Retail struggles and dated sales strategies cause concern, but hope is not lost

The consensus (also known as the Internet) will agree that 2016 was a complicated year for many sectors, but the fashion industry’s particularly convoluted direction reached a climax, after indications slowly escalated for a few years.

This culmination of tension was bred by declining sales for major retailers such as J.Crew, Nasty Gal and Ralph Lauren, and rather subtle inflections that would prove paramount in terms of relevance and sales: social media’s influence over buyer’s activity and its introduction of the “new-age shopper.”

While many companies can sigh with relief at surviving some of these recent challenges, there is no doubt that the new year will breed other struggles and provide novel insight to ongoing ones.

In the midst of talks about new style trends – the 80s resurgence, billowing bell sleeves and so on – it is imperative that students already working in fashion are keen on other topics of interests that relate to this field’s very operation.

Especially for Atlanta, which is consistently moving up in rank as the next major fashion capital in the United States, a claim supported by Southern Living in article titled “Will Atlanta Be the South’s Next Fashion Capital?” Retail is experiencing remarkable uncertainty, making sustainability is more crucial than ever and social conditions are
forcing businesses to rethink how and to whom they target products.

All hope is not lost, however. The 2016 Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study by Dr. Sheng Lu indicates that in regards to the future, “92 percent of participants say that they are optimistic or somewhat optimistic.” Still, with so much restructuring to occur simultaneously, it is time to take these issues more seriously.

These are all the areas that will be of great importance in 2017 to industry rookies and pros alike.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-1-20-33-pm Social Aspects

Diversity, a buzzword that took center stage last year, and rightfully so, will undoubtedly continue to shape the world of fashion in 2017. The previous year points to bringing these issues to the forefront. Not just to designers, but for brands and retailers also.

Additionally, acts of appropriation were forcefully addressed (Marc Jacobs’ dreadlocks fiasco), models of color demanded equal opportunity and standards of beauty were boldly challenged, such as Maria Borges opting to wear her natural, short hair during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show two years in a row. Efforts did not go unnoticed.

The Fashion Spot’s diversity report said that “Of the 120 Fall ‘16 shows at NYFW, 68.1 percent of the models cast were white and 31.9 percent were nonwhite.”

Quite impressive, as the Spring shows of the same year saw only 28.4 percent nonwhite models, according to the diversity report. However, there are more strides to be made. The report also states that no plus-size models were featured in the Spring shows and that only two of the 13 top-requested models were of color.

Georgia State student models from organizations like Panthers Allure have ample opportunity to approach local agencies while the pressure is still on to add variety to their lineups. Even with so much cultural variation and aspiring models in Atlanta, the more elite fashion shows still lack models of color. Agencies to consider include Click, Factor Chosen and Ursula Wiedmann, all of which manage talents well.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-1-20-44-pmEthical Sourcing and Sustainability

Going green may have once seemed like just another hipster fad, but sustainability has planted its foot into society, forcing fashion companies to scale back and become more thoughtful. All across campus and the city, recycling bins and clothing banks are placated proudly for everyone to see and use. But this year, the fixing of these issues will be internally.

According to the United States Fashion Industry Association’s 2016 Benchmarking study, increasing sourcing cost is the number two concern for fashion businesses in the country. Adding to this, designers and the stores offering their garbs have been pressured to be familiar with materials’ sources and to publish their efforts in saving the planet.

Admirable deeds, Yes, but there are potential negative effects that directly impact the local economy. The trends show rising sourcing costs and sustainability strides could increase product prices. More than ever, customers want to know that companies are involved in environmental protection and will provide quality garments at reasonable
costs.

The issue, however, is that ethical sourcing and sustainability practices are still in the alpha-testing stage. Therefore, stores will have to try various approaches – which may include cutting staff, not hiring new employees or reducing the number of individual items purchased in the buying process. While apparel stores are figuring it out, consumers can chip in by taking advantage of clothing recycle options like those available in all H&M stores locations.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-1-20-53-pmBusiness Strategies

Last week, news that Macy’s will lay off over 10,000 employees and close just over 60 stores in the coming months reiterated the sect’s mood of instability went viral. Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) reported that the long-standing department store’s $10,000 job cut contains 6,200 management roles.

This news is just the latest example of fashion businesses making unfortunate decisions in order to stay afloat. Implementing modern strategies will top many companies’ list, as consumer behavior continues to change. The keyword this year is “streamline,” meaning businesses will have to slash significantly in certain areas, and systematically enhance others.

Stores are expected to further develop the online shopping experience, making it easier for shoppers to find products and their information. It will be clean, have easy navigation of the site and have checkout options to fit every type of customer. Of course, this puts a dent in the success of brick and mortar versions of a company, which can also affect jobs and in-store product availability. But experts predict physical locations will pick sales back up, so don’t expect Lenox Mall’s crowd to subside any time soon. In fact, this year businesses can finally figure out how to meet the demands of digital and traditional shoppers.

Expect to see more brands selling online exclusive offers, while in-store arrangements become carefully selected and less cluttered. Fast Company reports that Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp said she “predicts that in 2017, customers will increasingly visit stores to get curated experiences from shop representatives.”

In a nutshell, Fast fashion will slow down. Meaning, the tasks of stores will be to meet the demand of new age customers who seek personalization. Shoppers are no longer shopping just to have a full closet. Instead, modern shoppers want shopping to be an experience in which they are buying items that truly speak to who they are.

It won’t be long before stores in the area adopt personal shopping techniques as a part of its customer service. The bleakness surrounding the fashion industry is not to be overlooked, rather, viewed as a time to facilitate required changes and replace old methods with creative, progressive ones. Over the next 12 months, optimism and hard work will lead this change.

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