Words: Red Mosiane | Image: Zeus Feni

In late 2016, the high fashion world was abuzz as brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Burberry announced they were taking the leap towards the “see-now-buy-now” (SNBN) model. Traditionally, mass brands such as these present their collections at fashion weeks for the press, buyers and other industry players about 6 months before they become available for purchase in order to make time for the process of reproducing them and coordinating with retail partners  (this now varies depending on the collection, i.e. Resort collections are made available quicker than Autumn/Winter collections). With SNBN, their collections or select pieces from the collections are put on sale immediately after or simultaneously as they debut on the runway.

The shift is in reaction to the calls for the fashion system to update itself to fit the changing times and consumer behaviours. There has been a growing and polarising debate about how mass global brands and high fashion still operate in a way that no longer serves how consumers shop or engage with brands today.

We live in the times of instant gratification where a majority of consumers no longer possess the patience or even attention span to wait for 3 to 6 months to buy a garment. Due to increased access to the internet and globalisation, consumers have a plethora of alternatives to get what they want when they want it.

The influence of the internet and social media plays a defining role in this shift. Online stores and e-commerce brands the world over can be credited as trend setters of this sales model. The success of “Instagram boutiques” and similar online retail approaches in these past few years has been a catalyst in altering the consumers’ approach to shopping by minimising the waiting period (some even down to less than 24 hours). What they do is simply forewarn their consumers so they can have their money together by the launch date, make the collection available when promised and thereafter their customer is a few clicks and delivery days away from having the latest fashion in their closet.

The reason why mass global brands like the ones which make up the High Fashion sector of the industry are joining the wave rather late -if at all- is because for them, executing SNBN is a much more complicated process. Such brands are basically required to re-position their entire multi-million (sometimes billion) dollar business models. Their wholesale chain has to speed up and go from having months to produce stock for hundreds of stores and outlets across the globe to having to do that in just a few weeks. This is insanely expensive and costs brands millions in revenue.

But whilst trying to figure all that out, they have inadvertently showed a chink in their armour because the longer most mass global brands cannot – or simply refuse to – satisfy consumers’ intensifying demand for instant gratification, they leave just enough room for the underdogs to have the opportunity to reach them as more consumers are moving towards supporting more brands who do just that. Including brands in emerging markets like South Africa (and others across the continent).

With globalisation, as long as a brand has a digital presence on social media accompanied by an e-commerce site, they are able to reach consumers all over the world. From luxury to fast fashion, streetwear or formalwear, every kind of consumer wants the option to buy things they want when they want them as conveniently as possible. Local brands trying to increase their reach and market share but not capitalising off of this shift in consumer behaviour should immediately do so while mass global brands hold on the market is somewhat weakened. Simply put, local brands generally need to bring their approach to business into this decade.

Local brands incur relatively cheaper operating costs because they don’t have to worry about things like store rentals in malls or a 30 floor office building as their headquarters. They also have quicker production chains with most relying on reproducing in-house or locally then selling to consumers directly or via online retailers who require less stock than what a mass retailer would. Before these were more of disadvantages but in this current landscape they are fast becoming huge competitive advantages over mass global brands. Local brands are able to restock quicker in reactionary quantities thus minimising excess waste and update their stock lists faster by reacting to changing trends in a fraction of the time of a mass global brand thus putting them in a position to satisfy the consumer much quicker.

Local brands need to invest mainly into structuring the brand’s business models in a way that utilises online retail as their main sales avenue instead of continuing to prematurely (and often unsuccessfully) opt for brick and mortar or they will get left behind.

As much as every local designer aspires to own stores in malls or trendy gentrified areas, this soon-to-be global standard approach signals that it is time to rethink that. Many are still mimicking the outdated approaches of mass global brands instead of realising that those same multi-million dollar American and European brands they look up to are struggling to hold on to their market shares today because of how much consumer behaviours and technology have advanced.

SNBN is not just for mass brands trying to get with the times or Instagram boutiques but rather a signal for local brands to rethink their approach to retail. Now is a better time than any for local brands to realise that focusing rather on innovation by perusing newer, relevant and better ways to generate sales, they will turn the entire fashion system on its head and exponentially advance the local fashion industry.