The Fashion Industry "Has Stopped Dictating Fashion" and the Consumer is in Control

Casual luxury is driving global sales of high-end garments and accessories as big-spending consumers look for “low-brow” statements by way of t-shirts, sneakers and rubber sliders, according to a study released last month by Boston-based consultancy Bain. Driven by millennial shoppers – “with help also from their comfort-seeking parents and the next generation of consumers, teens” –  Bain partner Claudia D’Arpizio says sales of personal luxury items including apparel, footwear and handbags, have been boosted upwards of $329 billion, up 8 percent from $308 billion in 2017.

In addition to enabling high-end fashion brands to reach new consumers, ones who were previously “detached” from the luxury market, this widespread reliance on “ugly,” pedestrian-inspired fashion signifies something larger: It is an indication of who, exactly, has the decision-making power when it comes to fashion, and it is not necessarily the same people as it used to be, according to some experts.

As the Washington Post’s long-time fashion critic Robin Givhan wrote recently, this trend of “anti-fashion looks” shows that “the fashion industry has stopped dictating fashion.” The influx of shower slides, the prairie dresses, fanny packs, biker shorts, and down-right hideous sneakers suggests that “the Seventh Avenue elites have ceded control to the hoi polloi.” In fact, Shelley E. Kohan, an assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told Givhan that brands are looking to the consumers to “dictate lifestyle fashion.” In particular, brands are “taking [consumer] feedback and adapting the information and putting it back into the supply chain.”

So, “in other words,” says Givhan, “consumers are responsible for these waves of ugly.” Or better yet, brands are letting consumers be responsible for the industry’s wares, which is part of a larger trend: Brands’ attempts to mitigate risk. It should come as little surprise, after all, that in the overly-corporatized landscape that is fashion in 2018, brands – especially those with shareholders to answer to – are increasingly risk averse.

As a result, they are looking to adopt methods that have proven to be attractive to the consumer zeitgeist, such as the Supreme-style drops that are being promised by Riccardo Tisci at Burberry and Celine under Hedi Slimane, and the reliance on trend-forecasting and big data to enable them to better understand customer preferences

With this in mind, one thing that is trending more than drab, everyday-inspired wares: Brands' attempts to hedge their bets and mitigate risk (which is not a novel phenomenon, but maybe a more fast-paced and real time data-specific endeavor), and right now, that comes by way of ugly sneakers and a fanny pack.