Effect 1 the rise of the masses

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The brands formerly known as mass fashion brands, like Zara, H&M and Top Shop, have gone through a dramatic change in the last few years. These changes have been rapid and innovative and the brands seem relentless in innovating new retail and branding techniques. For example, while the UK's Top Shop is busy taking fashion retail to the homes of fashionable Brits with its 'Top Shop To-Go' service, France's Naf Naf distributes free postcards to consumers and tourists, with images of gorgeous models in the latest Naf Naf creations; and Dorothy Perkins hosts special customer product discount events in its stores, along with free cocktails served by charismatic sales representatives. Also, low-priced UK fashion brand Primark, which for a long time was regarded as one of the lowest status fashion brands, is now a favourite for those attending the London Fashion Week. Top Shop also currently has catwalk shows at the London Fashion Week, alongside major luxury brands like Burberry.

In addition, Swedish fashion brand H&M showed retail innovation through its co-branding collaborations with luxury fashion designers, Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf, as well as links with celebrities like Madonna. Also, Zara, which is considered the market leader among the mass fashion brands, is not left out in the fashion marketing innovation. Zara is reputed to have the fashion industry's most effective and responsive operations techniques, which enables the production of new designs approximately every three weeks. As a result, its stores have a high shopping traffic of style-conscious consumers. Although Zara is not a luxury fashion brand, it has achieved great success in several global markets, including France, where more than three quarters of the population are hard-to-please luxury fashion consumers.

On the American frontier, brands that formerly targeted the fashion mass market like Gap, Banana Republic, Wal-Mart and Target, are also elevating their offerings to include a 'premium' feel. Gap, for example, adopted a different communications strategy through celebrity endorsement advertising with actress Sara Jessica Parker in its 2005 advertising campaigns. This was aimed at revamping the brand's image to reflect a more 'luxe' appeal.

Brands in other categories like sports brands Adidas and Puma are also responding to the mass luxury fashion demand by upgrading their offerings. Others include traditional luggage company Samsonite, whose Creative Director, Quentin Mackay, formerly worked at Tanner Krolle and Loewe. Another example of mass fashion with luxury undertones is the collaboration between Yoji Yamamoto and sportswear brand Adidas, which resulted in the creation of the Y-3 sub-brand. The sub-brand is aimed at representing luxury style in the mass sportswear market and its collections are shown at the New York fashion week, alongside major luxury brands. The objective of these tactics is to infuse 'luxury' qualities into the brands.

The elevation of the status and offerings of mass fashion brands is one of the most visible changes in the luxury fashion arena. Mass fashion brands now have greater relevance because both luxury consumers and the luxury competitive environment have changed. For example, the changing interpretation of luxury fashion by consumers has led to the adoption of mass fashion by the same consumers which has unconsciously formed a pedestal for mass fashion brands to stand side by side with luxury brands. This factor has pushed the mass brands to devise strategies that have enabled them to successfully encroach on the luxury consumer arena. Their success has also changed the way they are defined and perceived. They are no longer considered as only 'mass fashion' brands but are now 'mass premium fashion' brands or 'high-end' brands in some cases. Although they remain focused on a mass market, it is no longer appropriate to consider these brands as low-end or middle-end mass brands.

As a result of the elevation of mass fashion brands from 'mass' to 'premium', these brands have become competitors of luxury brands, for the first time in the history of luxury fashion. Luxury brands, which offered products that were previously based on social status, have always had well-defined territories along which they operate. There had never been any question that they hold the strings in determining the consumers' behaviour until now. However, today, mass fashion brands offer consumers alternatives to their luxury products at better price-value. The mass brands have also found several effective and innovative means to make their offering attractive. Mass fashion brands are capitalizing on the changes in the luxury consumer psychology and their evolution beyond using luxury goods for ego needs satisfaction. For today's luxury consumer, the branded bag or watch is no longer required solely to enable the fulfilment of esteem needs. It is no longer a problem for a young wealthy consumer to combine a $50 pair of jeans from Zara with a $2,000 bag from Vuitton and a $3,000 watch from Chanel. Mass fashion brands are currently exploiting this development in the luxury consumer market.

The most noteworthy strategies that mass fashion brands have developed include the modification of retailing tactics to reflect a 'luxurious' appeal and the manipulation of similar branding and marketing mix strategies as luxury brands. The mass fashion brands have also developed advanced operations techniques to produce new designs within a short time period. The adopted strategies are presented below:

1 Fast design turnover, popularly known as 'Fast Fashion', which is a business model that encourages new designs in stores every few weeks instead of every fashion season. This ensures that consumers find something fresh every time they visit the store. Consumers are also encouraged to visit the stores frequently. Another benefit of fast design turnover for the brands is that fast fashion items are hardly placed on 'sales' or 'mark-downs', which means higher revenues for the brands. The fast fashion model is also beneficial to the wider economic environment through outsourcing of production. As a result of the need for frequent change of retail stock, several mass fashion companies presently outsource the production of goods to manufacturers and suppliers closer to their base in Europe instead of in Asia where the labour cost is lower. This creates more employment and gives a boost to the European textile industry. Although this model is prevalent in Europe, American brands have recognized its benefits and are adjusting their business strategies accordingly.

2 Limited-edition products, which is a spin-off of fast fashion. Rapid fashion design turnover means that the stores are not overstocked, which makes every product under the fast-fashion model a limited-edition product. Limited-edition products address the consumer need for individualism, customization and independence in style interpretation. Consumers no longer want to look the same but prefer to have a personal style. Limited-edition products ensure that each piece of clothing or accessory is viewed as individual.

3 Brand communications, luxe-style, which is exemplified by the high advertisement expenditure in fashion magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair by both mass fashion and luxury fashion brands. This advertising medium was previously the sole domain of luxury brands but presently, the communications design, style and message of mass brands reflect a luxury feel. Examples can be seen from the concept, feel and style of the recent advertising campaigns of brands such as Mango and Marks & Spencer in the print media. Brand communications, luxe-style, is a contributing factor to the changing perceptions that consumers have of mass fashion brands and luxury brands. For example, when a consumer sees a similar looking Gap advertisement beside that of Hermès, it undoubtedly does something to their mind.

4 Celebrity product and brand endorsement. Several mass fashion brands are using the celebrity association, pioneered by luxury brands, to endorse their products. Some of these celebrities also endorse luxury brands. For example, Mango has featured supermodel Claudia Schiffer in its print advertising while Sara Jessica Parker and Helena Christensen have both appeared in Gap advertisements. Musician and actress, Madonna has also appeared in H&M's advertisements. Also cosmetics brand L'Oreal features celebrities like Beyonce, Aishwarya Rai and Eva Longoria, in its advertisements. These highly paid endorsers lend their images to several luxury brands, sometimes in the same periods that they do to mass fashion brands. Prestige retail location through stand-alone stores and retail spaces in luxury departmental stores. It is now possible to find the stores of mass-premium brands in prestigious locations in the major fashion cities like Paris, New York, Milan, London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles, among others. They now utilize the same retail location strategies of luxury brands. Co-branding with luxury fashion designers. Mass premium fashion brands presently collaborate with luxury fashion designers, to elevate their brand status. The most famous example of this co-branding tactic is H&M's collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf, in creating limited edition products. Other co-branding initiatives include American supermarket Target and British luxury fashion designer Luella Bartley; Adidas and Yoji Yamamoto; and Seven For All Mankind and Zac Posen. These collaborative efforts would have been unthinkable ten years ago but they have presently created a synergy between the two categories of fashion through acknowledging that they have consumers in the same sectors.

The results of these strategies include the rapid growth and expansion of mass-premium fashion brands spurred by high sales turnover and profitability; a shift in the global supply chain of fashion production from China to closer locations like East Europe for European brands and Mexico for North American Brands; and an ever-growing individual consumer style. Another result is the significant rise of the brand asset value of mass fashion brands. As an indicator, in 2005, Zara featured for the first time on the list of the Top 100 Global Brands Scoreboard by Interbrwd/Businessweek. It was ranked no. 77, with a brand value higher than luxury brands Tiffany, Hermès, Cartier, Prada, Bvlgari and Armani. In 2006, its position rose to no. 73, with a brand value of $4.23 billion. The implication is that if these brands were placed on the stock market, the potential value of Zara would be higher than the luxury brands. On the other hand, it can also be argued that consumers have more interaction with Zara than the luxury brands because Zara is a mass brand; therefore the brand value is likely to be higher. However, what remains clear is that mass fashion brands are increasing their brand equity among consumers.

In an attempt to face up to the competition posed by mass-premium fashion brands, luxury brands have developed production and retailing models to increase the length and breadth of their seasonal products. This tactic guarantees frequent product change and shortens the shelf life of the luxury products in question. Some brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Versace and Prada have adopted this strategy through introducing pre-collections, usually launched before the season's main collection. Pre-collections often yield better commercial gains and addresses the consumer need for 'early' and 'fast' products prior to the actual fashion season. As a result, luxury brands are placing less emphasis on runway shows and more attention on pre-collection shows. Other brands like Dior and Gucci have developed a 'capsule collection' and 'cruise collection', launched prior to the seasonal collections, to spur product rotation. This indicates that luxury brands are inclining towards the fast fashion model of mass fashion brands. However, the emphasis on creativity in product development should be the driving force of luxury goods creation, using the fast fashion model. This way, the creativity is ensured to meet consumer needs better.

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