Norma Kamali is getting lean -or at least leaner. First of the major players to sidestep the industry market schedule dictating 6 month lead times coupled with the publishing calenders of magazines needing 3-6 months for print editorial, Norma’s brought production back to the US and is selling consumer direct from her web site. Not only is she selling consumer direct, she’s enlisting hostesses for “try before you buy” parties. I have to hand it to her, shipping out $2K gowns for the modern equivalent of tupperware parties would make me nervous. Danielle sends a link that explains more:
New York Fashion Week is a little over a week away, and it’s shaping up to be a tough season. Not only is the economy a challenge, so is the Internet. The speed with which photos of runway looks travel around the world is making the whole seasonal exercise of fashion weeks seem more and more ridiculous. (Designers traditionally show their collections six months in advance for store buyers and the media, so we’re getting ready to see spring ’10.) Because by the time a designer original hits the racks, you’ve already bought the knockoff at Zara or are on to something else completely.
Norma’s plan comes in striking contradiction to the town hall meeting Diane Von Furstenberg held at the end of July. DVF’s meeting was intended to be a discussion between designers, media and related stakeholders in coming to terms with the double edged sword of technological change. Owing to the latter, fashion has never been so transparent; yet transparency has facilitated the means of widespread copying before lines make it to the stores. I’ll spare you the lecture but I’ve long said designers are better served to evolve to the marketplace and deliver consumer goods faster. It’s good to see that Kamali is moving with the times.
With respect to between the rock and a hard place in which the industry finds itself, the tubes haven’t been lax in expressing opinions; says Jenna
Restricting the volume of clothing produced is a sure-fire way to artificially inflate sell-through rates, but to what end would a successful business actively seek fewer customers when it has enjoyed more in the past?
First, fashion is facing the problem of commoditization. It’s a commodity because there is so much of it and readily replenished. I don’t know how it can be described any other way if goods land at the loading dock with the 40% off tags already attached. It’s no secret the artificial glut is a consequence of broad scale outsourcing, effecting a race to the bottom. With product development time lines of the largest players stretching 12 to 16 months, it is impossible to produce anything but commodities, by passing trends current at the time of sales release.
Second, it is arguably beneficial for there to be fewer customers (really), and fewer but better goods with value reflected in pricing. Consider this in the context of energy use. If oil is too cheap, energy use is profligate and the planet warms. Some costs of overproduction of (cheap) apparel are these: an increase of sweatshops in lesser developed nations; export of used (disposable) apparel from the US to those same nations has caused manufacturers producing for the local market to go broke themselves. As far as the average North American consumer is concerned, clothing produced closer to season, in short runs and at higher quality, means consumer choice is less disposable. Both parties, producer and consumer, are more committed to a quality outcome. I wish more producers would dramatically re-align their operations to address the consumer’s increasing dissatisfaction -in the sorts of ways it would seem that Kamali has done.
What nobody was apparently willing to address was that fashion became, during the long recent boom, simply too expensive: there are not enough good designers willing to make a beautiful dress that costs not a few thousand dollars but a few hundred dollars.
But why did clothing become so expensive? Wait a minute, is clothing more expensive? Across the board it’s not; adjusted for inflation, apparel prices have been dropping steadily several percentage points per year since the early 1980’s -when outsourcing was still nascent. Men’s and boy’s wear seems to hold its value better though. I think the issue is one of increased consumer expectation. In part, owing to many consumers using their homes as ATMs and thus having the means, consumers acquired the expectation to covet and purchase goods a level beyond that which was intended for their demography.
There is no doubt that high fashion became pricier. Costs have escalated due to marketing and branding whether by artifice, intent or by freebie crowd sourcing via web 2.0 –and inflation. Inflated high fashion prices have much more to do with over-inflated values across the board, a manifest extension of the housing market. We’re seeing a correction there, one is due in the industry as well. Without getting too far off track, it’s not coincidental that consumer fit complaints escalated in the same period. Suddenly real estate rich, consumers had the disposable income for goods that were never designed for the sizing characteristics of their demography. Those hopelessly sized out of higher priced goods bought luxury handbags.
One concept that wasn’t discussed at DVF’s town hall meeting was consumer apathy. Actually, apathy isn’t the right word. Consumer apathy has been building -and measured- since the early 1990’s. The better explanation is that apathy has migrated to outright hostility, often expressed in terms of sizing and style frustrations. In this light, DVF’s strategy to pass the DPPA could be seen as an attempt to control fashion from both ends in closing off entry to the business by independent designers.
I suppose one way to buttress price points in the industry is to prevent anyone else from getting in or by effectively increasing the costs of doing business so people will have to leave it…but then, where does that leave consumers? Between increased consumer abdication and less competition, prices won’t be falling any time soon but the results could be a wash. In the end, the only salient strategy is to follow Kamali’s lead to produce locally and on shorter time lines. To be sure she’ll experience some hiccups but just think how much further ahead she’ll be once everyone else catches on to her great idea. You know, the same idea I’ve been preaching over the past fifteen years. With any luck, lean manufacturing could become the thing that all the cool kids are doing.
Sure, there are some downsides. With more people moving to stateside production, it’ll be even harder to find a contractor -which is why I’ve been saying there will be an increase in folks setting up their own production in house. I can’t think (and I’ve tried) of a way to produce to order and sell consumer direct on a dime without it. I just hope people don’t wait too long to figure it out and all the best stitchers retire. The real crisis that few seem to realize is the loss of institutional memory we’re incurring daily.