Fast fashion and an increased number of collections mean that designers must produce more individual designs than ever before, within the same timeframe. With this increased pressure in mind, how can companies separate themselves with the kind of unique, innovative designs that are so important for brand image loyalty? An expert interview with: Stacey Charbin, Fashion Marketing Director, Lectra.
Ben Hanson: To what extent has “fast fashion” come to characterise the way consumers think about fashion as a whole? Excepting some luxury brands, have companies like Zara now created an environment where shoppers expect a far shorter time between the catwalk and the high street across the board?
Stacey Charbin: Today’s consumer wants new products all the time. This “newism” demands that companies develop increasing numbers of collections and smaller capsule collections to feed this craving – which inevitably intensifies lead times. As stores like Zara and Topshop successfully meet demand by delivering more collections in shorter and shorter time frames, they set the norm that consumers come to expect. Far from disappearing, fast fashion is often the weapon of choice in the battle to become the most competitive retailer in a challenging market.
Ben Hanson: Is it feasible for brands to remain distinctive, creative and profitable in this environment by relying on solely traditional methods? Or is a more modern approach essentially a prerequisite for fashion today?
Stacey Charbin: It’s a feasible approach if it fits into a larger strategy of “authenticity” branding. As the industry speeds up, however, even fashion brands with a strong “hand-made” identity will eventually feel pressure to adopt a more contemporary approach to design and collection management, if they hope to grow and flourish. Collection management must be used as a competitive advantage and fit in with brand strategy. The combination is what will allow them to be profitable.
Ben Hanson: Can you explain how, generally speaking, these changing market forces have driven development of solutions like Lectra’s? Innovation is often born out of necessity, and so the shifting realities of modern fashion design will have no doubt been the catalyst for at least some of your solutions. What recurring themes and common challenges prompted you to develop your solutions?
Stacey Charbin: The faster the industry pushes companies to deliver, the higher the risk for error. “Haste makes waste” as they say. Lectra began developing solutions to help companies eliminate the waste they can no longer afford. Examples of waste include lost intellectual property due to high turnover in design staff; lost creative time as designers are forced to manually search for and manage files and compile reports; and even lost innovation as teams struggle and fail to communicate effectively with one another. Lectra has developed solutions to improve cross-team communication, organize and archive product information, manage the complexity of multiple collection development, and automate non-creative tasks to give time back to designers.
Ben Hanson: Design is an extremely creative process, and we sometimes find that designers accustomed to working a certain way fear change (like that brought on by fast fashion) and are concerned that the commoditisation of fashion will smother their creativity. How far is this true, in your experience? Should the design room treat technology with skepticism or embrace it?
Stacey Charbin: Our philosophy is that a design solution is a tool to enhance creativity, not replace it. Most designers today began using technology sometime during their design education, which means many of them are more accepting than they would have been 10 years ago. So the issue is more with other solutions, like PLM, which have a more significant impact on how designers are asked to work within in the greater picture of collection development. Companies adopt this kind of technology to help their teams cope with today’s challenges. Just look at how complex it is to manage a supply chain that stretches around the world; that’s the norm. So designers might still be hesitant—as they were about design technology in the beginning—but ultimately these tools are developed to help, not hinder, them in their crucial role of keeping a brand’s creative lifeblood flowing.
Ben Hanson: Many of the fears I mentioned in my last question stem from concerns over brand dilution and the sheer workload impact of having to produce distinctive designs, on-trend, more rapidly than ever before. Producing more of the same is no guarantee of market success, so how do you advise brands to go about maintaining their unique identity whilst also meeting customer demand?
Stacey Charbin: First and foremost, get to know your customer and find out exactly what they want. Then be sure you know what defines your brand and what it is about that brand definition that your customers identify with. Is it heritage? Provenance? Or bringing the catwalk to the high street as quickly and as cheaply as possible? Whatever it is, stick to it and make it clear in every element of your business.
Ben Hanson: A large part of design is inspiration. Do you feel that the role of trend analysis has changed to cope with the speed at which haute couture filters down to retail? With more styles to create than ever before and a consequently higher turnover of trends per year, how should brands look to keep pace?
Stacey Charbin: Trends are always changing; so much so that they have a tendency to come back on themselves! Just look at the trend toward vintage today. Strong trends often resurface, which is why it is crucial for companies to archive their information for future use. Starting from a design that was developed in the past, but perhaps not selected the first time around, is an easy and very practical way to save time and maybe even stay a little ahead of the trends. Archiving designs is also interesting for companies with a strong brand identity that is built more on classic, consistent designs rather than chasing trends.