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2012: the year fashion stood up to the gloom and found its focus

As we sign off our final issue of Drapers for 2012 (we’re back on January 12 in case you were wondering), it’s a good time to look back on another tumultuous year for the fashion business.

For me, 2012 will go down as the year that the sector found its focus. The big winners across the year have been companies and individuals that have been able to cut through the fug of financial pressure, see through the complexities of the crowded UK fashion market and single-mindedly give their consumers exactly what they want. Success has only come to those with a clear point of difference, and those who run a very tight ship, but it has proved there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Take, for example, Asos, Primark and Burberry. Three very different, but equally successful, businesses that have each exploited a different business model to make sure their customers keep coming back.

Primark, against all the standard thinking, is a completely non-digital operation, yet it has stuck to its promise of market-beating prices for fashion-forward product to see off its competition time and time again. In contrast, Asos has shown that online-only businesses can still command loyalty by innovating, launching globally, and speaking to its young customers in a language they understand. Meanwhile, Burberry has owned the luxury space, by staying true to the brand qualities that made it great and maintaining exclusivity while growing exponentially – no mean feat.

It has also been a year to be truly proud of our top independent retailers, which may be small, but have harnessed their strength – offering shoppers something different with excellent service.

Meanwhile, the losers of 2012 have proved that mediocrity and copycat behaviour simply won’t cut it in the current market, and that taking your eye off the ball, even for a season, can prove disastrous. Certainly one of our most commented-on stories of the year was this summer’s Marks & Spencer results, the worst the company had posted for many years, and which underlined the feeling the clothing had become too bland and lost favour with its core consumer – trying to go too young was a big criticism. Likewise, Jaeger was sold off under a cloud, with discounting blamed for damaging its former premium standing, and Peacocks was bought out of administration amid claims it had failed to carve out a niche on a hugely overcrowded high street.

The lesson learned for 2012 then, surely, is that with ruthless focus on both brand and consumer, many British fashion businesses are coming out of the financial downturn better and bolder than ever before, and certainly the sector is being led into 2013 by some of the best business minds of our generation.           

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