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Summer washout puts dampener on indie budgets

Record rainfall has left indies up and down the country with rails of unsold stock, forcing them to reduce their buying budgets and rethink their approach for spring 13.

I’m trying to spend less for spring 13, but I suspect we will end up spending the same; certainly not more. This summer was appalling. For the first in a long time, we are significantly down on the previous year.”

Comments like Gerard Levy’s, director of two-store London footwear indie Spice London, are heard throughout the industry as indies struggle after being hit by one of the wettest summers on record.

The constant wet weather has led to a dramatic slump in the number of people shopping and has forced retailers to slash prices to tempt shoppers. In June, the estimated price of goods sold in clothing stores decreased by 3.5% compared with May, according to the Office for National Statistics, as summer Sales started early.

Poor sales have had a knock-on effect with indies’ budgets; most have been forced to freeze spend at the very least, while in some instances budgets are being cut by up to 20%. Matt Horstead, owner of menswear indie Dartagnan in Chichester, West Sussex, is one of the hardest hit. “The main reason is the damaging impact the weather has had on trade,” he says. “Our high summer product groups have been a disaster.”

His store was forced to kick off its summer Sale earlier than usual to gain ground, but this “had little impact as consumers are thin on the ground due to weather again”.

Natalie Anderson, owner of women’s footwear and accessories indie Elisabeth May Shoe Boutique in St Andrews, Scotland, is similarly cautious after the disastrous weather. She has cut back her spending pot by 10%.

“My budget has gone down slightly, entirely as a consequence of this season’s weather,” she says.

Pamela Shiffer, owner of the eponymous north London womenswear indie, says her budget will remain flat for spring 13. “We shaved the budget for spring 12 and left more for in-season stock.” She says the strategy so far has “proved itself”.

But one indie is going with a more instinctive approach. Everton Campbell, co-owner of Leeds contemporary menswear indie Hip, says: “I’ve got all intentions to batten down the hatches, but if I see anything amazing, then I’ll buy it.”

The grim weather is also influencing buying behaviour for spring 13 as indies look to scale back on high summer styles. “I will be spending less on sandals and wedges in forward order in comparison with previous seasons,” says Elisabeth May’s Anderson. “However, should we receive beautiful, consistent summer weather next spring, I’ll use a little of the cut budget to buy in-season.”

Spice London’s Levy says he will be backing more “covered” styles such as courts, pumps and ballerinas next spring, and fewer sandals after this summer’s wet weather.

Independents including young fashion retailer Club JJ in Plaistow, east London, are also planning to increase their short-order budgets to give themselves more scope for in-season buying.

Club JJ owner Salim Kidiya says he is increasing his short-order budget from 35% to 40% to “respond more quickly to what’s out on the market.” Similarly, Campbell has shaved 20% to 30% off his forward-order budget so he can react more to trends. “It gives me the opportunity to buy anything relevant that comes in,” he says.

As the spring 13 buying season continues, with Pure London, Moda and Micam on the horizon, indies say they are on the lookout for new brands to add freshness for their customers.

Horstead is one indie owner on the hunt for several new brands. He’s aiming to trade up after discovering that dressy, smart brands had been Dartagnan’s strongest category this spring, particularly Just Cavalli and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

He adds: “Relaxed formalwear is huge for us too, and this will be a big focus for us next spring. The move is a positive one, as it encourages men to dress smarter, which ultimately has a higher ticket price and also encourages the customer to buy more than just T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.”

Lewis Tweddell, owner of premium indie Lewis Yates in Billericay, Essex, is looking for new names to add to the store’s existing line-up, which at present includes Nicole Farhi, Almost Famous, Holland Esquire and True Religion. “It’s good to keep our regulars excited about what’s in for the new season,” he says.

Tweddell is backing military as a trend for spring 13, highlighting a navy suede military jacket from Joseph as “one to look out for”. 

Levy is slightly optimistic about the styles for spring 13. “The look is very fresh. I’m glad to see pastel shades are back. It’s always a good look for us but it’s not really a new look. The shapes have all been here before.”

Trends such as bold, big prints and floral designs have caught Campbell’s eye and he says he has noticed interesting collections from heritage brands such as Gitman Bros and Engineered Garments.

Despite everything appearing to be against the retail industry, independents remain resilient and upbeat about spring 13.

“There are some lovely brands doing something fresh,” says Shiffer. “I’m quite excited by spring 13.”

“I’m feeling very optimistic about spring 13,” Horstead enthuses. “This season has really made us focus even more on the product and getting it just right for next spring.”

With tough trading conditions persisting so far this summer, indies will be praying they don’t get another soggy summer next year.

Story in Numbers

20% - Proportion by which menswear indie Dartagnan has reduced its spring 13 buying budget

3.5% - Drop in prices of clothing and footwear in June compared with May, according to the Office for National Statistics

2.5% - Rise of sales volumes in the clothing and footwear sector in June as a result of discounting and retailers bringing forward summer Sales


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