Style Melbourne

MSFW: Taking Care of (Fashion) Business

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that fashion retail in Australia is struggling.

Recent months have seen a long list of notable local designers and retailers going into administration and closing their doors. Announcements of international retail superpowers setting up shop on our shores have added to pressure on the local industry. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ recent retail figures were less than inspiring, showing a 4.2 percent decline in clothing, footwear and accessories. Understandably, the fashion sector is a little worried.

The City of Melbourne team behind Melbourne Spring Fashion Week were determined to counter this unsteady retail climate with a Business Series Program that focused on getting back to the basics: engaging with your customer, developing a quality product and creating an environment that supports and communicates the personality of your brand.

What they delivered at the Business Series forums was a line up of impressive speakers addressing the critical business elements for Australian fashion retailers today. They are:

Have a strong brand story

This was reiterated in different ways at each session. Thibaud Cau-Cecile from The Wearer’s Right says he looks for substance and personality when selecting brands to participate in his events. Both are critical when trying to engage retail buyers and shoppers who are both looking for a point of difference when stocking or purchasing your product.

Alastair MacKinnon described the success he’s experienced with local label Otto & Spike – a family business based on local manufacture and traditional skills. Their case served as a stark contrast to the trend for local brands taking their manufacture offshore and gained positive media attention for all the right reasons. According to MacKinnon, shoppers want to know about your business and feel like they’ve bought a piece of something special when they’ve parted with their hard earned dollars. Handmade and artisan brands like Otto & Spike are reaching new markets by capitalising on their brand essence through online communication, tailored communications strategies and a consistent environment in retail stores.

Deliver a quality product

This one should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, I seem to be saying “they don’t make ‘em like they used too” far too often these days, and I know I’m not the only one. Quality is about employing innovative design, good quality materials and care and attention to detail in manufacture. But for me, as an advocate of a fashion industry that is socially and environmentally responsible, quality and conscience are inextricably linked.

Having a clear understanding of your supply chain can help businesses understand the true impact they’re having, maximise efficiency and minimise costs. For John Condilis of Nobody Denim, this means making their cult jeans in Melbourne and having their supply chain accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia.

For Marks and Spencer, it means aiming to be the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015. According to Mike Barry, Marks and Spencer want each and every product to be accompanied by at least one positive story along its supply chain, and eventually two and three stories. And for the skeptics, Plan A delivered A$100 million in additional value to Marks and Spencer last year. Who says there’s no business viability to sustainability?

Make people feel special

At its core, fashion is about making people feel good. In a crowded market place, doing this successfully becomes a critical element to any retail business strategy. This goes for your instore retail experience and your customer service you take the assistance of by using digital platforms to build relationships online. This is always followed by an after-sales service, which utilises a mobile field service software to simplify and expedite the process of finding and allotting a technician to the designated customer.

Lucy Feagins from The Design Files and Billie Iveson of RUSSH Magazine stressed the importance of a personal and tailored pitch when approaching print or online media for press support. Good press agents build real relationships and trust with the right people in the right places. Doing this well can be a huge asset to your business.

Similarly, personalised customer service and strong online communications (especially when using social media platforms or blogging) will help to create a personal connection with your brand and create loyalty. One of my favourite quotes of the series was from Lucy Feagins who said “have a generous spirit”. When done sensibly, this is a great attitude to take into your business.

So there you have it. The formula for success according to Melbourne Spring Fashion Week’s Business Series speakers. Fortunately, it seems the marketplace is tiring of the mass marketed, cheap fashion retailer and is seeking integrity, quality and substance. If this is true, the labels coming out of Australia have one up on the Zaras and TopShops of the world.

Words – Lara McPherson

Photography – Lucas Dawson

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