The fashion industry as we know it is undergoing profound changes. Designers, bloggers, celebrities and consumers communicating through social networks on a 24-7 basis dictate the birth or death of trends at such fast pace that it has become impossible for brands to keep up.
The traditional model, one that establishes that collections should be launched in line with predictions from trend agencies and seasonally, is becoming obsolete.
We are upon a moment when the industry is reinventing itself, a time at which the roles played by consumers, brands, the media and trends is being redefined.
In her most recent book, Season of Change: a Forecast of Digital Trends set to Disrupt the Fashion Industry, Yuli Ziv, founder and CEO of Style Coalition, reiterates that the pre-establishments of the fashion industry are unsustainable in the long run. Which is why, according to the author ‘the restructure will be a healthy thing and will eventually lead to enhanced productivity, wich in turn will leave fashion brands and retailers with more time and resources to innovate’.
Olga Noronha FW16/17 © Rui Vasco
Ziv explains that ‘most brands currently operate in an endless loop, producing two to eight collections every year, which leaves them no time to pause, look around, notice the ways the world is changing and come upwith a strategy that suits the change’. She goes on to say that following old industry rules and designing seasonal collections is no longer logical when the market is evolving at a such a fast pace, demanding permanent updating and responsiveness from brands.
Brands such as Zara and H&M, which launch collections weekly, or Topshop, which has new items available online on a daily basis, are very nimble at adapting to new consumer needs.
But how can ‘smaller’ brands, wielding less economic power, compete with large chains and their capacity to launch new products all-year-round?
In order to respond to the ‘digital challenge’, fashion designers should focus on creating pieces that are bestsellers and that effectively translate the brand’s identity, instead of worrying about seasonal collections, cautions Ziv.
© Andrez FW14 and Rick Owen's SS11
The same goes for trends. Following the advent of fashion democracy and of online commerce, a trend’s natural cycle, - early adoption- mainstream recognition and mass consumption – is so short it defies the concept itself. Fashion designers are increasingly influenced by direct feedback from consumers, who, through ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, keep them ‘in the know’ about their interests and lifestyles.
When interviewed by BoF, Marc Worth, co-founder of WGSN, said that ‘today, the idea of a bunch people sitting in a room and deciding what the colours are going to be in two years’ time or what materials are going to be used in three years’ time is a complete nonsense’. At a time when ‘the trend emerges overnight and disappears almost as quickly’ in the social networks, Worth explains, it is up to the trend agencies not to predict, but to inform about changes going on in the world and provide designers with inspiration.
© João Melo Costa SS15
Pierre-François Le Louet, president at Nelly Rodi echoes Worth’s approach, adding that the role of trend agencies is to supply tools that will help brands to position themselves, it being that in the current market ‘the most important thing is to work on your brand identity, who you are, how you differentiate from your competitors’.
In parallel, we are witnessing the growing value of brand authenticity.
Today’s consumers would rather invest in neutral pieces that can be worn regardless of the season and in the following seasons, complementing them with statement pieces that reflect their lifestyle.
In this context, the role designers play can, therefore, be truly innovative. Once the hurdle that designing collections can be is overcome, designers have significantly more time and resources available to them in order to explore their brand concept with creative freedom.
© Hugo Costa SS16 and Daniela Barros AW15
Rather than following trends, now is the moment to create something unique and differentiating.
Over the past few years, the work of national designers such as Olga Noronha, Ricardo Andrez, João Melo Costa and Daniela Barros reflects this disruptive approach to the industry. Free from aesthetical prejudices, these young talents create ‘small’ collections, but unique in their conceptualization. Irreverent when it comes to (de)construct pieces and innovative in their choice of materials, they raise the Portuguese industry to an international status.