innovative in our product and process supply chain as brands demand the newest and most functional fibres for their lines. We have to be more creative in the way we tell the fibre story to consumers eager to make sustainable buying decisions. We need to manage an increasingly complex digital landscape where consumers want to marry emotionally-charged attention-grabbing multi-media content with the opportunity for immediate purchase and resulting instant gratification. We also operate in a world of celebrity ascendancy. A famous luminary in one field can launch a cross-platform sales channel in another, such as a Kanye West sneaker line, a Gwyneth Paltrow clothing line, or Kate Hudson athleisure line, and somehow have instant fashion credibility. Equally as disruptive is that an unknown blogger can suddenly break out and become the flavour of the day but gone tomorrow. By the time passes between writing this article and it appearing in print, several dozen bloggers will have cycled in and out of favour. Trends, colour palettes and silhouette can also change equally as quickly driven by these market influencers. There is however good news for wool among this market madness. Consumers are looking for authentic product with a sustainable heritage. They are more informed about the benefit and impact of the fibre for function, feel and drape. They care about longevity and performance. Brands are looking for high-yield products to maximise profit per square metre, pricing stability and competitive advantage. Everyone is looking for a story to tell about the product that elevates it above the other multitude of options in a cluttered market. We have a challenging road ahead in the consumer marketplace in the Northern Hemisphere, but we have a good start and an eager team. The trick is to stay relevant and abreast of the industry directions and that you can only do through immersion in the market on a daily basis. This market insight then needs to be fed back to the supply chain in a continuous cycle of performance improvement. This allows the supply chain to react to consumer trends and deliver product that our brands are keen to market and that at the end of the day is how more wool gets consumed and sold. The glitz, glamour and cameras of the fashion world offer the sizzle and the magazine covers, but it is the hard yards at retail level that guarantee our continued success. Onwards! AWI’s General Manager for the Western Hemisphere, Stuart Ford, who is based in our Paris office, provides his perspective on how traditional models in the fashion industry are changing and the opportunities for wool. AMIDST SHIFTING FASHION INDUSTRY DYNAMICS STAYING RELEVANT Stuart Ford, AWI General Manager – Western Hemisphere MARKET INTELLIGENCE 53
In the Shops - March 2017