Buy and Hold: Shopping now for the long-term
A new McKinsey Report, "The State of Fashion 2021: In Search of Promise in Perilous Times" (summary here), estimated a 93% drop in 2020 profit in the global industry—that's Depression-era loss. You have probably seen this yourself; unable to weather the misery, firms from Chico's to J. Crew struggle; small houses like the adored Elizabeth Suzann have closed for good.
The authors propose paths to survival, but not once in the summary do they recommend that brands devote themselves to maintaining quality. Companies still standing will be investing heavily in "the online experience and channel mix", and looking for every way possible to recover. I promise they will cut some corners.
From this spring's deliveries on, expect to see mid-priced and bridge lines made with shallower hems, cheaper findings, more cropped cuts, more synthetics. A pocket removed from a top's design translates into tens of thousands of dollars for a major manufacturer.
For luxury and upscale niche brands, collections will shrink, and pieces in less-popular sizes will be harder to find. A silk scarf might be printed with cheaper ink, more cashmere be sold as 'featherweight', the ample straps on a handbag will be replaced by pencil-width. These brands may well raise prices to maintain quality, because consumers are not as price-conscious.
Women who buy fast fashion are unconcerned, because they never expected longevity.
1. If you can afford to do so, shop now to replace your blue-chip brand's "musts"—they aren't going to make them like they used to. (Blue-chip brands are not necessarily pricey, but are the bedrock of your wardrobe.)
A Susanfriend e-mailed last month to say she was on a mission to find the particular Eileen Fisher trousers that she calls, "my security blanket". Sue now has two more pairs (new stock bought on eBay for about half price of retail).
2. Set up alerts on sites like TheRealReal and eBay or, if open where you live, scout resale shops for high-quality pieces. Expect to pay more for as-new secondhand than you might expect, because we're not the only ones anticipating erosion.
|DKNY wool-blend trench, The Outnet|
Check discount sites like TheOutnet. The DKNY coat above was reduced from $360 to $169— an example of what to look for. (DKNY, already losing money when sold to a private equity firm in 2016, is in big trouble.) There is a lot of dead stock around, because starting in spring 2020, stores cancelled orders.
3. If you have regularly shopped popular brands (for Canadians, RW&Co, their parent company, Reitmans, Tristan and the like), aim higher; mall brands are nearly all fighting for survival and will use even cheaper fabric and flimsy findings.
|RW&Co long cardigan|
Marlene can't wear pure wool, so bought two acrylic sweaters on sale on RW&Co's site, but was dismayed to see how shreddy and sad her new long cardi looked after a few wears. One cause was light abrasion against her coat, but who wants a sweater you can only wear indoors?
She contacted the company (with photos) and negotiated a full refund on return. After we chatted about brands that were more durable, she began to look at Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and others who make better-quality blends or synthetics with solid construction.
She likes a bright Tommy Hilfiger Fair Isle cardigan in a 70% nylon/30% wool blend. She would spend about $50 more for this than the acrylic shredder.
|Tommy Hilfiger oversized cardi, $US 130|
She was also taken by this black Joan Vass cotton/silk/cashmere sweater cardigan, and happy to see it was on sale in her size; it was $425, now about $128. It's an entirely different vibe than the Hilfiger, so she is imagining when she would wear each piece.
|Joan Vass sweater cardigan|
What Would Warren Do?
You could sit out the pandemic pause, buying nothing as so many women are now. The related approach of taking care of what you have, very smart.
But we have adopted Warren Buffet as our shopping financial advisor. He reminds us of his foundational principle: when high-value stocks are underpriced, buy. That approach can be applied to blue-chip brands now stuck with a glut of inventory.
In investment language, you are taking a long position. Granted, this is an imperfect metaphor—you are not buying your clothes to re-sell them, as you would shares—but bear with me: their value to you will rise. You may face opportunity costs, aka shipping and applicable tax/duties for imports. But as Mr. Buffet would say, that's the price of poker. Factor those in to your decision, and check return policies, which can be different for sale and full-price purchases.
While it is a natural response to lock down your wallet (and if your priority is to reduce debt, that's another story) canny investors will sometimes move counter-intuitively. Not every piece has to give exceptional returns, but on balance, be worth the cost.
Sue of the Eileen Fisher trousers also bought her favourite boots, hugely reduced at Rue La La. She said, "If the quality drops for clothes, same happens for shoes." She permitted me to mention her Aquatalia "Rory" booties only after they arrived and fit.
Yes, there are some pointy elbows in the shopping world, but for the moment, there's more than enough to go around.