Does Fashion Week Support The High Street?
Commentators are asking what the real impacts of fashion events are and whether events such as these can be used to reinvigorate the high street in an era when digital consumer spend undoubtedly overshadows retail spend in bricks and mortar shops, or whether, the events themselves are also in decline. Moreover, the decline of shopping using traditional methods such as shopping in physical premises has prompted debate about precisely what changes, if any, are capable of reversing current trends towards shopping online as opposed to in physical premises like high street shops.
This article will explore the impacts that fashion week events have on consumer spending in an effort to shed light on whether the events actually assist high street shops increase their share of retail spend.
London Fashion Week is a twice-yearly event, organised by the British Fashion Council. It has been held every year in London, since the early 1980s. Every year, at London Fashion Week, designers are invited to showcase their brands and new designs, with models displaying clothing, accessories and designs on “catwalks”. Regarded as one of the most important trade events within the fashion industry, brands spend hundreds of thousands of pounds creating the catwalks, hiring models and fine-tuning the designs that will be featured in the shows. The London Fashion week has become a festival in London, with shoppers invited to shop in stores, at discounted prices during the festival. When a high-end brand is appearing at one of the event’s shows, they will often hire out physical premises to sell and showcase their clothes and products for the duration of the fashion event. Some fashion houses have opted for less costly popup shops, which can be readily dismantled when all the buzz has died down, thus avoiding the cost of operating a physical premises in quieter periods with less footfall.
New York Fashion Week
was created by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in the early 1990s, when they consolidated and rebranded a longstanding event known as “press week” established by Eleanor Lambert in 1943. Like London Fashion Week it is an important trade event in the fashion industry, where thousands of designers are invited to display their designs on catwalks, lined by important industry professionals like models, designers, fashion journalists, buyers and editors. Like its London counterpart, the New York Fashion Week is a bi-annual event. The US version of the Fashion Week lasts slightly longer than the UK version. Each year, it lasts 7-9 days. Established brands and designers will showcase their designs alongside ‘up and coming’ designers, for whom a chance to advertise their designs can often be a lucrative opportunity.
Fashion Weeks, either side of the globe have been described by some economists as “industries in themselves”, due to the important economic impacts they have for the cities that feature them. The Joint Economic Committee
of the US Congress has reported that global fashion is worth an eyewatering 1.2 trillion USD, with 250 billion USD spent on fashion in the USA every year. New York Fashion Week itself is estimated
to generate 900 million USD every year in New York itself, and London Fashion week is reported to account for 28 billion pounds of UK GDP, annually. The stimulation to local economies generated by fashion week events has led to a global proliferation of fashion week events, with the concept gathering momentum in Brazil, Mexico and Columbia. It is notable however, that when an event such as a fashion week becomes established in a given city, the economic benefit can be subject to much fluctuation, for example a report carried out by a menswear brand suggested that consumer interest in the “Big Four” fashion weeks has fallen by 20%, since 2013
. Meanwhile, a report by Mc Kinsey & Company
suggests that the top ten fastest growing fashion cities include Shanghai, Shenzhen, Mexico City and Delhi. The Big Four cities (Milan, London, New York and Paris) seen as fashion “capitals” are, noticeably, not on this list. Nevertheless, London Fashion Week is regarded by some as the most important month for high street sales outside of Christmas, with some suggesting the event creates 700 million GBP in sales from the thousands of shoppers it brings into high street shops, every year. Others suggest
that despite the boost it provides to the London economy, much more should be done to support the event and enhance the economic benefits it brings to London. One specific suggestion is that a 1% tax should be applied to online retailers to provide a more level playing field with bricks and mortar outlets, year-round, although this suggestion has not found support from policy-makers.
It isn’t just fashion businesses that benefit from London and New York Fashion Weeks. Coffee shops, hotels, pubs and other high street outlets benefit from the increased footfall that the events generate. As such, the benefits of fashion week events can be classified as both direct and indirect. Additionally, fashion week events have been evolving in recent years with changes to traditional practices with the arrival of fast fashion (where buying pieces has become more accessible to the general public) and the dismantling of practices that made the event exclusive (like the six month delay between the show and the availability of the merchandise for purchase by the general public). These changes are widely seen as supporting the high street by, amongst other factors, encouraging footfall in bricks and mortar shops.
The Decline In Exclusivity Of Fashion Week Events
Traditionally, the whole point of “Fashion Week” events was to showcase trends and designs before they became widely available, so each event would reveal what fashions and trends would be reflected in their forthcoming collections. As such, historically, there was a delay in the availability of the pieces on display, to be bought by the general public. This added to the “buzz” and excitement surrounding the event, and allowed for the designs to be featured in glossy magazines, aimed at building a buzz around the new designs. More recently, this trend is being reversed with many high-end brands like Burberry
implementing “runway to retail” campaigns, with designs “shopable” on Instagram and available for immediate purchase. This trend is also referred to as “see-now, buy-now fashion”. Many commentators agree that this shift towards making the fashion week events “more consumer-focused” has resulted in positive changes in terms of sales of the products displayed and the reach of the campaigns to a global audience.
The trend towards what has now been termed “fast fashion” has been embraced widely by designers like Topshop
, Ralph Lauren
, Tom Ford
and Rebecca Minkoff
. Reflecting the impact of events like the terrorist attacks in cities famous for, and synonymous with fashion like Paris and London
, a depreciation in spending from Chinese customers and fluctuations in the strength of the US dollar. Faster fashion trends are also being attributed to changes in how young people shop, for example the prevalence of sharing fashion trends on social media like SnapChat, Instagram and on smartphones. Whereas the lion’s share of retail spend associated with fashion week events remains digital, the increased accessibility of the merchandise has generated interest which has increased footfall in shops, thereby increasing sales from physical premises.
The six month waiting period between designs exhibited at shows and their availability to the general public, was proving to be problematic for designers, due to the high number of “copycat” designers who would get to work immediately after seeing new designs at the events and sell similar products more cheaply. Predictably, this meant there was less interest in the brands once they did become available, and sales profits were reduced. This concept of a collection being “shopable” has intersected conveniently with the changes made to social media, particularly Instagram, where account holders can use their accounts to sell, and make the products they advertise easier to buy in just a few clicks. As we have seen, the trends towards “runway to retail” are making it much easier for customers to get their hands on products they see displayed at the fashion events, and this has reduced the leverage of copycat designers.
These fast fashion trends don’t just impact shoppers and customers; in fact the changes have opened up the events to a whole host of other interested parties such as buyers for high street fashion brands and designers for less high profile high street outlets. Even if you don’t attend events in person, watching digital shows can be akin to having a front row seat at the event, with new collections that are instantly “shopable”, at the consumer’s fingertips.
The object of the fast fashion approach is to create a seamless and convenient experience for the customer contemplating making a purchase. In recent fashion week events the designer Rebecca Minkoff has successfully implemented a more immersive, customer-focused approach, with their launch of the virtual reality 360 degree view of their runway show. A “GoPro
” was used to capture the footage and customers were able to inspect clothes and accessories they wished to buy much more closely. This had the effect of driving more traffic through their social media accounts and increasing sales to people who would not ordinarily have attended the events.
Merging “Fast Fashion” With Experiences
In 2018, designer Tommy Hilfiger
combined a “fast fashion” approach to their shows with a massive popup funfair featuring ferris wheels, hotdogs and celebrity guests. These attractions were aimed at driving more footfall through their shows with the aim of opening up the fashion offerings to a wider audience, while the approach also benefitted from the absence of costs like premises rental, which are known to the part of the problem for high street shops. The approach created a “novelty factor” and a “buzz” which increased traffic on their social media accounts, and a live stream of the event, accessible through social media, maximised the impact for those who could not attend in person. This focus on the wider shopping “experience” is nothing new on the high street as a whole, with dwindling sales in established high street outlets being known to improve when “experiences” like coffee shops, games and events being offered at their premises. This has been referred to as “elevating the experience” for shoppers entering bricks and mortar premises. The increased focus on creating a memorable experience for the shopper, from the point they enter the shop, to the point they make a purchase and leave has also motivated brands to integrate AI and tech into the shopping experience
. The rationale is, that if you improve the overall “experience” of shopping, more people will be willing to make purchases in bricks and mortar premises.
Traditional Runway Shows Versus New Trends
The expensive runway show is being replaced by “presentations” which are smaller shows, of shorter duration as opposed to just one runway event. This is making it easier for designers, who will often spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on just one runway show, to evaluate the success of the campaigns in terms of metrics like social media traffic and sharing on social media and smartphones. It allows designers and fashion houses greater insight into what works and what doesn’t work, and allows for tweaks to be made in favour of more successful strategies to increase sales and brand recognition.
Development Of “Instagram-Worthy” Looks
Social media platforms like Snapchat
are so pivotal in the overall sales strategy of fashion brands that some industry experts are suggesting that fashion itself is beginning to take on some of the traits that will make it easier to sell on social media
. Fashion commentators have noted that fashion houses are increasing looking for bold “statement” pieces that will stand out when shared on social media and smartphones. As such bold, bright colours have featured more frequently at fashion week events, as have more eclectic fashion pieces like turbans and hair pieces. This has become known as the “display factor” which makes designers consider, not just how appealing the item design will be to customers, but also how appealing it will be on social media and how well it will lend itself to being shared on social media.
The importance of social media has also fuelled what is referred to as “experiential retail”, where fashion features indirectly in a larger “experience-based” setting. For example, at the 2018 fashion week, Ralph Lauren
devised an entire campaign around a coffee shop theme, with the various fashion pieces all modeled within a coffee shop setting. The venue for the campaign was a popup coffee shop, with models displaying their designs, while attendees sat in the coffee shop and enjoyed tea and breakfast. After the event finished, the brand kept the coffee shop open to maximise the impact of the campaign. Again, particularly unique campaigns such as these are a boon for the social media marketers who know they will be shared widely on social media, due to their sheer visual impact.
Fashion Week Events: Are They Helping The High Street?
The overwhelming weight of evidence supports the view that fashion week events are a godsend to struggling high street retailers, mainly due to the increased footfall they generate in bricks and mortar shops. Although, the impact of fashion week events in London and New York have been decreasing slightly, in recent years, the events are still highly important for a variety of parties including designers, consumers, fashion houses and buyers. In fact, some experts are suggesting that the events are “industries within themselves”, such is the impact of the event on fashion houses’ sales profits.
Fashion week participants have been quick to change how the events themselves are run, to ensure that consumer needs and preferences are catered for. This is known as an increasing “consumer-centric” approach and it includes changes like the introduction of fast fashion and the development of a more immersive and inclusive experience for audiences. This has consolidated the impact of the fashion week events as a means of stirring interest in fashion and new designs. Whereas some commentators are arguing that government intervention is required to support the events, none of these proposals have found favour with legislators.
Lessons learnt from more recent fashion week events include the idea that merging experiences with shopping gives an additional boost to footfall, with the added bonus that, when managed artfully, these can also create visual impacts that are helpful to social media sales campaigns. Also vitally important is the actual experience of the customer when they visit shops, both during and after fashion week events. Fashion houses have increasingly been using AI to create better in-store experiences
for shoppers and this is also helping to quell the ferocious march of digital sales in the face of ever-dwindling sales from their bricks and mortar counterparts.