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Will buyers be traveling for fashion week?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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It is surreal to think the next fashion cycle is but a mere three weeks away. As New York fashion week leads the international calendar on 14 September, the latest update from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) informs some NYFW designers will stage physical shows, albeit limited to audiences of 50 persons. London, Milan and Paris will also hold physical presentations, although definitive schedules are yet to be released. The question is, are international buyers traveling this season?

Fashion month, in “normal” times, would see tens of thousands of industry professionals attend the ready-to-wear collections, visit showrooms and plan next season’s in-store and e-commerce merchandising offer. But as fashion week and the industry at large remain disrupted by the coronavirus, the logistical challenges of traveling and social distancing haven’t fully lifted since the end of lockdown.

With international travel still in flux, the outlook for the SS21 womenswear catwalk season is full of uncertainty. Americans are banned from traveling to Europe and will be for the foreseeable future. Europeans, too, are banned from traveling to the US. Japanese buyers are currently barred from traveling to both the US and Europe, although restrictions for business travel may be lifted in September for Japanese nationals and permanent residents.

Reasons to not travel

Travel embargoes, government imposed quarantines, an unpredictable surge in Covid-19 cases and the possibility of not being able to return home without self-isolating for 14 days after visiting a “high risk” country, is for many in the industry reason enough to not travel for fashion week.

Retailers are still reeling from closing their doors during the first wave of the pandemic. The delay of receiving new season collections after supply chains and manufacturing was grind to a halt in March, in addition to a prolonged summer season with extensive discounting to shift stock, means the open to buy - the buying budget for new collections - will be severely impacted for the new season.

While the wholesale buying process is gaining digital momentum and providing opportunities to sell collections online, it cannot replace the physical interaction with garments: seeing fit, make, quality and touching fabric up close is difficult to replicate digitally, despite technological advancements. Thankfully, digital wholesale platforms offer a new channel for selling and managing networks, although perhaps best suited for established brands with existing retail relationships. For emerging designers, exposure on a platform as an unknown talent can be a costly exercise without guaranteed success.

MyTheresa Fashion Director Tiffany Hsu told FashionUnited “not being able to touch something is a very big challenge for us. A photo is always more picture-perfect than what you would have seen in real life. Digital appointments take a lot longer than an actual physical appointment. There are a lot of brands that offer 500 SKUs per season.”

Brands like Tommy Hilfiger are moving towards a 3D integrated fashion future, minimizing sampling and the need for physical collections and product shots. With the ability to design up to 60,000 SKUs, Hilfiger’s collections are digital from the first sketch, and buyers can access collections online.

Since March, buying teams, like the rest of the fashion industry, have had to adjust to a digital-first world. The implications of not traveling has seen both a growth in wholesale platforms and brands re-imagining their own digital spaces and showrooms.

“The common mistake of developing the digital realm as an addition to the physical, is brought to light now that the physical aspect has been removed,” Afef Bouchrika, EMEA Marketing and Partner Operations Coordinator at Clarabridge, told Vocast, a Danish design-driven technology company that helps brands automate their communications. Similarly Clarabridge uses AI to helping leading global brands understand customer interactions. “To start with, a digital showroom should be able to fully replace the classic version we are used to. We can then build on that basis with digital-only perks. What is typical of a showroom, is that you can address a person in there for advice or information. Take that presence away and you don’t have a showroom, but a catalogue.”

A ban on public gatherings fully impacted the haute couture, menswear and pre-collections schedule in July, and ultimately kept buyers at home.

An easing of restrictions, at least within Europe, will allow travel for some, however a clear indication of expected attendance has so far not been divulged by any global fashion week. For certain, buying attendance will be nowhere near the figures of SS20, one year ago.

Want to become a member of FashionUnited's B2B Marketplace? Buyers and brands can register via fashionunited.com/marketplace.

Image courtesy MyTheresa

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