Few can deny that the fashion industry is facing a seismic period of change.
The catwalk season has altered, and customers are more informed and opinionated, and demand more from brands and retailers than ever before. This is an evolutionary tale with a familiar message: the species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt to its changing environment.
To succeed then, we must evolve. And retailers must become increasingly commercially minded as the marketplace becomes more crowded and competitive. Consumers now seek instant gratification when it comes to purchasing fashion. Online retailers offer delivery and returns at breakneck speed, as well as additional incentives from free gift wrapping to online styling. Customers have an increased awareness and knowledge, and many more options – all at the touch of a fingertip.
In addition, changing weather patterns blur seasonal purchasing behaviour, so customers are shopping for what they need when they need it. Shoppers are not willing to wait to buy the product they want, nor are they necessarily going to be looking for that product when we might previously have expected them to – for example, cashmere sales have been consistently strong throughout the entire year at John Lewis.
We know that we need products and brands that cannot be found elsewhere
The catwalks have, of course, already begun to reflect this. Burberry and Tom Ford have led the way by opting to show “see now, buy now” catwalk collections. Inspiration around layering and outfit building becomes ever more important to retail as we look for ways to adapt to a reduction in demand for more pronounced seasonal items such as winter coats.
Customers are also choosing to spend their money in different ways, prioritising experience over material purchases. The fast fashion movement has left the 2016 customer with a wardrobe bursting full of clothes and this means we have to work harder than ever to gain the sale.
Customers will buy but need more convincing than ever. At John Lewis, we believe the customer wants “fewer, better things”, so every piece in our assortment has to have a focus on provenance, style, fit, fabric, quality and value as never before. We know that we need products and brands that cannot be found elsewhere.
Modern rarity look 9
Customers now seek to condense their wardrobes by finding quality staple pieces. It was with this ethos in mind that my team created our latest womenswear label called Modern Rarity, which launches next week.
The 90-piece collection is our first own-brand venture into what we call “accessible luxury” and is aimed at customers who are looking for a change from fast fashion to slow fashion – well-made classics that are built to last.
The trend towards fewer, better-quality pieces is not just being seen across womenswear
To reflect this shift, our in-house design team sought to create versatile pieces that would transcend seasons and become year-round wardrobe staples. Luxury materials such as Italian-spun cashmere and sandwashed silks will ensure the collection appeals to customers who want to invest in a select few items. The collection is intended to work perfectly as lighter items in summer months, or stackable layers in cooler weather.
The trend towards fewer, better-quality pieces is not just being seen across womenswear – there is plenty of evidence to suggest that men are getting in on the act too. Social and online media are providing men with more avenues for inspiration, and a new generation of millennial men are shopping for fashion in a different way.
The success of our collaboration with vlogger Jim Chapman, through the Chapman & Lewis edit, goes to show that men are more conscious than ever of what they wear, and how they wear it and are looking at new platforms and style influences for inspiration.
The way customers are shopping is changing. The good news is that fashion retains a debenture in UK customer’s psyche. Brands and retailers that innovate, and embrace the changing landscape, will continue to prosper.
Ed Connolly is John Lewis’s fashion and beauty buying director