Photographed Exclusively for Accessories Almanac by Sally Griffiths
One year ago, Sarah Rutson (then Vice President of Global Buying at Net-a-Porter) sat at a trend presentation she was delivering to press, and said the most frustrating thing she was asked during fashion month was her opinion on the relatively new ‘See Now, Buy Now’ business model. The reason for her angst was simple. According to Rutson, online retailers are the See Now, Buy Now model, and they have been for years. To whit, Net-a-Porter had been an industry leader in this sector for some time, and their customer was already invested in that business model. She did however, raise an interesting point. When customers live, travel, and buy product globally, why are designers—and especially accessories designers—restricting themselves to a seasonal calendar? The answer is that many of them are not.
In the past couple years, designers have cited the ever-growing pace within the industry as a creative deal breaker. Too many collections equal too much pressure, and have made it harder for designers to do what they do best: create. For that reason—plus globalization, climate change, and the ever-advancing internet; the consumer has evolved past a seasonal model. Online retailers such as Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion.com sell every style of footwear year round, because consumers are dictating they do so. And as more labels adopt a direct-to-consumer business model and become available internationally, this strategy has become the most logical. Emerging accessories labels—who have the ability to change production schedules easily due to shorter supply chains—are leading the pack. “The traditional seasonal wholesale model was simply not the best solution for my brand, nor was it elevating my creativity,” says French shoe and bag designer Amelie Pichard, who is vocal in her decision to end a seasonal schedule. “It's about finding a model that helps extract the best of you. The business side and the creative side should work in harmony and should support each other. The exclusives-only model I have launched with my retailers is a win win, it creates more opportunities for me to express creativity and in turn creates a more exclusive, personalized product for my retailers and thus, the customer has an optimized and unique shopping experience at that particular store.”
It’s a model that also translates across the three major accessories divisions—shoes, jewelry, and handbags. More so than shoes and bags, jewelry designers have less need to create collections that work with the ‘seasons.’ “Jewelry is sentimental, and sentiments don't change with the weather,” says Finn jewelry designer, Candice Pool Neistat. “A ring doesn't speak to me and say, ‘you love me--I'm a perfect fall eternity band to go with those boots.’ So basing a business model on that approach is something I wouldn't be able to connect with emotionally.”
For retailers, a seasonal schedule is a necessity, driving sales because of ‘new’ collections and more frequent deliveries. Thanks to the pulsating speed of the internet, consumers want more “new” things than ever before. “Historic shopping patterns largely dictated the flow of goods—when shopping was brick and mortar based, and at a time where people shopped in advance of the season, items were planned into stores in advance,” says President of the Accessories Council, Karen Giberson. “As habits and demands have changed, along with the instant gratification of wanting to buy what you see NOW, many brands have adapted to a different schedule that meets immediate needs. I also believe the “Sales” pattern of many stores has trained the customer to wait until things are on sale. Models such as Zara work well because there is always an exciting mix of new and fresh product that is correct to the season. Producing closer to need also allows for incorporation of trends, smarter buys to consider demand, and ensures a fresh product assortment.” The relationship a store shares with their designer however, differs from brand to brand. “I've never been seasonal,” says Pool Neistat. “I think it's always been a bit frustrating for my bigger retailers because they expect newness on a regular basis, but after so many years they get how I work. I think it's most challenging from a PR standpoint. It's best to release a whole jewelry story, with inspiration or a theme—a complete collection—whereas I make a pair of earrings and that's it. Then maybe a ring that doesn't match at all. Then the next month another ring. Media is looking for the next thing based on fashion calendar deadlines, but my inspiration is so sporadic, I miss the news boat 90% of the time.” For Pichard, the change has been positive. “My retailers love this new move, because they already know what their customers want, and we can work together creatively on a product that is appropriate for their customer's taste. They have had a stronger sell through than ever since we enacted this change.”
The question that arises is where the push for a seasonal schedule originates. The consumer, who constantly demands new product; or the retailer, who encourages this endless cycle by requiring brands to produce multiple seasons and drops per year. The glaringly obvious truth is that we are simply producing too much. Too many products, too many brands, and even too much content. By limiting their drops and collections to more appropriate timing, these brands are also helping to deliver products that they feel truly exemplify the label’s mission and brand integrity. Quality versus quantity, if you will.
When Tamara Mellon relaunched her brand earlier this year, she settled on a business model that focused solely on shoes, sold direct to consumer, and divided her products into two groups—a seasonless ‘Classics’ collection, and the experimental Lab, in which new limited-edition styles will drop monthly. “I think where it makes sense, seasonless is prudent,” says Giberson. “It works better in certain categories and with certain styles—a loafer is a loafer, but perhaps a small addition of a seasonal color is a great way to look fresh without introducing completely new styles. Most important though is to keep your product strong, and to keep adding reasons for the customer to return.” Case in point: Established heritage brands who have a loyal repeat customer and offer hero products year around, such as R.M. Williams. And at a time when many in the industry are commenting on the “broken system” this could well be a new way forward.