The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

New Trends in Fashion Retail

I take the BOF (Business of Fashion) newsletter and it’s always filled with interesting little tidbits, with this morning’s article, The Retail Apocalypse Is Back.  You have to subscribe to see it, but the basics are that retail is having a hard time blaming tariffs and rental and resale markets.

But their (retail big box stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic and the standard mall stores) fumbles tell a similar story in the end: whereas 2018 gave retailers a glimmer of hope that they might return to growth after suffering for years from the effects of e-commerce, the retail apocalypse has come roaring back in full force in 2019, despite growing consumer confidence. The market has been fractured not only by the onslaught of online native brands but also by new retail models such as rental and resale.

This is but an excerpt from the article, but this is an interesting point here because there has to be a major redo in retail to survive, in my opinion.  In 1989, I purchased a YSL top for $189.  That top is still in my closet and I wear it still as it still fits, but more importantly, it was made to last for 20 years.  The $189 today is worth about $400 (comparing it to food and price of gas price increases).  But who among us would purchase a top for almost $400?

The reasons are simple if you look at them:

  1. Clothes that are purchased today are made to last only for months, therefore the value in the purchase of them is limited – at best.  The consumer doesn’t expect the clothing to last any further than a few wearings, and probably not through the first washing.  Therefore, spending that amount of money would be useless.  Pretty much the RTW industry has pimped out the consumer to the point that the consumer doesn’t expect much and therefore will not pay much
  2. The whole idea of purchasing investment clothing is lost on today’s consumer.  There has been one whole generation who has grown up with the concept of throw-away clothing that any sort of long-lasting clothing is pretty much so foreign that a complete re-education of the buying public has to occur.
  3. The initial layout for a change in how to purchase investment or long-lasting clothing is huge.  The marketing that has to be done on something like that is enormous, and in the world of fast fashion – well fast-fashion marketing and consumer mindset, investment clothing is about as foreign as having a Martian design clothes!  Is there a Martian? – well, you see my point!
  4. The investment in turning a fast-fashion business into an investment-clothing retailer is beyond the probability and possibility in this current market.  There is such an investment to make this work, that no right-minded business person would even look at some sort of option like this.

However, what is interesting in this article is the little phrase:

the onslaught of online native brands but also by new retail models such as rental and resale

And herein lies some truth.

Native brands are little companies that almost always start out on the internet, and therefore are more commonly known as DNVB, Digital Native Vertical Brands (more on the Vertical in a minute).  These companies start out small and are geared toward the millennial in that they are overloaded with experience shopping.  What is that?  It’s all about the experience of shopping, but also about the interaction between the seller and the buyer.  The consumers simply doesn’t go into the store, pick out what she wants, guys it, and walks out; this is all about the experience of purchasing the item, or in the case of most of the DNVBs, they go online, and the experience is fun, cute, funny filled with entertainment and it so positive that it charms the customer as well as delivering what the customer is there to purchase.  Even though a DNVB may have a retail store, most of them started and most certainly are geared online.  They are totally into catering to the needs of the customer but also making a very personal connection with the customer.

So what does this mean for shopping?  For one thing, there’s no longer the drive, will or need to get in the car, drive to the store location, drive around for a parking place, walk to the store, look for what’s available, buy something that you may not have come for in the first place, only to go to another location to look for what you original set out to purchase, and end up coming home with something that 1.) doesn’t work for you, 2.) if it does go with something, it only last 3 or 4 times and 3.) isn’t really what you wanted to begin with.  When you go online, you can switch in a nanosecond from one store to another because there are all sorts of helpful cookies and other info-gathering mechanisms to help you figure out what you want and where you can get it.  Have you noticed that if you search for a pair of shoes online, and then go to a news outlet to read the latest headlines, there are your shoes – that’s the sort of info-gathering mechanisms that are all over the internet.  Good or bad, they are there for a reason – to sell you something.

Basically this group of retailers, the DNVBs,  hits below the belt of the big box mall stores because it nixes all the expense of the big mall store, and can save money, time and effort on the part of the consumer, by simply buying online, but also because it’s a small company can literally turn on a dime and hit the latest market very quickly.

So what does the vertical part mean?  That’s the retail business talk for operating in several different market areas.  Most of the DNVBs are not only online, but in brick-and-mortar presences now too.  But you can also chat with them or call them on the phone or see their goods in Walmart or Costco.  They operate on several different levels, hence they are vertical.

Rental and Resale are exactly what you would expect.  Rent the Runway is the most famous of these sites, and you rent a dress or garment for what you need, then return it, for a fraction of what it would cost to purchase the garment.  Most consumers are trained to not expect more than that from a garment anyway, so renting is a perfect outlet for this.  And the cost is at a fraction of what the dress would cost if the consumer bought it outright at the store.  The cost is usually about 10% of what the retail would be.  Not only that but it doesn’t take up extra space in your wardrobe and for something you might need for an evening only, and then not have to worry about the cost or the keeping of the garment.


From a Sewists Perspective

Basically, it tells us that there is a market out there for investment clothing, but that there is not the financial power to invest in this long-lasting, classic clothing.  Most consumers are waking up to the fact that the almighty mall retailers that have held court over the retail industry for decades are lumbering dinosaurs getting ready to fall.  Yes, they’ve tried to integrate into an online presence;  yes, they’ve tried to create the retail experience that is so coveted and a hot trend in retailing now; and yes, they’ve even tried doing a little DNVB-ing, but at heart these companies are financially and economically based as a store that sells poorly-made garments, that last for a short period of time, and to turn into a retailer that sells long-lasting garments at 10 times the amount they are marketing now, is economic suicide for them.

Even the DNVBs can’t compete with we sewists because even though they strive to be individual and personal in their service and offerings, they can’t satisfy everyone’s style, size, and shape – they simply can’t.

But sewing does!

You can be your own Native Brand because that means you can take your look and make it in a silk, a cotton, a linen, a print, a knit, a glamorous look, a casual look, a longer look, a shorter look, a comfortable look (what retailer has thought about comfort in the last 30 years?!),, a flattering look (what retailer has thought about flattering for every shape – at all?!) – all of these come from sewing.  And it’s not like you have to spend your entire free time sewing.  Making an investment wardrobe is far cheaper than purchasing one.  Well, duh, Claire – we all know that!

But it’s more.

You can personalize this investment wardrobe so that each garment serves a specific purchase (no going to the mall and getting drawn off-target).  Not only does it last for a few years, but for 5, 10 and 20 years because it suits your style, size, and shape.  Talk about personal service….this is the ultimate in personal service.

You won’t have to rent your clothes, because you already have the garment you need in your closet.  The way of coordinating, matching, blending and mixing is all new again and making a new garment or two for every season becomes a new way of updating your wardrobe in such a way so as to refresh your whole look without replacing the whole wardrobe.

Upscaling or Recycling clothing is not mentioned in the article, probably because the retail market hasn’t really marketed it yet, but has just as much a bite into the retail mall store, is the upscaling and recycling of clothing.  Taking an old garment and reworking it for more modern lines, looks and uses is truly an extension of the investment clothing model.  Think of the beginning pioneers throughout the world, where they had to make their clothing last and last.  The garment may have started out as an elegant shirt for special occasions and then parts of it wore out.  It was reworked a little to patch up the worn out parts, and still worn for a little less dressy occasions, then finally had several worn out places.  Then it became a work garment with patches all over but still was able to be worn.  The garment may have passed down for 3 generations or so, but it had been reworked, patched, repaired and fixed over and over again – each time its use was redefined, but still was useful.  Today, many sewists take apart gorgeous old couture clothing and rework it.  I even do this for a lot of my clients who purchase 10-year old or 15-year old couture, well-made garments and we restyle them and rework them so that they are as good today as they were 10 or 15 years ago.  This was a video made in June 2011 and this top is as good if not better as it was the day I made it.  The truth is that this is the sort of classic look that lasts and lasts.


I watch and pay attention to what RTW and retailing is doing because that tells us a lot about fashion and what’s happening with fashion.  It took us since 1992 (almost 20 years) to wreck our RTW industry with the fast-cheap fashion craze, and now that retailers are suffering the ramifications of that pillage and assault on the clothing manufacturing business, it will take at least 10 years if not 20 years to get back to quality clothing available for most of the consuming public.  The consumer is beginning to call for it, but it will take that long to get back to us.  The DNVBs are working toward that goal, and that’s probably the closest that we will have for a while  —

….unless you sew – then the world is your oyster, and again you are ahead of the fashion curve.

1 Comment
  1. Lovely spot on articles! Thank you for sharing the video on the Mizono pattern. I have the pattern but hadn’t figured out where to take out the excess fullness. Your solution makes perfect sense to me. I really enjoy reading your blog.

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