What the leather sector can learn from the fashion industry

Worldwide
Published:  22 October, 2019
Credit: Artificial Photography

Before I joined ILM earlier this year, I spent 13 years as Editor of a leading b2b magazine for the fashion retail industry in the UK, arguably one of the most prestigious apparel markets and most dynamic retail sectors in the world. 

There is obviously no getting away from the fact that the fashion industry’s environmental impact is severe, and there are many problems textile players of all sizes and guises, from supply chain to store level, are going to have to tackle in order to reduce the footprint this industry is leaving on the world.

However, for all its flaws, the one thing that the fashion industry is remarkably good at, is to constantly look ahead, plot the next move and think outside of the box. Fashion breeds - and is driven by - consumerism and an appetite for novelty; the ever new must-have item, the next big trend and so on. In order to successfully deliver on this, fashion players, at least the successful ones, have to be in touch with their customers and target markets at all times, always and forever anticipating what they could desire next and keeping an eye on the wider social, economic, geopolitical and demographic developments that will influence the next generation of consumers.

By its very nature, fashion works at least one season, if not a full year, ahead of the present; trend forecasting even looks as far as three to four years into the future, and brands spend a lot of money on predictions of where their market is most likely going to head, to understand the ever changing mindset of the consumer and what is going to determine their behaviours – and ultimately what is going to make them part with their money. That is as close to a crystal ball as anyone will get.

Master of reinvention
Fashion retail in particular is a master of reinvention. Few sectors have seen such a dramatic and fast transformation as this market segment has over the last two decades or so. Every aspect of retailing has been affected, from the way companies run their store operations and their relationships with their suppliers through the tools and strategies they use to the technology they implement to how they interact with the end consumer and the marketing techniques they employ – and it just keeps evolving. The world of commerce does not stand still, because those who do, risk being left behind.

When the internet first started to make its mark on fashion retail and the traditional bricks and mortar set-up, retailers adjusted their business models and launched transactional websites – fashion was among the first adopters of mainstream e-commerce. From there, fashion players moved into mobile-commerce or m-commerce, and now we are seeing an increasing influx of ‘social shopping’, with the evolution of social media as a legitimate retail platform. Successful retail now is truly multi-channel, even going full circle with bricks-and-mortar, which may have had to adapt, but is far from dead in the water.

In recent times, retailers have changed their approach to their physical spaces and rather than just looking at them as simply somewhere where they are displaying their wares, they are focusing on service and those buzzwords, the ‘customer experience’. It is all about events, pop-ups and experiential engagement that feels personal and customised to the target consumer, particularly Millennials and Gen-Z’s, and increasingly connects the physical with the digital world.
Fashion retailers do not wait for the consumer to find them – they take their products to the consumer, whichever mode of shopping they prefer.

Change as an opportunity
The key thing that most successful fashion retailers and brands have in common is that they do not fear change, but they see it as an opportunity (or if they do feel the fear, they do it anyway). They are bold, brave and not afraid to seek cross-industry collaboration or team up with other companies, celebrities, designers, influencers etc. if it enhances their brand message and experience, as many of the bold partnerships between fashion brands and other companies will attest.

What does this have to do with leather? It is about the bigger picture. While not everything about the fashion industry will be directly applicable to tanners or leather goods manufacturers, or other industries for that matter, the lesson to be learned here is that the only way to not only survive but thrive in an ever changing business context - and change is the reality for all industries – is to put your head above the parapet, question the status quo and stay one step ahead.

New, innovative concepts are needed across the board, or businesses will be left behind. Markets do not change from the supply chain up to the consumer, but the other way around; understanding this at every stage of the manufacturing and sales cycle of goods is the first step to a successful strategy for the future. Those businesses that we read about in the media that are failing, are those who did not adapt. That goes as much for the fashion industry as it does for other sectors, and leather is not excluded from that. As someone much wiser than me once said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you can’t expect different results”.

Isabella Griffiths

Isabella Griffiths, Editor, ILM
isabella@edifydigitalmedia.com