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The times they are a-changin’ – and we ain’t seen nothing yet

When the history of fashion retailing is written, 2014 will be seen as a momentous year in which the accepted norms of business practice were challenged on several fronts and we saw a structural shift across many areas of the sector.

The unpredictability of the British weather was very significant, with an OK summer sandwiched between a terribly wet spring and a very warm autumn. It clearly is time to rethink the four-season meteorological calendar. (I predict we will suffer a harsh post-Christmas and early spring period, just as the lightweight clothes are arriving in store.) Smarter thinking is required down the entire supply chain, but the notorious difficulty of getting fabric producers to adjust their methods is an obvious problem.

The astonishing change of fortunes within supermarkets has been a huge talking point. The derailing of the Tesco juggernaut is the most obvious manifestation of a rethink of the entire food sector, which of course affects all non-food categories too. With Tesco and Sainsbury’s both admitting they have too many megastores, what will be the chances of growth for F&F and Tu respectively? And we can ask the same of the relatively buoyant George at Asda.

The clothes business is small beer compared to food at the grocers, but it is still very big and makes a high-margin contribution, so it will be interesting to see where it figures in the new strategies the supermarkets will have to adopt - and fast. I may regret saying this, but I don’t see clothes becoming a large part of the appeal of Aldi and Lidl, given their smaller stores in the UK.

The effect of ecommerce - for good and ill - has been a major factor in 2014. Of course online sales have grown, but the interesting challenge for the fashion sector is how big pure-play operators can grow without physical shops, coupled with the question of how bricks-and-mortar veterans can develop a profitable omnichannel model. We are still in a steep learning curve here. Technology is advancing as many companies play catch-up. And the whole shebang is still vulnerable to something as basic as a lack of van drivers…

The unwelcome arrival of Black Friday is clearly here to stay and the public has less inclination than ever to buy at full price. The greatest pressure here is being felt by the independents. It behoves them to rethink which brands they deal with, which brands they can trust. And the big message from all the discounting in November and December is that Christmas is not necessarily the safe(ish) bet for profits it used to be for anyone.

The good news is, of course, that public nudity has not yet caught on, so people will still want clothes, footwear and accessories in 2015. I have every confidence that our creative industry will find ways of operating to fulfil the consumers’ needs while making a profit. We will all have to work harder, faster and smarter.

This is the last Drapers issue of 2014. We are taking a two-week break and will return with the edition of January 10, 2015. Although our editorial office will be unmanned from December 19 until January 5, we will be producing regular newsletters and reporting via the website during the festive period. I urge all subscribers who have not already done so to activate your online account at

We have a busy programme of Drapers Awards and Events next year - see our diary dates on page 6 (NB The Drapers Digital Awards are on April 30, not April 13, as I mis-typed last week).

From the entire team here, thank you all for your support and interest in Drapers this year. We send you all the very best wishes for the festive period and for 2015.

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