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How independent brands are navigating a saturated market

By Kristopher Fraser

Jan 22, 2020

It's not getting any easier for fashion brands in this current retail landscape. With brick-and-mortar stores closing left and right, it's getting increasingly tougher for new brands to compete as buyers are being more conservative about how much and what they put in their stores. At Project and Liberty Fairs tradeshows this year, buyers main focus was how to set themselves apart.

"Brands have to be unique and be innovative," said Kevin Swan, founder and designer of Scarci, to FashionUnited. "Whatever you feel is out of the box creative, go with your feelings. Once you start following what everyone else is doing that's when you get lost."

To help set give his brand distinction, Swan is very invested in fabrics. Everything he does with the brand is very classic, and what identifies his products are the textures of the fabrics. All the fabrics are Italian made, and the total production of the garment from manufacturing to the buttons is done in Italy.

Independent brands are focusing on uniqueness and sustainability to navigate the retail market

Swan admits that the challenges in the current retail market are endless as brands constantly have to reinvent themselves and stay on top of social media. Alex Muresan, CEO and co-founder of O-Studio, agreed that brands need to have uniqueness to stand out. "It's so easy to see what's selling and what's doing well in the market and create that, but you need to stick to your uniqueness," Muresan said to FashionUnited. "For the sake of sales and money brands can end up losing sight of who they are and they can become a copy-and-paste version of everyone else. Even though it's scary and more challenging to develop and build an audience when you're not following the market, you have to listen to who you are and think about what you're doing is for."

Muresan also says that while trends are great for helping sell things in the short term, they don't aren't sustainable. With brands focusing more on sustainability in both an environmental sense as well as in terms of brand longevity, it is best to stay away from making a fashion line that is too trend focused.

As sustainability has continued to be a buzzword in fashion, many designers have started actually scaling back on their amount of product to appeal to consumers who are shopping more consciously. Krammer & Stoudt has begun experimenting with a seasonless formula and focus on denim, with their latest collection offering composing of three pants, three jackets, and a vest. Designer Michael Rubin is also focusing on creating his own fabrics through buying prepared to dye fabrics and doing his own dying process to create unique things that way. He describes his new approach to his collection as artisanal as he wants to make more special pieces.

Rubin also takes a very sustainable approach to sales and production. "We are almost all out of backstock and have sold through everything even from past seasons, and we haven't gone into any production yet," Rubin said to FashionUnited. "All of our production is based on orders, we don't go into production just to fill our website. We are really tight rope walking through this transition phase we are in."

Hope is not lost for independent designers yet, they just have to go the extra mile to stand out more. Although the current retail climate makes it tough for them, new brands are still emerging with the ability to fill a niche in the market if they aren't afraid to take risks.

photo: courtesy of Project