Jo SalterJo Salter is the founder of the ethical clothing brand Where Does It Come From? and supports ethical businesses with her Ethical Business Buddy consultancy.Wednesday 13 Jun 2018 5:31 pm
Following drastic financial results New Look announced yesterday that theyre slashing their prices.
Sales have plummeted – internet sales went down nearly 20% last year – causing the fashion brand to re examine its strategy and make changes to pricing structure and target market.
But while lower prices may appeal to lovers of fast fashion, more consumers than ever are becoming mindful of the potential pitfalls of this style of shopping.
And in an era where plastic free and zero waste are hitting the headlines, will this approach attract or repel their shoppers?
New Look plan to sell 80% of their clothes for £15 or less in an attempt to appeal to customers looking for bargains.
Grandmas saying you get what you pay for is particularly appropriate in the fashion industry – cheap clothes on the whole tend to be of lower quality and with a short life span. This leads to unhappy customers, many of whom will end up throwing their garments in the bin and taking their custom elsewhere.
While New Look had pledged to run a sustainable and environmentally friendly business, the slashing of prices isnt conducive to socially conscious consumers associating them with these values. Cheap clothing encourages us to buy more, which is counter to the slow fashion mentality which is gaining traction.
Further, many of us, if we ask ourselves why a garment seems surprisingly cheap, will assume we know the answer – someone else is paying the price.
Cheap clothing is often reported to be produced by cutting costs – underpaying garment workers and using low quality fabrics to create poorly made products.
Fast fashion supply chains can be very complicated – most brands cannot tell you who makes their clothes – but the conditions suffered by many garment workers are well known and include long hours, low pay, forced labour and unsafe working conditions.
New Look may well be slashing cost by simply absorbing the drop in profit margin, but again – that isnt what most consumers will assume.
As a society we are much more aware of environmental issues too.
With recent media coverage on our overuse of plastics, many of us are considering how much mass produced fashion contains polyester, a non-biodegrading material which will last longer than its owner and spits microfibers into our water system each time it is washed.
Environmentally focused consumers are unlikely to appreciate brands which encourage us to consume more of these kinds of products.
As well as the price cuts the brand are widening their target market.
They plan to increase the age range of their designs to appeal to older customers too, with a new target age group of 18-45.
Certainly an increase in age range ought to provide a wider customer base, if they can select designs to appeal to all.
However this age range includes millennials, famed for their ethical and environmental awareness, as well as older customers who are more likely to invest in a capsule wardrobe.
Theres no doubt that there are still many people who buy on price but in our current economic climate even they are cutting back on their shopping.
The market in the UK for ethical goods is growing, rising by 3.2% to £81.3bn last year – pretty impressive when compared to the general UK inflation figure of 0.64%.
New Look are wise to broaden their target customer base, but in doing so they need to consider that the new age group are even more likely to be asking questions.
Transparency is a buzzword in fashion right now and many large brands are embracing ethics as a way of attracting more eco-savvy customers.
Celebrities such as Emma Watson and our new Duchess of Sussex have hit the headlines with their ethical wardrobes while designers like Stella McCartney and Dame Vivienne Westwood are vocal about the need to embed ethical and environmental issues into fashion.
Smaller, leaner fashion brands with less supply chain baggage can share direct stories about their production methods and workers, building up customer trust and loyalty.
Movements such as Fashion Revolution inspire customers to challenge their brands to tell them who made their clothes and reassure them that they were made ethically.
Overhead slashing may go some way to recouping losses but new approach would be to – dare I say it – take a new look at the customer base and production model.
New Look has an opportunity to attract shoppers who want to love their clothing but need reassurance that it has no negative impacts.
This could be the time for the business to reach out to the growing ethical market – a move which could not only invigorate their market but bring much wider benefits to all.