Sassy. Sexy. Sustainable.
That’s the future of fashion. And in this post we are going how Business Model Innovation (BMi) is the mechanism to bring it back there.
Not Sassy. Nor Sexy. And certainly not Sustainable.
That’s the fashion industry of today. Why?
Because it’s not sassy to buy a $10 halter top from a fast-fashion brand that’s made on the back of slave labour in Bangladesh.
Nor is it sexy to rock boots and bags mades from the skin of scarce species.
And it’s certainly not sustainable to buy clothes from the fashion houses that destroy the worlds most precious and sensitive ecosystems in order to stock their High-Street shops.
So we need a new vision for fashion, one that is sassy, sexy & sustainable, no compromise.
Unlike the Food industry, which we covered in our initial BMi post, there is no household brand that represents what #sustfash (sustainable fashion) is all about; there is no Whole Foods for #sustfash, at least not yet anyways.
Rather, the fashion industry is being led through its metamorphosis by a collective of edgy upstarts & nueluxe brands who are starting from scratch; their designs, materials, business practices and processes are nothing like today’s High-Street fashion brands.
Recycled materials, upcycled designs, tribal patterns and sustainable sourcing characterize how these brands operate. We are moving past the point of burlap bags and hemp overalls, #sustfash is sexy and sassy, far more than its predecessor, the soon-to-be-dead industry of all-that-matters-is-your-image fashion. #SustFash has a soul, a pulse.
As an example, Ser Sustantavel com Estilo (be Sustainable with Style), a Brazilian blog that is on the beat of the #NewEraBiz of fashion, recently launched their runway series SP EcoEra 3.
Wholesome. Colorful. Real. Vibrant. That’s where the #sustfash movement is taking the future of fashion. Defined as – environmentally responsible, socially just, economically viable and culturally appropriate – sustainable fashion is starting to rock the runway.
Not to be completely outdone, a few big brands are starting to realize that you can only run a business with an ignorance-is-bliss / look-at-our-numbers attitude for so long. In the same way people want real, organic food, they want straight-up, sustainable clothes. The demand is building and the market potential is huge.
Will the new fashion industry meet somewhere in the middle, combining the scrappiness and brand purity of the upstarts with the scalability and experience of the icons?
Could be …
But in either case, the real breakthrough potential for fashion is related to Business Model Innovation (BMi). Because stocking a few sustainable brands in the department stores won’t move the dial. You need to create scalable entities and collective units capable of reshaping the world’s High Streets, replacing the icons of today’s fast-fashion / snakeskin-luxury world with spunky, scaleable & sustainable brands. Not just one or two, but hundreds and thousands.
What is Business Model Innovation?
A business model is defined as the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value.
Business model innovation is the process of reinventing the business model itself. Rather than being focused on end-product innovation, such as new materials or designs, BMi focuses on changes in the process of exchange across value chain, whether it be a new pricing mechanism, supply-chain partnership or distribution channel. In the end, it is the model itself that SHIFTS, rather than simply the product.
How do we bring BMi to the Fashion Industry?
As a first step, let’s talk about what we want to BMi towards. We need hundreds and thousands of brands that can deliver on the sustainability side without compromising the design side. Ethics and aesthetics, hand in hand.
The challenge with changing the fashion industry is that there are so many moving pieces, and the logistics/cost pressures required to make a fashion brand fly are immense. With all the factors, including materials, labour, supply chain, distribution, sourcing – it’s a lot of work.
Given our meet-in-the-middle market thesis on the evolution of the future of fashion, it would be brilliant to have heaps of brands who can move into the mainstream market, making it both unfashionable and uncool to purchase a $5 sweatshop T-shirt or a $40 pair of plundered-ecosystem leather shoes.
How can we tweak the business model to make this happen?
The fashion business model can be primarily broken into two main categories: mainstream retail and luxury. Mainstream retail’s business model (ie. Zara) is built off of scale, while luxury’s model is built off of margin.
The primary cost drivers are the materials, designers and labour.
The primary revenue streams are product sales, through both branded and wholesale channels. Distribution Channels is at the core of the fashion business model.
While retail’s business model is based around scale, and luxury’s model around margin, both operate on very high profit margins. From the remnants of the Bangladesh tragedy, a Mango invoice was found showing that the company produced a shirt for $4.45 and sold on High Street in London for $46. Luxury’s margins would likely be even higher because their scale is much smaller. Overall, the typical fashion brand is going to markup products with a gross margin of 75%.
Given all of the moving pieces and logistical components, fashion brands work in a lot of partnerships. Whether it is for materials, design, production, logistics, etc., fashion enterprises rely heavily on their partners to keep everything in motion. In most cases, this is why established brands argue that it is so difficult to become ‘sustainable.’
In the Market Beacons section of our #NewEraBiz research on Fashion, we analyzed a handful of companies that are making moves in an unconventional fashion. These are brands who are shaking up the model in some way, all but one (Fashion.me) in ways that revolve around sustainability:
- Eileen Fisher
- Catalytic Clothing
- PUMA is taking on the ultracompetitive sports apparel industry using sustainability as their core strategy. Unlike NIKE, who is focused on Material R&D (link to Sustainability …), PUMA is building their business model on transparency and developing collaborative strategies with sustainable partners (ie. PUMA Wilderness Collection);
- Fashion.me, the Brazilian fashion social network launched in 200x by two former investment bankers, is selling ‘big data’ packages to brands based on user interaction with key products;
- Eileen Fisher, the wildly popular New-York women’s clothing line, was built on casual style and a commitment to ethics; however, small ‘sustainable’ tweaks to the business model, such as the Eileen Fisher Repair Program (started in 2005), are what have really helped turn ;
- Catalytic Clothing has developed a breakthrough technology – clothing that cleans the air while you wear it – but it has no patents. What gives? The company is hoping for mass-scale adoption, and appears to be taking an open-source business model approach.
On the macro level, there are three key areas of focus for sparking Fashion BMi:
Materials are one of the key cost drivers in the fashion business; similar to FOOD, the shift from GMO products (ie. cotton) requires a significant shift in agricultural practices and will take time to scale. There is also, however, a significant opportunity to make breakthrough technological advances to speed up the sustainability curve.
- Cooperatives, where Fashion growers who are farming sustainable crops (ie. Organic Cotton) form cooperatives to help build their collective clout. Inversely, smaller fashion brands can create buying cooperatives to purchase sustainable materials from producers;
- Nanotechnology, where with new nanotechnologies firms take an approach like Catalytic Clothing in order to bring cool new materials to the small-scale designers who can bring them to the market in imaginative and innovative ways;
- Collaborative Partnerships, when two different entities find alignment in their motives, there are no limits to what can happen.
Ex. Brazil’s Osklen, a global sustainable-luxury leader, partnered not with another brand, but a country. Italy, a place known for its history of craftsmanship and design, and Osklen have come together to research six new ‘sustainable’ materials and study their potential in the market.
Given the logistical challenges and supply-chain complexity in the Fashion industry, technology can play a huge role in the evolution of the business model.
Beyond Enterprise systems to track inventory and manage suppliers, new brands can use technology to take transparency and brand experience to a whole new level.
- Material Tracing, where enterprises use technology to trace their entire garment-creation process, from end to end, and show consumers
ex. Rapa Nui – award-winning ‘From Seed to Shop’ transparency
- Fitting, where companies enable their customers to get a feel for the garment from the comfort of their home by embedding new technologies into their eCommerce store
ex. Embodee – Digital Garment Experience
- Experience Apps, where companies show how their product(s) fits into their market’s lifestyle and uses technology to help expand their experiences
ex. PUMA Run Navi app
Given that distribution is at the core of the fashion business model, brands need to focus on building new channels via the Web. Especially new #sustfash enterprises, who can use the digital medium to build their market and grab their attention, then enable on-the-spot purchasing.
- eCommerce, where established eCommerce enterprises scale their channels to help bring new sustainable brands to market, and new upstarts use ecommerce to disintermediate the channels and cutout costly middlemen.
- Networks, where startups like Fashion.me harness the power of the social web to create new networks of fashion-focused consumers;
- Clickable Video, where companies take advantage of technologies to enable consumers to purchase garments while they watch a runway show on any one of the main digital media networks.
In the future, fashion brands will start to model their business model around nature. Models built around Closed Loop, Zero Waste and Biomimicry are closer to becoming a reality with each passing day.
Overall, fashion needs to come back to its couture roots while embracing the needs of contemporary culture. BMi is the key to enabling #sustfash to reach a point where it can scale and compete against today’s heavyweights. When this happens, fashion can come back to being sassy, sexy and sustainable, full stop!