How buyers are navigating digital fashion week

When the first digital only London Fashion Week debuts this week, the entire fashion industry will be closely watching. If all goes well, London will set a precedent for digital showcasing and selling collections online. Should it fail, other cities will be transforming their own fashion weeks with lessons learned.

Buyers navigating the new season must do so for the first time without physically seeing collections. No more touching of fabrics, no examining how clothes fit on bodies or how garments move when worn. No admiring the special details or unique selling points of a design and no inspection of its tactile qualities. Like many industries, fashion buyers are thrust into a novel era of operating, one where social distancing comes with a multitude of challenges.

Usually at this time of year buyers would be traveling, attending tradeshows, pre-collection showrooms and haute couture and men’s fashion week. They would research and visit stores for inspiration and perhaps samples. This is the traditional way to get an overview of trends and form a primed feeling for next season’s zeitgeist. None of which is now possible. Music festivals, the summer hotbed for researching youth-inspired fashion, have been replaced by virtual raves. There is nowhere to go to see tastemakers IRL.

The starting point is data

To begin, buyers will be analysing any relevant data they have at hand to get a reliable overview of what is selling online, what has been marked down and for how long, and which product categories are performing. They will be watching London Fashion Week unfold via online presentations, conversations, films, live discussion, and podcasts. They will be monitoring social media influencers and veraciously reading and researching what the industry’s tastemakers are posting online and saying in the media.

Invest in assets

When it comes to making purchasing decisions, designers and brands must offer more than standard look book images and invest in assets that clearly depict products, much like online retailers offering multi angle shots, videos of models wearing garments and any extra content to highlight the unique selling points.

Seasoned buyers will be used to buying from line sheets and choosing colour and fabric variations that deviate from actual product samples. Their minds all the while merchandising how their buys will look online and in-store. But buying from line sheets is easier when there is prior knowledge of a brand, with accurate sell-thru information to inform purchasing decisions. Buying into an emerging designer without so much as having seen a garment, is far more challenging. This is a reason many smaller, independent labels are focusing on direct to consumer sales as retailers remain in flux, cancel orders, pay suppliers late and fight for survival. The reality is that this season stores and buyers will be playing it safe and avoiding any risks.

The fashion industry, like other industries, must navigate an unpredictable pandemic which sees daily life changing by the day. Brands that are responsive, innovating their collections into digital formats and transforming how they sell to both retailers and the end consumer, should see a confident start to the season.

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Image via the British Fashion Council