Captivate // Small vs. Big, and the Destruction of the Trend Cycle
Lawrence Lenihan recently penned an Op-Ed for Business of Fashion titled, "How Small Will Beat Big and Save the Fashion Industry" wherein he underscores some of the major struggles facing small designer brands and independent boutiques. Pitted against massive multi-nationals like H&M and Zara, all of their spending power and insane amounts of consumer data, Lawrence argues that it's "certain death for design-driven brands" without a major shift in the way that we do business.
Lawrence points to the shortening (or complete obliteration of) the trend cycle as an indicator for just how much the fashion industry has changed since the advent of social media and fast-fashion. He says that "before instant global communication, a trend would last a few years, giving everyone in the industry time to make money."
But as the cycle closes in and ultimately dies, it's nearly impossible for brands and boutiques - stuck doing business on an archaic six-month lead schedule - to compete against fast fashion retailers and their short run times. Companies like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 can spot a trend that pops up mid-season and still get goods to market in time to meet demand. Specialty retailers and design driven brands are left hoping that the goods they selected months ago aren't already outdated.
There is an exciting alternative, however. Many well-designed brands are forgoing the "traditional" production schedule in favor of smaller production runs on shorter lead times. This works well for both brand and boutique. Shorter leads make it easier for boutiques to capitalize on unexpected in-season trends, while it also ensures designers take on less risk as well by making fewer sku's and ensuring that their designs are still on the cusp of what's relevant.
Something has to give and ultimately smart boutique retailers and design-driven brands will continue to find their spot in the marketplace. Encouragingly, the shortening of the trend cycle means consumers are becoming more educated on fashion. Hopefully, this leads more consumers in the direction of design-focused brands and independent retailers as shoppers continue to look for what's new and next.