New Retail Trend
Christmas selling season isn’t very far away as retailers get their inventories beefed up and extra help hired for the next few months. The big question is lurking in the minds of merchandisers…what should we expect? How much inventory to avoid expensive markdowns? After spending years in merchandising and asking these exact questions, I believe things are different this time! There is a pattern of change retail spending. It is a difficult one to read. However, if you tune into trends of the shoppers in the most personal way, such as their financial challenges, there is one obvious solution. Shoppers need to get the most for their few dollars, now, more now than ever before.
Buying Down & Meltdown
I confess I am not an economist, however I have taken note that this current economic climate is not the usual recession. I see a pattern in which shoppers are “buying down” a level from their normal choices. At the same time, options abound now for anyone with a computer or who can get to a library. There is growth of online shopping both in shoppers and offerings. Great selections of quality goods can now be had daily at discount prices. There is also a meltdown of our fashion industry as businesses find it difficult to compete. In order to survive, they are sending their manufacturing overseas and laying off US workers. This meltdown began slowly with five percent imports in the ’70s. Unfortunately that number escalated greatly over the last few years until it hit ninety five percent! That means the sewing, cutting, fabric design and other manufacturing jobs are no more! Now most merchandise is shipped to China, then to India and back to China to finish before coming back to the USA to sell to the customers. As the NYC garment center has shrunk, there are new hotels moving in. What do we do? Embrace this huge change? Will this dissolve our middle America and, if so, who will be the customers in the future? In a perfect world we shoppers and merchants might say, let’s have another go at “Made in America.” Somehow this shift seems too big. Is it already a permanent change? As a matter of fact, it does resemble the retail mall movement of the 60’s and 70’s where suburbia malls replaced our downtown shops.
Is Los Angeles the Future Fashion Capital?
This trend towards export/imports has expanded beyond New York. In Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Apparel Mart, I found the last international fabric show vacant as compared to the size it was just a few years ago. There were always so many fabric resources from the USA and Europe with some Asian vendors sprinkled in the mix. At the last show it appeared to me that the Chinese vendors were in the majority. I spent an entire day outside the mart to see what was happening with the street vendors. I couldn’t believe the new growth in the outlying area. There were new wholesale malls and store fronts open for wholesale business! They were also all imports and most from China and India. Apparently as government regulations were lifted the last few years, it caused a paradigm shift—actually a Tsunami! The once #1 business in New York has dwindled while the Los Angeles area is growing in numbers of new vendors. They are selling direct to buyers and clients of all sizes. From individuals selling on Ebay to department and discount stores contracting big orders.
Let’s look at the merchandise, is it the same at better prices? What designers contract and send overseas to make is outside this evaluation, there are vendors knocking them off at good prices. I cannot say there is no difference. Actually it depends on the fabric and silhouettes. There certainly is not the quality of Italian tailoring in silhouettes and garments that I could find. There are, however, lots of great looking sportswear separates and dresses made of novelty synthetics at incredible prices for the younger customer! What used to cost hundreds for a great looking black jersey dress can now be found for $10 – $20. There was also an abundance of key fashion items at great prices. What does this mean for the shopper with fewer dollars? It means she can get more mileage for her money and that is just a fact!
What about social consciousness?
It seems like such a great idea to get more for our money. Do we know where will this take us as a nation? Should we care? India is right now going through a similar time that our fashion industry experienced over 100 years ago. Beginning with child labor, unsafe conditions for workers, no insurance, no fire and safety standards, many times workers are locked up and forced to live in the sweat shops. Is it fair to strap that guilt on the USA shopper with our buying choices? As a matter of fact, it is the government policy of our country that has created the problem. Is it fair to ask shoppers to bear the burden with their own family needs at hand?
What does this mean for those of us small businesses who want to continue designing, manufacturing, and selling in America? If we can work smart, we may actually be able to compete. With giant retailers knocking out the small retail shops over the years, this may even open opportunity for some of us. This may be a time for leveling out the playing field for the small designer firms. Home office and home studios can be a great savings to the bottom line, moving manufacturing to areas where lowered overhead can be effective, joint projects pooling talents on a project by project basis, and selling direct to the customers online can all be ways to compete and even thrive. This solution serves the shopper for more unique affordable merchandise stretching their few dollars. Who knows, we may be able to spark a small flame once again called “Made in America.”
Written by Karen Mathis of www.WrapMeInCouture.Etsy.com  where the entire collection is "Made in America".