An up-and-coming Kiwi clothing designer says the old-school rat-race style of churning out garments needs to change for the fashion industry to become sustainable.
Natalie Procter, owner of Auckland fashion label Mina, is walking the talk, having just pivoted her operating model to focus on multiple small clothing drops each year as opposed to the traditional large, capital-heavy seasonal collection releases.
The 26-year-old, who operates a small retail store in Grey Lynn, says Covid-19 and the lockdowns last year gave her time to reimagine how her business could operate.
At the beginning of April, Mina launched the first of four small annual clothing lines – two that drop off the season and two once the season has arrived.
Before this, Mina operated in line with the traditional fashion calendar with two large summer and winter collections each year, hitting stores about three months before the weather was appropriate.
By the time the season arrived, those items were then placed on sale.
“That calendar has never really sat well with me but being a small brand I’ve kind of had to go with the masses,” Procter told the Herald.
“Covid gave me a lot of time to realign my personal values with my brand.”
Procter says the pivot will benefit both wholesalers and fashion brands. The two off-the-season drops are targeted at the wholesale channel.
The young designer is now designing “trans-seasonally”. “The idea is that each line is cohesive with the other and in terms of style and design they’re pieces that are going to take you throughout the whole year. We see that as pieces that shouldn’t have to go on sale – having those four small lines that drop every three months means they are little injections into a store. Different to when you drop one large seasonal collection.
“We see it as wholesalers and ourselves shouldn’t have to [use sales] as we used to.”
Procter does not know why fashion designers still follow the traditional counterproductive operating model. She says putting product on sale often came down to cash flow issues.
“I do feel like it is this constant race. If we’re talking about a winter range, every brand wants to get their coats out sooner than the other brand … brands are slowly dropping [collections] earlier and earlier to try and get their product out first.
“You drop one massive range, a retailer has a massive invoice to pay, and all brands seem to drop at the same time, so that wholesaler is left with this whopping bill. So when it gets close to that time they then put past product on sale to free up some cash.”
The more modern approach to fashion design and retailing was already showing early signs of better profitability and business management. She says her customers had validated the change in operating model.
“Both our retail space and online store has grown. We used to be 50 per cent wholesale, 50 per cent retail, and we’re now a lot stronger in the retail side at the moment.”
Fashion is notorious for being a tough industry to survive in. In recent years a string of Kiwi designer fashion labels such as Andrea Moore, Kristine Crabb of Miss Crabb, Oosh, Minnie Cooper and Ziera Shoes have gone bust as they struggled to stay profitable.
Procter says switching from the traditional operating model is a way for businesses to stay viable. “With big collections, you put up a lot of cost at the start of that range. The cost of sampling a collection is huge – you buy all of those fabrics outright, you pay for all the production and your invoices for wholesale are paid quite a bit later, and that’s where I think people get caught up – they don’t have the money to then fund that next season.
“By having smaller ranges they bear lower costs and your money is feeding in slowly because your start-up cost for that range is not as large, and your wholesalers are constantly paying you every couple of months, as well as what you bring in from online and your retail.”
Mina launched in December 2017, eight months after Procter returned from an eight-week seed-to-garment trip to India, where she was inspired to “do something good” in the industry.
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