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DVF Founder: Fashion Suffers From ‘Product Pollution’

Photo credit: Patrick MacLoed, WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit

 

The fashion industry has evolved in recent years, but its metamorphosis into a “big business” vertical has made it ripe for a mass-scale pruning, according to one of retail’s longtime influencers.

In a session at the WWD Apparel & Retail CEO Summit, fashion icon and founder of luxury fashion brand DVF Diane von Furstenberg noted that the vertical is becoming too oversaturated across most brands.

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“There’s definitely product pollution — too many things, too many in the same pile, too much is being offered so in the end, people don’t want anything,” said von Furstenberg, who also serves as Chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

With so much merchandise clogging the market, von Furstenberg recommended designers working at brands of all sizes — or even those aspiring to work at fashion brands — to “focus on the intention” of their creations. Von Furstenberg highlighted brand equity, emotion and authenticity as three major characteristics designers need to return to if they want to navigate modern fashion successfully.

“The good news is that we’re all in the same boat,” von Furstenberg said. “You shouldn’t worry about changing everything within an organization. Right now is the time you can afford to do provocative things.”

And while “see now, buy now” is becoming a trend pervading the luxury fashion vertical as more shoppers demand to purchase products immediately, DVF has yet to implement this model. That doesn’t mean the DVF brand isn’t adapting to the current fashion climate; recently hired Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Saunders showcased the brand’s spring/summer 2017 collection as a quiet presentation, a departure from the more celebratory shows DVF has put on in the past.

“People need to digest,” von Furstenberg said. “They don’t just go and buy. What happened was shows were always for trade. The trade would come and they would write about the product, and everything was fine. Then came the celebrities and what did they wear? They wear something that you can’t have for six months. Then came social media and all of a sudden people were inundated with images. It’s not that they wanted it now. It was just very confusing. Everyone began pushing, pushing, pushing — the pricing, the sales, the discounts — it’s become such a mess and now everyone wants to get out of it, but then they need to make their numbers and they can’t. So everybody has to pay the price.”

Luxury Fashion Exacerbates Apparel Demand Problem

The luxury fashion industry needs to figure out its financial problems more than ever, as consumers appear to be shying away from buying apparel in general, according to the MasterCard SpendingPulse study. While U.S. specialty apparel sales grew 0.3% year-over-year in September 2016, the price index growth has not been positive since May 2014, reflecting the impact of near-constant promotions from retailers.

“How much merchandise should we really need?” said Sarah Quinlan, SVP Market Insights at MasterCard Advisors, during a presentation at the WWD Summit. “How many stores selling apparel do we really need online and in-store? The rest of the world is continuing to dress more casually. Apparel is almost like the car industry — just in time, where we buy clothes right before we actually need them.”

Quinlan argued that while the economy has returned far above pre-recession levels, people still aren’t purchasing what they don’t need, noting that this can be difficult on merchandisers as they try to buy product in advance.

With this focus on “need” vs. “want” within apparel purchases, the idea of pruning the fashion industry and many other apparel retailers actually may not be so far-fetched an idea.

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