Last week, EDITD were in Melbourne for the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF). The event is consumer-focussed, with a supporting schedule of thought-provoking fashion forums for industry insiders. Tuesday’s forum schedule included ‘What’s the Industry’s Verdict?‘ and ‘The New Consumer‘, both of which raised very important questions about the future of the Australian fashion industry.
Problems facing the Australian fashion industry:
1. Opposing seasons
The most obvious difference, and the one that’s entirely unsolvable. For an industry which revolves around seasons, experiencing summer when the Northern hemisphere is in their Winter, is a big deal. Add to that the difference in the weather of those seasons. For many Southern hemisphere designers, there’s just no need to incorporate outerwear into their ranges, which can alienate international buyers looking for thorough range planning.
2. Timing of fashion weeks and trade events
At the two points in the year when global buyers from international stores have the most money in their purses Australia, and other Southern hemisphere fashion capitals, aren’t showing. Australian designers wanting to attract international sales have to stump up the cash, and time, to show on the other side of the world from their studios and staff. Although LMFF runs a week after Paris Fashion Week, it’s a consumer event showing collections already available for purchase. The Mercedes-Benz Australian Fashion Week at the end of April, sits out on it’s own in the fashion calendar. Australian designer, Megan Park, who spoke at Tuesday’s “What’s the Industry’s Verdict?” forum explained how she designs primarily for the Northern hemisphere and shows to international buyers there as opposed to staging runways on home turf. She then refines the collection for the Australian market, which she shows to local buyers six months later.
3. Distance from the rest of the world
You only have to glance at a map to understand the isolation Australia experiences. Being such a huge land mass, so far from its neighbours has all kinds of business limitations. The cost of importing components and shipping product is a big concern. Staff struggle to attend key trade events in the US and Europe, and comp shopping can be a costly investment. And on a simpler level, being up to 11 hours out of sync with the Northern hemisphere isn’t ideal – business transactions can lose momentum when not dealt with swiftly.
4. The high value of the AUS Dollar
Whilst the country has emerged from the global recession valiantly, the high value of its currency acts as a turn off to international buyers and carte blanche for local customers to shop from overseas. It becomes more crucial than ever for Australian brands to identify and emphasise their unique selling points in order to justify the investment.
5. Changing legislation
The government in Australia is on the verge of bringing in controversial legislation which will mean any outworkers a brand sources must be guaranteed work for a minimum of 20hrs a week and will need to be paid for their services within a week. Whilst the framework this provides for outworkers is beneficial, it comes at a time when the industry is struggling to grow it’s manufacture and imposing these restrictions will seriously hinder young businesses.
So the difficulties stack up, but Australia also has its own advantages, which fashion businesses need to embrace and flaunt.
1. Localised skills set
The distance instils a need to develop internally and gives Australia’s industry a chance to develop a cost-effective skills set responsive to its own needs.
2. Isolation as an advantage
Being an island means that the easiest option for its native consumers is to shop from brands within Australia. Although retailers like ASOS and Topshop have landed on Antipodean shores, the continent is relatively unscathed by international attention. Australian brands and retailers need to use their understanding of these customers and their demands as an advantage against their competitors.
3. Out of sync seasons actually fit
When Australian Fashion Week shows its Summer collections at the start of May (which is of course Winter in the Southern hemisphere) they are actually in line with the seasons in the Northern hemisphere. With the rise of buy-it-now collections and the huge consumer interest in catwalk, the fit-for-season showing sits in line with the industry’s future. If Australian designers can speed up their supply chains and have product near-ready by showtime, they could reap the rewards of showing closer to Northern hemisphere seasons. What’s more, being six months delayed offers a good opportunity for the Southern hemisphere to analyse and improve trends that have worked commercially in the Northern hemisphere.
4. Rapid growth in Asian market
The bulk of online growth predicted for the next year, comes from Asia. Australia’s proximity should make this market easy-access and a wealthy source to tap into.
5. Natural resources
Having access to one of Australia’s primary industries, wool production, should be harnessed by designers. Merino wool and shearling incorporated into collections will be a draw for international buyers, adds seasonal appeal to ranges and supports the local economy.
Best way forward
Australian brands may have to speak loudly to get noticed by international buyers and consumers, but global ambition is more easily achieved now than ever before. Brands and retailers in the Southern hemisphere need to get onboard with digital and social media. They need to consider tweeting to far-flung corners of the world to grow their fanbases or generate digital catwalks which have the potential to reach more consumer’s eyes than any spot on the Paris schedule could. By embracing the difference and by thinking creatively about how to tackle challenges, Australia could not only step up to the bar, but get one step ahead.