Independent buyers are playing it safe and keeping budgets static for spring 18, following tough trading in July.
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Last month fashion sales at high street stores fell to their lowest level since 2009, despite heavy discounting. Sales were down 3.5% compared with the same month last year, accountancy firm BDO reported.
Agents told Drapers that buyers are holding back and observed that footfall has been lighter across trade shows so far this summer.
“There has been an underlying element of cautiousness among buyers,” said Michael Shalders founder of London distribution agency Love Brands.
“When business is challenging, buyers tend to stick with the brands they’ve got. Consumer confidence is the biggest factor, which has been dented by Brexit and exchange rates.”
Michael Spriggs, owner of the eponymous menswear brand agency, pointed out that overall budgets are going down slightly as buyers are advised by their accountants to remain cautious: “Buyers have been trimming their budgets slightly and reducing their supplier numbers. At the same time, existing relationships have been strengthened from seeing larger orders, as it is a difficult time to launch new ranges.”
Matt Horstead, owner of menswear independent Dartagnan in Chichester, agreed: “We’ve had to be pretty ruthless and cut back on brands that haven’t been performing as well, while sticking with our existing brands. I don’t like to use the word ‘safe’ when it comes to buying, but we have definitely been taking [fewer] risks. [The industry is] in harder times now.”
Ravi Grewal, owner of menswear boutique Stuarts London in Shepherd’s Bush, said it had not increased orders for spring 18, and budgets had stayed fixed. He added that he expected trade in the autumn to pick up as it is the “stronger season of the two” for the retailer.
Pamela Shiffer, owner the eponymous boutique in Primrose Hill, said her budget was remaining the same for spring but said she was open to picking up new brands and was “keeping her eye out for hidden gems”.
“The weather hasn’t been great but you can’t play it safe, or you’ll lose customer interest,” she added.
Shiffer said the trade shows she has attended so far this season were mixed: a “subdued” mood at Pure London last month was balanced by a “good atmosphere” at Moda in Birmingham this week.
Yvette Davies, owner at Lymington womenswear retailer Thirty Three Boutique, agreed that adding new labels was important to keep shoppers interested.
“I’m optimistic about autumn and spring 18 – we’ve brought in new brands for both. I think it’s important to keep things fresh – if you stick with the same old, you’ll be in trouble.”