Whenever I see a company buck the status quo and take a calculated risk that actually makes sense in the context of the current market, my belief in mankind is reinforced and I thank goodness for Darwinian instincts. Burberry just announced that it is veering away from the insane Fashion Week schedule and instead combining men and women’s runway shows together into two annual events. This is streamlined approach is a reaction to the unsustainable fashion week schedule that has resulted in the burnout of brilliant creative minds such as Raf Simmons, John Galliano and Alber Elbaz. I believe that other fashion houses will quickly follow suit because this non-seasonal approach both reflects current consumer behavior and relieves quite a bit of financial strain and waste in the industry. I am cautiously optimistic that this sudden wash of sanity over the fashion industry will have a positive affect on jewelry designers and the jewelry industry as well.
In recent years, due to the prevalence of e-commerce and digital media, the jewelry industry has realized that branding is crucial to a company’s survival. In this new and exciting digital world we live in no one will find you without a brand presence. As the jewelry industry is moving away from the unbranded mom and pop model to one where brands rule, jewelry designers now have to show during fashion weeks in addition to the traditional jewelry show circuit and their own trunk shows for their private clients twice a year. Is it any wonder that more and more jewelry companies are finding this landscape unmanageable and struggling to survive?
In addition to the physical and mental strain designers are facing, the pressure from multi-category fashion retailers to create collections on the fashion schedule are placing a huge financial burden on jewelry designers as well. I’ve always been quite vocal about my disagreement with this approach. Fine jewelry is much more capital-intensive than fashion and it is absolutely absurd to expect jewelry designers to come up with two or three collections a year. It puts a huge financial strain on designers and when the pieces don’t sell because of their higher price points it is the designers who suffer. Fashion retailers bear none of the financial risk because they take all the jewelry on consignment need only return the jewelry to the designers to wash their hand of the inventory.
The designers on the other hand are caught in a vicious downward spiral because they are now stuck with “last season’s” inventory that no one thinks is relevant anymore. They then have to offload the inventory somewhere either by discounting or selling to a secondary market like Gilt or outlet malls. Once a brand’s discounted jewelry floods the market its brand equity will suffer and it is unlikely that the brand will ever be able to regain the luxury cache it once had. In order to maintain margins and survive they have no choice but to start cutting costs, using lower quality materials and manufacturing and before long brand is a shell of its former self with little integrity or pride in its product remaining.
What is the solution then? Taking cue from Burberry’s brave decision to do the sensical thing is a step in the right direction. Designers should review their business models and retail relationships and ask whether those arrangements make sense for their business after reviewing the long-term financial costs of working with certain retailers. Seek out partners who are willing to have aligned interests, have shared values and are structured in ways that will support growth and build brand equity.
This has been our mission at Swoonery and the designers who work with us agree. There is no feeling like hearing from our brands that they finally feel that a retailer is on their side and building with them rather than at their expense. It is my hope that by lifting much of the financial risk off our brands’ shoulders and creating win-win situations for everyone at each stage we will recreate the jewelry industry into one that is beautifully efficient–one where unique aesthetics abound, quality and integrity in craftsmanship can shine and people can once again discover and develop personal connections to fine jewelry in a meaningful way.
Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,