2016:  Welcome to the New Fashion Consumer by Emma Birnbaum

Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, radical transparency, slow fashion, minimalist dressing, the five-piece French Wardrobe, the curated wardrobe. These are terms that the new fashion consumer is using to redefine fashion.

If the supplier wants to meet the requirements of the new consumer he must also take into account sustainability, accountability, eco friendly, fair-trade and transparency.

To the new fashion consumer, ethics are intrinsic to the new paradigm of fashion and are equally important as the fit and the aesthetics. The suppliers that recognize the equal value of ethics and aesthetics are the only ones meeting the demands of the new consumer.

If you still believe that the consumer is not interested in ethics, check out the sale of angora. Suddenly angora is out of fashion. Major retailers, such as Gap, Calvin Klein and H&M have decided that angora is no longer a saleable item. This is not because angora is suddenly less aesthetically pleasing; but rather because videos leaked onto youtube revealed the abuse and torturer of bunny rabbits.

Ethics now count.

This is how I define the new fashion consumer:

  • Born after 1980;
  • Educated;
  • Financially independent;
  • Self-sufficient;
  • Self-confident and self-assured;
  • Pragmatic;
  • Skeptical;

Perhaps, most importantly, these are people who think of themselves as part of the world at large. Social networking removes physical boundaries and now allows the new consumer to become a citizen of the world.

Although these new-fashion consumers currently represent a small percentage of the market, the demographics are on their side, as every year their numbers increase relative to the older generation.

To understand the change, contrast the new fashion consumer with the currently accepted fashion consumer. Fashion of previous generations could be described best as a mode of dress prescribed by the supplier, which the consumers collectively accepted until the arrival of the next prescribed fashion. Up to this very moment, fashion remains, as described by the Economist Magazine, something “exclusively for everyone”, with the consumer wholeheartedly conforming to the judgments and edicts of the supplier.

Unlike consumers of previous generations who viewed fashion as conformity, new consumers view fashion as a tool to display their unique identity.

The fashion industry is undergoing a generational change both on the supplier and the consumer side. In an industry where change is dictated by the consumer this shift will inevitably become mainstream. All consumers will have a voice.

Frequently, in the newfangled paradigm, it is the customer who becomes the supplier. The customer, disillusioned by a mass-market void of ethical options, takes the initiative to fulfill his own demand. Many of the new CEO’s, including Michael Preysman of Everlane and Josh Gustin and Stephen Powell of Gustin, are educated and have professional backgrounds in business and finance. Prior to forming their own companies none were members of the older, established industry.

Everlane and Gustin are two of many companies, which represent the new industry. Superficially, the companies may appear very different. Everlane manufactures quality basics, Gustin custom makes premium denim. Everlane is all about speed-to-market — 1 to 3 day delivery. Gustin is all about slow-to-market — 2 month delivery, maybe.

EVERLANE designs and supplies a killer product, providing basic wardrobe staples from soft cotton tees to Italian leather sandals and twill backpacks. If you are looking for exceptional quality for a low price and fast delivery this is the label for you.

I know, because I’ve been their customer since 2012.

According to Everlane, their system allows them to sell a high quality t-shirt for $15, while traditional retailers sell a similar product for $50. Everlane avoids traditional markups by getting rid of the traditional business structure. They do this by eliminating the middleman; they are the supplier and the retailer. Everlane does not have brick and mortar stores, besides the occasional popup store and open studio, everything is sold online; all items are under ordered, the customers buying patterns are closely observed, and items are reordered accordingly

Simultaneously, Everlane meets my ethical requirements with what they term Radical Transparency. Their website not only shows the photos and prices of the items, it also reveals locations and photos of their factories and workers and provides a total cost breakdown.

GUSTIN is a completely different type of company. It is special design, slow fashion. For $81.00 I can buy a higher quality, custom made pair of jeans better than anything available for $250.00. On the other hand where Everlane will deliver my purchase in between 1 hour and 3 days, I may have to wait for 2+ months for a pair of Gustin jeans.

Gustin’s business plan is almost unique to the garment industry because it is 100% crowdfunded. Gustin does not manufacture a single garment until their target quantity has been funded by individual customers. The number of garments manufactured are predetermined by the amount of fabric purchased. Every item has a funding goal and funding deadline. Each item must be fully “backed” before it goes into production.

Gustin jeans are not mass produced in some Bangladesh sweatshop. As expressed on their website, they are handcrafted in a San Francisco workshop where the employees are paid US wages. Gustin only manufactures what the customer wants to wear; there is no waste; there is no inventory.

These are both examples of the new model brand labels. Everlane is a small company, its revenue cannot exceed the mid 8 digits. Gustin is so tiny it is not even a blip on the industries’ radar. However, cutting edge companies like Everlane and Gustin will change the industry because they are the only ones meeting the needs and demands of the new-fashion consumer.

Everlane and Gustin serve the same customer. Both provide high quality garments for a reasonable price. While the new customer demands fast delivery for basics they are more than happy to wait patiently for something genuinely unique.  Most importantly, both companies took the initiative to create self-imposed ethical standards, which operate as an integral component of their business infrastructure.

Although, these companies are only two examples of an emerging industry their existence clearly indicates the dawning of a new consumer. The new consumer has the self-confidence to reject the current structure of mass-produced consumption, quantity over quality, disposability and status driven consumerism.

Paralleling their customers’ values, online companies are jettisoning conventional advertising methods and are maneuvering towards traditional word of mouth. Companies like Everlane and Gustin take the cost of commercial promotion out of the equation, primarily relying on satisfied customers to spread brand awareness through friends and social networking sites. It works.

Shopping is and has always been a social ritual. It is a common misconception that shopping online is shopping alone. Shoppers still peruse stores with  friends, window-shop too-expensive merchandise and lust after what their peers are wearing. Because of the internet shoppers can access merchandise globally; reviewers analyze and discuss every pro and con of a product; desired clothes and accessories are coordinated, tacked on moodbords and compared; unidentified, lusted after items are uploaded and their origin and label collectively ascertained; advice and opinions on: How to wear this.; What goes with that.; This cool!; Where can I purchase that?; What do you think?; This is what I think.; is constantly requested and freely given. Of course, these exchanges occur between family, friends and acquaintances, but quite possibly, the majority of these interactions are between complete strangers. The social shopping ritual is virtual and it is viral.

If you doubt this, check-out sites like Pintrest, Refinery29 or blogs like the wheredidyougetthat.comstylebubble.co.uk or love-aesthetics.nl. These sites and others like them appeal to all personal tastes and offer inspiration to consumers of all budgets, dress-sizes, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, and sexual preferences.

The sites mentioned above not only pertain to the new-fashion of garments but exposes the shopper to DIY instructions, healthy recipes, travel advice, beauty techniques, tech information and a multitude of other interests. These forums, websites, apps and blogs take into account the values of the individual. Fashion is now about lifestyle. This indicates that the values that are applied to purchasing t-shirts and jeans are also applied to a whole array of seemingly unrelated topics: where to go for coffee; which milk to buy; which phone and apps to use; which car, or more probably, bicycle to own. All of these decisions are part of the same core value system.

The new business model is structured around consumer demand. With slow-fashion you can wait to get 200 customers, or pledges, before placing an order but you cannot wait to get 50,000. You can find 1–5 bolts of interesting fabric but no jobber is going to have 1000 bolts. Even if 1000 bolts were located, manufacturing that many items is contrary to the identity of these companies.

The beauty of the new model is that capital is not necessary. There is no need to invest in goods, which, will ultimately be marked down. There is no risk, therefore, anyone with an innovative idea and a quality product can go into business. In any industry a company doing $10,000,000 will always be diminutive. In the new model, however, there are 10,000 companies each of which is doing $10,000,000.

The new model industry exists because the values of the new consumer can only be represented on the internet. A forum exists for anyone who has something to buy, sell, rave about, criticize or share. And if a forum does not exist, please, be my guest, build one. The internet, with its ever-expanding market place and dynamic social media, spans across nations to establish a global platform.

Welcome to the new fashion-consumer market, soon appearing at a server near you.

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