The world’s a funny old place, full of contradictions. The global economy is on its knees and yet luxury firm Hermes, where handbags can cost an astronomical £50,000, is worth nearly €28bn. Technology retailer Apple has more cash than the US government. It appears accessories are worth more to us than whole countries.
’Fast fashion’ is another anomaly of our times. We are allegedly poorer than ever before, with 2.51 million people jobless in the UK, yet we want endless new clothes at our fingertips. Successful brands have to change stock on the high street in a matter of hours to meet our rapacious consumer demand.
At the forefront of this extreme fast-fashion approach is American retailer Forever 21. Already on London’s Oxford Street and in Birmingham, the brand opened an enormous three-floor boutique in the new Olympic shopping mall at Westfield Stratford City this month.
In our cover story, Forever 21’s head of marketing Linda Chang claims that her customers expect and desire an incredibly fast stock churn. Deliveries mean that new items appear and old ones are gone in a daily cycle.
And, conveniently for the brand’s bottom line, this encourages instant spending. If consumers don’t pounce on a top or dress when they see it, it could be gone by the next day.
Forever 21 is a fashion brand but this is not a fashion story. It’s a supply chain story. It’s a stock story. It’s a consumer demand story. It’s a point-of-sale story. It’s a marketing story. In short, it’s a tale that could affect almost any brand or industry. It’s not just speed that you need to worry about. Shops like Forever 21 are changing the fashion sector by adopting new operational norms; and the confectionery sector is also turning to a new way of doing business. Mars announced this week that Maltesers are to go Fairtrade.
For many years, Fairtrade was the domain of niche confectionery brands such as Divine and Green & Black’s. In 2009, Cadbury took Fairtrade supply chain visibility into the big league by agreeing to turn its flagship Dairy Milk product Fairtrade. Nestlé was quick to announce its KitKat product would adopt Fairtrade cocoa. And now Mars.
From being a niche notion, Fairtrade is now seen as an important business strategy for confectioners. All the largest brands want to be involved. So perhaps in three years, all retailers will also be Fashion 21-style speed supply stores, producing shorter runs of stock, available for only a limited time.
It might not be supply chain speed or Fairtrade that affects your industry today. But there will be something coming soon that will change how you do business. Make sure you have your eyes open. As Forever 21’s Larry Meyer puts it: “We know we are only as good as our next sale, so you have to just keep getting better or everyone will pass you by.”