I had a very interesting chat last week with Caroline Rush, the British Fashion Council’s (BFC) chief executive, about some of the initiatives her team are going to be working on in the coming months, and it highlighted something that we on Drapers have been noticing a lot over the past year.
Namely, the rise of the pre-collection.
The purpose of London Fashion Week, and in my view one of the key reasons it is so important for the UK fashion industry, is that the BFC has kept one eye on the commercial hook it provides for designers in terms of showcasing their work to international buyers. Yes, it’s nice to see London on the front pages of some of the international fashion magazines, but most important to our trade is that buyers spend their money here.
The BFC has approached this from two angles. First it has ensured that some of the big names show in London, which automatically pulls in some of the key buyers, and second it has provided the necessary support through initiatives like the Topshop-sponsored Newgen programme, which supports young British designers in taking their first steps on the commercial ladder.
Now the BFC is taking new strides in that commercial supporting role, first by launching this coming season its first dedicated menswear event, bringing in menswear buyers early in the season – this is a clever move as it exposes the buyers to London and its design talent when they have almost the whole season’s spend burning a hole in their pocket.
And while they are in London, and as many may also buy womenswear, the BFC has cunningly launched a pre-collection initiative for womenswear designers as well to help encourage early season spend on womenswear too. Some of the biggest names in UK fashion will be showcasing their pre-collections at the event at the end of the men’s shows when many of the buyers are still in town.
All this means that London is suddenly featuring at the start of the buying season, not towards the end when much of the spend has already been allocated. A shrewd move indeed, I would argue, by the BFC, and certain to benefit the sector commercially in the short to long term.
It also highlights the fact that the most commercially astute designers need to be able to sell whenever and wherever the buyers are most accessible, so having more drops throughout the year can only help to boost sales overall.
So it seems the days of the two-season buying year are well and truly behind us. Flexibility is key, with the various fashion hubs – like London – competing to be first in the buying cycle as much as the designers themselves are competing for spend, and whoever ends up being in the right place in front of the right buyers at the right time will emerge the victor.