by Stephen Garner

NYFWM FW16 BILLY1The time is ripe for changes in the fashion industry according to the CFDA, which released its findings from a study by The Boston Consulting Group on the future of New York Fashion Week.

Over the past six weeks, more than 50 fashion industry stakeholders, mostly in the U.S., were formally interviewed, and dozens more informal conversations have taken place. Of those formal interviews, 20 were designers or fashion executives, eight wholesalers and online retailers, and 15 editors of both traditional and new media. The remaining seven included show organizers, casting agents, fashion bloggers, and international fashion trade organizations. Interviewees were given the opportunity to express their thoughts about the current system, what they would ideally change, as well as their industry and brand visions for the future.

‘In-season relevancy’ emerged as a recurring idea: although brands still have to show their upcoming collections to press and buyers in the most inspiring way several months before deliveries, there is an opportunity to alleviate the pressure to have large-scale shows and potentially re-allocate resources and budget to activate sales when collections are delivered to stores and available online. Multiple formats, locations and timing could be considered for these in-season activations.

In fact, several U.S., U.K. and other designers have tested this idea this past February. Nautica showed in-season clothes at New York Fashion Week, and Tom Ford and Burberry announced a similar approach with men’s and women’s at the same time.

NYFWM FW16 NAUTICA24“The responsibility of the CFDA is to provide information to help designers decide what is right for them, alleviate the pressure and give them the freedom to allocate their resources in a way that is best for them,” said Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA.

Three key challenges in the current system emerged consistently across the interviews. Challenge one: perceived “early” deliveries and markdowns are hurting full-price sales. The race to earlier deliveries and therefore markdowns is leading to merchandise at retail that is seen as increasingly out of sync with the physical season, while our consumers are looking to buy clothes closer to when they need it.

Challenge two: a decreasing perception of newness. Technology and social media have rewired the fashion system as everyone knows it. Shows no longer just reach retail, industry insiders, and press. Images and livestreams from shows are accessible worldwide in real time, exposing consumers to designs months before they are available for purchase and providing sufficient time for so-called Fast Fashion brands to manufacture and deliver such trends. As a result, trends and designs can seem out-of-date or stale by the time they reach stores, causing general consumer confusion and fatigue and ultimately hurting designer full-price retail.

Challenge three: the danger of designer creative burnout. The confusion of the fashion cycle, coupled with the increased importance and complexity of pre-collections, leaves less time for the creative process and artisanship and puts immense pressure on critical design and creative talent. The interviewees expressed a desire for a future system that creates more structural, predictable downtime for design and creative talent.

As a result of the collective experiences of industry participants, the CFDA believes it is time to open up new ideas for New York Fashion Week to be more relevant and alleviate the pressure for designers and brands to conform to a singular model.

Some suggested potential new models include: keeping retail and press appointments as the culmination of the design process to allow buyers to place orders and provide long-lead press with original content early enough, but make them more intimate and exclusive; or consider creating bi-annual, in-season consumer-relevant activations during or after New York Fashion Week around the main and pre-collections to be delivered to stores immediately and for the next several months.

NYFWM FW16 TODD44Beyond New York Fashion Week and fashion shows, the majority of people interviewed highlighted the need to rethink the delivery cadence to better match the actual, physical season and boost full-price selling. To achieve the goal, retailers and brands need to engage in a targeted dialogue.

Future approaches are likely to be brand-specific with regards to tier and in-house strategy. The CFDA says they will support designers as they define what is right for their brands.

“The results validate the reason why CFDA decided to launch the study,” said Steven Kolb, President and CEO of the CFDA. “As the fashion system evolves, the CFDA will continue the conversation and help designers who are looking to change the way they present their collections.”

To see the full study click here.