(Originally written on Medium)
The wholesale model of fashion sales and distribution is crumbling. For larger brands, full vertical integration is the way to make brick-and-mortar stores work (think Uniqlo, Zara/Mango etc), while for smaller or newer labels, thin margins are pushing many brands to go online-only and often aggressively push new types of marketing or business models (eg. Everlane, Warby Parker).
We will now be stopping all wholesale for a number of reasons, and want to be vocal and clear about why.
Pricing is of course a consideration, but perhaps surprisingly not the main one. When you sell to stores or distributors, you essentially sell at half the price that you would sell directly to a person. This is due to ‘markup’ and the overhead of “middlemen”, and is a big part of what makes consumer goods cost so many times more than it takes to produce them. Payment schedules also mean that small designers have to pay up front to produce goods, then wait many months to get paid back which can be hard for small businesses. But all this financial stuff has known solutions.
The main reasons Slow Factory is going to sell online-only are about our philosophy of sustainability, and working against the disposable concept of fashion.
Selling through stores and distributors tends to perpetuate things that Slow Factory is actively fighting against. A really big gain we get from staying online only is to set our own timeline, to avoid the Fashion Calendar.
The Fashion Calendar
The fashion calendar encourages a few really bad behaviours:
- It pushes the idea of constant change, “planned obsolescence” and literal disposability of clothing and accessories. The constant over-consumerism mindset.
- At the height of “fresh” clothes, prices need to be very high to absorb all the costs of middlemen. Pricing is also set knowing that stores give deep discounts as things go off-season, a phenomenon which encourages distrust between brands and consumers. If we see a major pendulum swing from high prices to massive discounts, buyers feel that “only suckers pay full price”, and don’t trust the value and cost of goods produced with more ethical practices.
- Cheap materials and production: there are clear environmental costs of using cheap materials and production methods; notwithstanding the very expensive Green Washing Marketing campaigns from H&M to Uniqlo, Fast Fashion is still the second most polluting industry right after Big Oil.
- Cheap production through cheap labour: let’s not forget about the very real human costs of using exploitative labour practices; sweatshop and industrial labour in the “developing” world are still major issues, often hitting women the hardest.
When advocating for a slow fashion movement and more sustainable industry one has to walk the talk and stand with integrity with their vision. For our 2017 plan we will be revisiting or pricing structure, removing the wholesale markup we will be offering our customers our wholesale prices directly online.