It’s no secret that large-scale retailers wield a great deal of power and influence over the fashion industry. For a local designer trying to make their name, interest from the Myers, David Jones’ of the world opens their label to the kind of widespread exposure and distribution they’ve likely dreamed of since they first learned to thread a needle.
Retail support can really make (sometimes break) a brand and designers rightfully take on board and respond to the feedback from their stockists, big or small. A store won’t stock something it believes its customers won’t buy. And, it seems, some believe that sustainability doesn’t sell.
A recent conversation with an industry insider centred around a particular brand’s decision to use conventional materials across their range, ending a pretty impressive track record of working with sustainable textiles. The reason, I was told, was the belief of a particular stockist that fabrication is irrelevant… that it doesn’t increase sales.
Now, I don’t fully know the business case behind the situation but comparing the product season on season, many of the pieces are continued (albeit with seasonal updates in colour, etc) and of those, prices remain the same. The most logical conclusion is that conventional textiles are cheaper… hence wholesale costs are cut and profits increased.
Sure, businesses need to make money, but it is very short sighted for retailers with such power to take sustainability off the shelves. Anyone who has ever tried to buy organic clothes or food can tell you it usually comes with a price premium. It will stay that way until major brands, chains and retailers learn to lead and begin building the economies of scale necessary to make sustainable fabrics widely available and more affordable.
It’s easier, of course, to stay hooked on cheap, water-intensive, chemically-treated textiles like come sort of profit junkie. But given that the market for healthy and sustainable products in Australia is tipped to grow from $19 billion last year to $27 billion in 2011*, it demonstrates a remarkable lack of foresight. Ignorance of a sector that expands by over 40% in two years is just bad business.
They say money talks. But major retailers seem too out-of-touch to hear it calling.
* Stats via Mobium Group market strategists
** The image is an amalgamation of my own shots from RAFW and in no way implies that any of the labels featured are involved with this story
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