One lasting consequence of the pandemic may be smaller collections — and fashion will be all the better for it, retailers, wholesalers and designers agree.
“I am resolutely for quality over quantity, and doing less is very often more because the designer can focus on making every garment count,” said James Gilchrist, vice president at Comme des Garçons USA and Dover Street Market USA, which operates multibrand emporiums in New York and Los Angeles. “It is exactly what is needed in the industry right now and going forward.”
During the recent round of fashion weeks for the fall 2021 season, many designers highlighted that they had whittled down the size of their collections to positive effect: One even cited bigger sales with fewer items.
Japanese designer Hidenori Kumakiri, who shows his Beautiful People collection on the official calendar of Paris Fashion Week, credited his “Side-C” designs, garments that transform and can be worn in multiple ways, for fueling business since he introduced the concept for spring 2018. For his fall 2021 effort, many garments could be worn upside down, creating a completely different silhouette.
“Sales increased 150 percent while the number of products decreased by 80 percent when compared to five years ago,” Kumakiri said in an interview conducted via email. “In Japan, people are probably more into fashion and high-valued items compared to other countries. We are sustainable in the sense that our products can have multiple variations and we reduced a lot of waste after we started the Side-C collections.”
Dries Van Noten is among marquee designers to have slimmed down his design output, telling WWD’s Apparel and Retail CEO Summit last December that the forced slowdown amid the pandemic allowed him to shrink the size of his seasonal offering by about 30 to 35 percent.
The Belgian designer is also a key figure in a grassroots effort to better align fashion deliveries with seasons and snuff out early markdowns. Signatories of an online petition known as forumletter.org have vowed to “increase sustainability throughout the supply chain and sales calendar” via “less unnecessary product, less waste in fabrics and inventory” and less travel.
According to a spokesperson for the Antwerp-based house, “over this period since COVID-19 has affected operations, we have continued to reduce the size of our offering for our collections. We are very encouraged by the positive reaction this has received from our wholesale partners and consumers.”
Chloé is another prominent label to have reduced the size of collections by about 30 to 35 percent.
“Less is more,” said chief executive officer Riccardo Bellini, noting the tactic reduces waste and fosters “a more focused creative process.”
Giorgio Armani, who emerged as a prominent proponent of slower fashion during the coronavirus crisis, said his idea is to reduce collections by almost a third of their current size.
“A large percentage of the global fashion output ends up unsold and discarded to the black market or outlets. I don’t want to work for the outlets, that’s for sure: that would hugely diminish, if not dismiss, the value of what I do,” he told WWD. “Therefore, I am reducing the number of variations on certain looks, making the offer sharper and more focused. There is no need to try to please everyone with endless takes on the same look: one will suffice. And the same principle I am applying to the whole of our output. People who appreciate my style will find a more concentrated version of it, and the business will benefit.”
The Italian designer cited a positive reaction so far from his wholesale partners and the ultimate consumer.
“The idea that bigger collections generate big sales is a misconception: sometimes too much on offer confuses instead of tempting the client,” Armani argued. “I think editing is always an enriching exercise, for a designer as well as a retailer. That will help bring a stronger message to the clients. In slimming down, we have taken out things that traditionally do not sell, and this will have a wider impact on the environment as well — which is a main preoccupation for me at the moment. I only see pros in such an approach. Producing too much, today, is a crime.”
Maria Lemos, founder and director of Rainbowwave, which operates multibrand fashion showrooms in London, Paris and New York, applauded an industrywide move to more concise collections, which she described as a boon to creativity, production and the wholesale channel.
“When you’re forced to make a smaller collection, you’re also more focused,” she said in an interview. “You really edit your own collection, rather than have it edited. I mean, you do have to offer choice. But you don’t have to offer too much choice because it’s overwhelming to a buyer.”
Among examples of “very focused” collections that have “grown enormously” is Extreme Cashmere, a Dutch company which since the outset has offered only 15 new styles a season.
In Lemos’ view, making smaller collections makes sense in tougher economic times, and fosters greater creativity. “Don’t have two similar styles. Choose the better one,” she suggested. “Retailers want more focused collections, particularly if they’re buying on Zoom.”
What’s more, “focusing your selling into fewer styles with more depth is much easier for production and much more financially viable for designers,” she said.
Dover Street’s Gilchrist agreed it’s been a godsend for buyers.
“It is much easier when a collection is succinct and focused,” he said. “It can guide buyers to make a stronger edit, it’s easier to control image and presentation at the stores, clearer for the end customers, helps production, is potentially more profitable and better for the environment. Many wins to be had.”
And he concurred that smaller collections don’t always equate to smaller orders: “When every garment is special, it can be harder to edit down to budget and orders end up bigger.”
That said, “the main downside to a concise collection is when we don’t like that season’s offering. It makes it challenging to put together a selection, whereas if we don’t like parts of a diverse collection, we can usually still put together an assortment that we feel strongly about,” Gilchrist noted.
Beautiful People’s Kumakiri said his focus on transformable garments was initially born out of a wish “to show more variation and focus on the craftsmanship,” rather than reduce the size of collections, but “it turned out to show good results.”
He noted multiuse garments take more time to develop in pattern-making and design compared to other items, “but it also enlarges my imagination and creativity. I think it is very important to trust and believe what you are doing.”
Marfa Stance, a two-year-old outerwear specialist based in London and named after an arty Texas town, is another brand built on a tight, seasonless offering of styles that are reversible and transformable with interchangeable collars, hoods and liners. It is direct-to-consumer, but is starting with about 20 wholesale doors this September.
“After having worked for many years with others brands, experiencing first-hand the unsustainable cycle of constant seasonal newness that the industry demands and the waste, environmental damage and burnout this causes, I created Marfa Stance with a concept, value set and approach to design that really is about buying less but buying better,” said founder Georgia Dant, who has held senior design roles at Rag & Bone and Burberry.
Dant’s motto is “simply to amplify.”
“With less options and more of a thoughtful design process across less pieces, it means you can achieve greater volume in one style, which is economically efficient,” she said. “I believe that it also makes the customer shopping experience more focused and results in higher sales as there is more clarity around what our design identity and aesthetic is, and what you stand for as a brand.”
Dant said she plans to expand into categories beyond outerwear, “but always with the same methodical and distilled approach. We will always keep our offering small and intentionally designed for purpose.”
Natalie Kingham, global fashion officer at Matchesfashion, cited pros and cons with smaller collections.
“Reducing the size of the collection would create less waste, as less is being made that perhaps isn’t bought, which is a big positive,” she said. “From a negative viewpoint, it could become more challenging to buy collections in a different way, leading to retailers buying into the same pieces.”
In her view, flexibility is key.
“We work with many of our brands who have smaller collections either on more frequent delivery drops, or deliveries outside the traditional windows, so when the collection drops it has more impact as they aren’t necessarily competing with the bigger, more established brands,” she explained. “We have also seen some of our super brands with larger collections transitioning into a more-frequent-drop business model. Offering smaller and more regular drops are great for an online business that serves an international customer as you can launch pieces that make sense for the customer at that moment in time.”
And she concurred that in fashion’s new math, smaller collections don’t necessarily equate with smaller orders.
“It is all down to the collection — sometimes with larger edits we choose to focus on one specific mood within the collection and create a smaller edit,” she said. “On the flip side, we often meet new brands who have a very concise collection, but every single piece is fabulous.”