Buying for SS21 is in full swing but things are different from usual this season. From delayed and scaled-down collections to the digital ordering process - what informs the planning and budget of fashion buyers from Zurich to Paris?
Buyers adjust their planning
"This season is very special and we see several strategies adopted by brands: a smaller drop or sometimes a capsule that is presented later," said Maud Barrionuevo, head buyer at 24S, the luxury online platform owned by the LVMH Group. The website offers items from more than 300 brands for men and women. "Some themes from AW20 are occasionally kept into SS21. Other brands only offer a single drop in September."
Downsized collections or cancelled pre-collections for SS21 could already start to affect the turnover of many fashion retailers from the second half of the year. Instead of the usual delivery start in November, the first SS21 products might end up in stores much later this time round. "Our summer starts in January for almost 50 percent of suppliers, and we may not be able to achieve the sales we usually have in November and December," said Miriam Anlauf, a buyer for the women's department of German retailer Peek & Cloppenburg Düsseldorf.
However, the disruption to the fashion calendar caused by the pandemic also brings advantages for buyers. "Many suppliers have not finished their sample collection in time, which means that main collection and pre-collection are presented together," said André Myburgh, head of merchandise fashion and accessories at the Zurich-based department store Jelmoli. "This is certainly good for us, then you have an overview of everything and don't have to divide your budget in advance.”
"The schedule is usually very full, we make four or five appointments per day. For this season, we will probably slow down the pace because buying will take longer," said Régis Pennel, the founder of the Parisian boutique L'Exception. He expects the ordering process, which began at the end of June, to continue until October.
Zeineb Chaouch, co-founder of the Paris concept store Le DiX, only places orders if the partner brands are willing to accept them. His store works mainly with sustainable fashion brands, most of which offer one collection or less per year. In ‘normal times’, the low frequency can be a handicap, but during a pandemic, Chaouch can be more flexible.
The majority of the orders of Brussels-based designer boutique Stijl have to be completed virtually this year. This is frustrating, said men's collection buyer Hendrik Opdebeek. "In our market niche, seeing and feeling is essential. A shirt is a shirt. Only when it has passed through the hands of a designer does it become a designer piece," he said. "You really only see the difference to a shirt from the high street when it goes on the catwalk and then into the showroom."
Gabriela Holscher-Di Marco, the owner of designer store Ela Selected in Düsseldorf, also rejects digital buying. The designers she carries offer to drive to her store to show their collections like in the old days. "We used to do that a lot in the past. For me it is simply important that I meet the designers every season and feel the human touch, the personal encounters, the look and feel and the showroom atmosphere, and hear from the designer what he or she had in mind for the collection," said Holscher-Di Marco.
The details of the fabrics and colours can often not yet be adequately represented. This makes it especially difficult to buy new brands in a digital-only way and that’s also why many buyers believe that a part of their job will always remain physical. "As soon as something is in dark blue or black, you can't see exactly whether it is padded or quilted, for example,” Jelmoli buyer Myburgh said. "With denim, I find it difficult to get the wash across the screen. And if there is a shade of blue that doesn't look right - you will end up with the pile right there until the sale." He and his buyers have requested 'Swatchcards' to be able to touch the material for garments with technical fabrics.
"The combination does it in the end. The recent times have shown that many things can be done extremely well digitally," said Peek & Cloppenburg buyer Anlauf. For her, it is helpful if a supplier provides a kind of 'storytelling' with the collection, such as moving pictures and a 360-degree view of individual pieces to show the fall of a garment. Whether or not her team will visit the showroom to view the collections also depends on how much will be ordered. "If we're spending a very big amount of the budget and we're buying big quantities, we're naturally already interested in making sure the item is what we expect it to be," Anlauf said.
”Digital appointments take a lot longer than an actual physical appointment,” said Mytheresa fashion buying director Tiffany Hsu. She thinks that the actual process of physical buying cannot be replicated for larger collections with multiple categories, but that it’s possible for brands that offer a smaller range of products, provided they offer high-quality images of models wearing the garments. She also said that the quality of the line sheet, which is used by brands to present the most important information about themselves and their collection to buyers, can be enhanced. This also applies to the quality of the images available to buyers. "Since we are an e-commerce company and we are selling to our customers digitally, my expectation for brands selling products to buyers is on the same level, which is not always the case," Hsu said.
Buyers place orders more cautiously
Many buyers start the season more carefully than they would before. “Our general approach is more cautious, and that's necessary. The never-out-of-stock items and basics could be increased - in the end, it also depends on what the suppliers offer," Anlauf said. Peek & Cloppenburg wants to increase its sustainable assortment and also have a share of timeless clothing.
"In any case we will buy less for next season. We will put some non-seasonal pieces back in the store next summer," said Opdebeek from boutique de Stijl.
Mytheresa buyer Tiffany Hsu also bets on timeless pieces. But unlike her colleagues, she plans to increase her budget compared to last year and place orders as usual to ensure that they arrive on time.
"I think buyers will become more cautious and look at what and when they bring pieces to the shop floor," said Jelmoli buyer Myburgh. "Going for more quality and never-out-of-stock - I think that will definitely change, that you don't buy frantically anymore because you have an upper budget limit and have to spend it. Those days are over."
This story was written with the help of Julia Garel, Jesse Brouns, Weixin Zha and Ole Spötter.
image: Le Dix