How fast fashion could save the high street

The best known fast fashion stores on our high street are popular with customers, envied by competitors and continuing to expand into more stores in more countries.
We work with a range of fashion clients, recruiting for their buying and merchandising teams, and it still surprises us that so many businesses have varying organisational structures. In understanding the array of structures, it’s evident why profits are high in some and not in others. Changing the structure of the product team isn’t always easily done and can have a large impact on the wider department, but when we have worked with retailers in doing this the results achieved have been significant. The blend between design, buying (both sourcing and product management), planning and trading is a delicate balance to be struck.

Organisational structure

Fast fashion businesses typically operate with lean organisational structures. This means they work to minimise waste and their supply chain in order to get their product to their customers as quickly as possible. From the design team to store delivery it can take a fast fashion company a few weeks for a garment to be produced from scratch. The fast design process and production strategy shortens the product life cycle and encourages customers to visit the stores more often. This process is slowed when there are four or five departments that have to be involved in product sign off, which can elongate the lead times from weeks to months – which in today’s fashion world is too long.

Where do buyers and merchandisers come in?

The buyers are responsible for ensuring that new ranges are in line with budgets and the fast fashion strategy. An important part of their role is to secure and maintain cost-effective relationships with suppliers. Buyers also ensure suppliers are working to their fastest timescales, without compromising on quality or cost. Fast fashion brands often aim to replicate high fashion and beat them to the market, with the products made with less expensive fabric, sold at much lower prices.
Merchandisers work closely with the designers and buyers to ensure their departmental and regional market demands are met. Their role involves selecting from the ranges, managing distribution, analysing sales and profit, feeding back to designers on customer reactions and ensuring markdowns and older stock are moved to create space for new products. Because relatively low numbers of each product are sent to each store there is usually very little leftover stock, but merchandisers can request more if there is demand. Often in organisations, this role is divided out with separate personnel responsible for the trading, planning and even allocation of product. Merchandisers should be ultimately accountable for margin and when this accountability is spread, profit margins are affected.

How can other fashion retailers learn from fast fashion?

Below, we’ve identified four ways retailers can imitate a fast fashion model to improve product turnaround and keep customers engaged on the high street.
1. Relevance – it’s essential that consumers are given a reason to revisit a high street store. Without a speedy life cycle, customers see the same stock every time they visit and will stop making frequent revisits. Retailers must ensure stock is on trend and resonates with consumer demand.
2. Execution – when retailers do get it right, it’s because they have balanced ranges that meet their customers’ needs, represent value for money and have good in-store availability. Where businesses do not balance a fast moving product range with sufficient merchandising capabilities, the execution of the product mix or availability of the product often suffers.
3. Pace – fashion retailers should analyse every stage of the development and production process to identify if lead times can be reduced. Reactivity from shop floor to head office should be instant, with clear communication channels, receptive product teams and designers interlinked to respond quickly.
4. Structure – a vertical structure within a fashion business is important. Good buyers, merchandisers and designers are essential to this; the UK is training and growing top quality talent to work in businesses with true vertical structures. However, this talent is in high demand so attraction and retention strategies are important.
Attracting and retaining top talent Buyers, merchandisers and designers are the heartbeat to any fashion business. Fashion retailers wishing to imitate a fast fashion business model should be asking themselves:
  • Am I rewarding buyers and merchandisers based on department performance in addition to company performance?
  • Am I offering buyers good negotiation training to give them the confidence to source the best prices?
  • How in touch are my merchandisers with customers?
  • Do my merchandisers trade the stores to allow enough space for new ranges?
  • Do my merchandisers have clear guidelines and accountability on markdown?
  • Am I recruiting for the best in the market, or settling due to recruitment budgets, location, etc?
  • Am I paying market value for my team?
If your organisation wants to partner with a recruitment agency that truly understands your business and can sell your company to the market’s top talent, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Michael Page Fashion team.