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Perspectives

Seasonless fashion is always in style

Responding to shifting consumer preferences for seasonless clothing

COVID-19 has accelerated consumers’ desire for seasonless clothing and escalated the apparel and retail industry’s need for more flexible, agile product development processes and go-to-market plans.

The rise of seasonless fashion

Long before the global pandemic turned the fashion apparel and retail industry upside down, the idea of seasonless fashion and a revamped merchandising strategy was already quietly underway. Shifting consumer preferences for seasonless clothing and an increasingly less-relevant fashion calendar demanded that brands and retailers create more agile and flexible go-to-market plans. Given that many retailers were forced to hold back entire spring/summer collections due to pandemic store closures, many asked themselves if—going forward—seasons were the right way to think about their business.

COVID-19 has accelerated consumers’ desire for seasonless clothing and escalated the apparel and retail industry’s need for a more agile product development process and merchandising strategy. Retailers and brands that have been able to quickly pivot to a seasonless fashion strategy (i.e., they have attractive inventory available to put into the market to meet demand), have increased customer conversions, built a more fortified, loyal consumer base, and achieved higher margins.

Many of those retailers were more lucky than prescient, which begs important questions: What exactly is seasonless fashion? How does it shape apparel and retail merchandising strategy? And as an apparel brand or retailer, what does it mean for you?

Foundational products and drops of newness

Successful brands have remained relevant by being mindful of new and emerging trends and staying on top of shifts in consumer preferences. They have a clear brand position and point of view. Many are known for a certain “look” or a specific product—a timeless trench coat, a classic shoe, for example—or an exclusive product line, such as workout wear.

Adopting a seasonless fashion strategy means developing and merchandising a dynamic, rotating core product line that aligns a brand’s mission and values with products consumers will want, evolving that line, and keeping it always “on.” Augmenting those foundational products with incremental, strategically timed “drops of newness” enables merchants to sell foundational products and delight consumers with unexpected offerings.

The concept of seasonless fashion may sound straightforward, but the devil is in the details. Seasonless fashion is NOT “fast fashion 2.0.” It’s not about brands releasing new collections every week or month (which are, by the way, essentially subsets of larger seasons driven by runway calendars). An effective seasonless merchandising strategy requires transforming the retail mindset from one where shoppers expect certain items at certain times of the year to one that presents shoppers with an ever-running, ever-evolving product assortment.

This could mean rotating core product line assortments at different cadences. In the basics category, for example, men’s underwear product offerings may remain constant, while women’s tees may rotate every three-to-four months. Other, more fashion-forward items may drop every two-to-three weeks. There also could be day-specific releases, which allow brands to push products that support financial objectives and entice current and new customers. In this way, merchants can more actively manage their P&Ls while weaning themselves from overreliance on the discount lever.

For optimal effectiveness, a seasonless cadence should be coupled with robust data analytics and forecasting capabilities and a reimagined product design and development process to deliver the right products to market consistently and continuously.

This is not to say that traditional seasonal strategies are so rigid they halt the rotation of new products and/or brands and should, therefore, be jettisoned. A seasonless fashion strategy simply presents brands and retailers with the opportunity to meet demand at any given time rather than relying on traditional planning horizons.

Collaborate for seasonless success

Implementing a seasonless fashion strategy requires making numerous, targeted product drops throughout the year. By employing a collaborative, team-based development approach—designers, merchandisers, sales teams, consumer insights and analytics specialists work in parallel to inform and curate product design, production, and launch—brands can generate multiple, seasonless clothing offerings that are ready to release at self-selected moments to excite and satisfy consumers.

By shifting from a calendar-based cycle, brands and retailers can avoid arbitrary cut-off dates, order quantities, and markdown cycles when, for example, there’s unseasonably warm or cold weather. The potential result? Greater sell-through, less product waste, better margins, higher sales, and—importantly—engaged and happy shoppers.

In addition, as brands and retailers build their seasonless model, they’ll acquire a more thorough understanding of market demand and should, therefore, be able to adopt leaner production processes with fewer points of friction. Demand distortions and inefficiencies are a leading driver of waste and excess in supply chains. Referred to as the “bullwhip effect,” inaccurate demand signals can reverberate up the value chain and result in either shortages of a high-demand product or overages and subsequent markdowns.

Technology can help identify and mitigate demand risks and support the apparel and retail industry’s shift to seasonless fashion. Advances in predictive analytics, data mining, customer relationship management (CRM), and cloud computing provide exciting opportunities to pinpoint consumer preferences, estimate demand, and deliver a personalized product assortment.

The current moment is ripe with opportunity for companies contemplating a seasonless fashion merchandising strategy. COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalization and direct-to-consumer nature of the apparel and retail industry, requiring new levels of operational efficiency and innovation. Also, the plethora of online shopping sites encourages consumers to expand their brand and retail selections from the tried and true to the new and exciting.

Seasonless fashion can be a competitive differentiator for industry stalwarts as well as new entrants. Punctuating a dependable, core product line with “surprise” product drops can drive online traffic and store visits alike, and build an engaged, loyal consumer base.

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