“What’s Hot, What’s Not, What’s Next”

Posted by Paul Brindley
on September 28, 2021

Trade Shows in the Time of COVID

Jumbo screen at new LVCC West Hall

Jumbo screen at new LVCC West Hall

This is my first fashion blog since 2019. Why? The pandemic isn’t completely to blame though it’s been difficult to think of anything else of such note to write about in the industry since the shutters went up last March. Relying on the brevity and immediacy of Instagram to share my trade show and industry trawlings since then has reduced the motivation and necessity of investing the time and effort required to produce any long form reporting. But the itch is back. So here we go.

The west coast contemporary fashion trade show circuit spun back to life in June for the Los Angeles Market Week, the same place is wound down after the March 2020 edition just managed to sneak in prior to the March 19 statewide COVID shutdown. Understandably, it was a sedate few days given the reticence of some buyers to return to fray with the pandemic still front and center and the fact that the popular booth showcases by Brand Assembly and Designers & Agents were missing but it was encouraging to see the wheels turning again.

Unfortunately for west coast retailers, the Swim and Active Collective canceled their July show in Huntington Beach due to pandemic concerns of vendors and buyers. However, apart from the Kingpins denim show in New York in October canceling their in-person iteration in favor of a virtual showcase, the Swim and Active Collective shows are the only in-person trade shows to no go ahead because of the pandemic in the second half of this year so far.

Attentions turned to the July swim shows in Miami before August delivered a full slate of South California and Las Vegas shows:

  • OC Apparel Show – August 4-6 at the Embassy Suites, Irvine
  • Liberty West and LA Men’s Market – August 4-5 at the California Market Center
  • MAGIC/Project – August 9-11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, both new and old.
  • Agenda – August 11-12 at Bally’s Las Vegas
  • CALA Men’s Trend Show –  August 15-17 at the Newport Beach Marriott
  • CALA Newport Beach  – August 19-20 at the Newport Beach Marriott
  • Curve Los Angeles – August 23-24 at the Westdrift Manhattan Beach
  • SoCal Fashion Exhibitors  – August 29-30 at the Embassy Suites, Irvine

    The silky Mantl men’s skin range at OC Apparel Show

OC Apparel Show is a new hotel room based showcase that is building a solid following of brands and buyers. August was the second go-around and, given the timing being just prior to the Vegas shows, it held its own in activity from the launch show in May of this year. If the October version shows growth, It will vindicate the efforts and enthusiasm of Jim Iwasaki, the showrunner and industry veteran, in bringing physical touch back to the buying process after the dislocation of the pandemic and more broadly and sustainably to provide the retailers of Orange County a regular and local wholesale resource.

Check out the brand mix here.

Leaving a large hole in the subsequent Vegas show round, Liberty Fairs decided to partner with LA Men’s Market as Liberty West for a joint show the week prior to Vegas on the tenth floor space of the revamped and revamping California Market Center.

Wood Wood at LA Men’s Market

Why? Rivet reported the following:

The partnership began virtually. To make up for the lack of physical events in the last year, Liberty Fairs teamed with wholesale platform Joor to launch its first virtual marketplace, where it worked closely with the L.A. Men’s Market.

“After collaborating with L.A. Men’s Market, it was evident that we needed to join forces and service our fashion community in a meaningful way,” said Edwina Kulego, vice president of Liberty Fairs.

While this marks Liberty’s first time in L.A., Kulego says the locale has always been on its radar. “The city is an undeniable hub of fashion and creativity,” she said. “We have an incredible community of brands and retailers based in L.A., and we are excited to bring Liberty Fairs to a new destination. Our main priority is to execute a safe show that continues to foster commerce, connections and community.”

Moving forward, she added that Liberty will offer a mix of online and offline options to cater to the fashion industry.

Though typically held twice a year in New York City and Las Vegas, Liberty Fairs is experimenting with new locations and collaborators.

The show had the usual high quality mix of contemporary and better contemporary dual gender apparel and accessories brands that both showcases are known for. The show producers must have been delighted with the energy and activity.

MAGIC/Project was a very different affair from anything seen in my previous twenty-one years of attending. The shows were housed at the expanded Las Vegas Convention Center complex. The existing halls are connected to the new West Hall located across Paradise Road by The Las Vegas Convention Center Loop, the underground tunnel developed by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to shuttle convention attendees throughout the 200-acre campus in all-electric Tesla vehicles.

Masks required at Project

The shows were much smaller and more lightly attended than usual, which was expected but still incongruous to the long time participant. Due to skyrocketing Delta variant infections, masks were required and policed which was comforting. Trish Concannon, Buyer Relations Specialist with the show producer, Informa Markets Fashion was very pleased with buyer turnout and vendor satisfaction despite the dampening effect of the variant surge.

Ben De Luca at Peter Grimm booth

Ben De Luca at Peter Grimm booth

Good friend and headwear impresario, Ben De Luca who is now with hat maker, Peter Grimm, was very happy with the activity at Project in the Central Hall.

As was Brian Stark of leading men’s showroom, Brand Equity. Brian is doing great business, has maintained his retailer base despite the pandemic and continues to operate showrooms in NY and LA in a time when showrooms are closing and more and more agents are working from home.

Over at the West Hall, Shannon Kane of LK Showroom was working the Another Love booth and was very pleased with sales. LK Showroom is another agency reporting strong selling and retention of retailer base despite the pandemic.

OFFPRICE was in the South Hall where picked up some crystal mala necklaces and bracelets for my good friend Nancy’s metaphysical and spiritual gift store in Long Beach CA, Z Fabrique.

The massive FN Platform shoe show did not happen. I think it now runs on a different schedule.

BN3TH Underwear at CALA Men’s Trend Show

The inaugural CALA Men’s Trend Show at the Newport Beach Marriott was a big success. Ken Haruta who ran the menswear West Coast Trend Show at the Embassy Suites at LAX for years partnered with the CALA show producers allowing him to broaden out of the hotel suite format into a booth showcase that took up multiple ballroom and meeting rooms. Ken told me that his vendors had been requesting an expansion and reformatting of the show. The opportunity to collaborate with CALA made synergistic and economic sense.

The show offers buyers the chance to shop traditional men’s, contemporary and better contemporary brands. The show is moving for it’s next edition in January, as Ken told Apparel News:

“This has been a great environment for our show,” Haruta said. “We are moving to a property called The Hangar. Our dates are set for the last week of January. It’s going to be a 50,000-square-foot lease for us. It’s going to be 25,000 square feet for men and 25,000 square feet for women.”

Some of my favorite brands were in attendance including Robert Graham and BN3TH Underwear. Michael Loughlin, US Key Account Manager with BN3TH walked me through the expanded offerings emphasizing their commitment to sustainability and their goal of going carbon neutral. Having followed and worn BN3TH since their launch as MyPakage, it is heartening to see this quality brand survive and thrive.

Love Apparel at So Cal Exhibitors

The brand new CALA Newport Beach women’s and So Cal Fashion Exhibitors shows and the second Curve Los Angeles swimwear show were all limited in exhibitors and lightly attended by buyers. This may be due as much with their infancy as the continued pandemic. I think CALA and Curve have legs and will establish over time. So Cal Fashion Exhibitors, which at time of writing still does not have a website, might struggle to survive due to the similarity of its customer, location and timing with CALA.

Industry vet Ginger Vasquez of Ginger Showroom was happy with activity at CALA. She has been very busy in general since the reopening of retail last year and lost very few customers to the pandemic with a few older store owners opting out during the 2020 shutdown. As for her fellow agents, she sees lots of vacancies in the wholesale buildings in downtown LA as many independents have decided to work from home rather than carry the costs of a standing showroom.

For years now, I have advocated the eventual demise of the trade show circuit due to the ever increasing ability to effectively reach and interact with end users by way of online platforms and imaging technology including AR and VR. In short, despite the tactile nature of the apparel buying process, I believed that we would tech our way out of the need for physical trade shows and all the cost, effort, waste and carbon footprint involved. 

I may have been a bit previous. The response to online trade shows during the height of the pandemic was lukewarm at best. It has been obvious since the return of in-person events that buyers not only need to touch the goods they want to buy but that the social and interactive aspect of the process is ingrained and enjoyed. In-person apparel trade shows are here to stay.

Paul Brindley
Founder & Principal Adviser


Posted by Paul Brindley
on January 30, 2019

US Fashion Retail 2019 – Where to from here?

2019 has opened up with a wildly swinging US stock market, the uncertainty of the proposed tariff increases on Chinese-made goods, increasing rancor with the EU and other traditional trading partners, a partial government shutdown, and the mind-numbing prospect of a presidential campaign kicking into high gear.

Internationally, we have the Brexit debacle, France recovering from the edge of chaos, some very worrying right wing regimes in power across Europe and in now Brazil, and economic malaise in most countries not named the United States of America.

Despite all this the US economy is apparently motoring along at speeds not seen since before the crash of 2008.

For all the hype. the economy is doing nothing out of the ordinary.

You might be interested to know that according to tradingeconomics.com, the GDP Growth Rate in the United States averaged 3.22% from 1947 until 2018 [1]. The growth rate for 2018 will probably come in at right around that figure.

After the crash and recovery of the last 10 years, the current numbers do look shiny. According to Investopedia, retail is one of the sectors that is driving the economy. Excuse the cheap pun but I’m not buying it.

Friends and clients with bricks and mortar retail businesses tell me that they are not feeling significant benefits in proportion with some of the favorable numbers that we see reported each month. There is a disconnect between what should be available for household disposable income and what is actually being parted with.

How will this affect the apparel industry in general? I think it depends where you sit in the apparel supply chain which includes everything from the initial design to final disposal. If I had to choose one point on the product life cycle where I would not want to live, it would be as a bricks and mortar retailer.

In July last year, an article on retaildive.com reported that, “Online apparel sales accounted for 27.4% of overall U.S. apparel sales last year (2017), up from 23.5% in 2016 and 20.7% in 2015, according to the most recent Internet Retailer Online Apparel Report published last week.” [2]

Statista said this on the same metric, “Fashion e-commerce involves buying and selling fashion-related items online. In 2018, fashion e-commerce accounted for roughly 20.4 percent of the total fashion retail sales in the United States and has continued to experience a steady annual growth rate since 2003. In 2018, U.S. retail e-commerce revenue from the sale of fashion apparels, footwear and accessories amounted to an estimated 103 billion U.S. dollars and is projected to grow to almost 139 billion U.S. dollars by 2022.” [3]

Whether it is 20% or 27%, the percentage of online sales to total sales for apparel, is at least 10 points higher than the ratio of total online sales to total retail sales in the US, and the only way is up.

The whys, wherefores and which-ways for the bricks and mortar and/or online fashion retailer are for another blog. Suffice to say, that bricks and mortar retailers need a strong online presence (website, social media, etc.), need to be up on emerging practices such as omnichannel retailing, and need to be ready and willing to self-disrupt as the market continues to evolve. But again, more of this later.

We will get a close look at what the wholesale buyers think of the current state of affairs over the next six weeks as we move from the year’s opening trade shows of the year (Project Womens in New York and Active/Swim Collective in Anaheim) to LA Market Week then on to the release of Fall19 collections in Vegas next week and back to NYC for Coterie and the other NY Fall shows at the end of the month.

I was downtown LA for LA Market Week. It was quiet. Then again, January Market usually is. The rain didn’t help.

The better contemporary showcase Brand Assembly had good foot traffic. Brand Assembly is a first class, curated show that is always well supported by buyers.

Brand Assembly LA, January 2019
Cooper Design Space

Active/Swim Collective in Anaheim in the first week of the New year for Day 2 had solid activity. Apparently Day 1 was busy.

Active/Swim Collective, January 2019
Anaheim Convention Center

The yoga and active wear brand and past pbc client, Satva was showing at Active Collective. Puja Barar, the owner and designer of Satva has done a brilliant job in developing the label. Satva is now in 350 doors nationwide including Whole Foods.

Satva at Active Collective, January 2019

This week saw the better men’s West Coast Trend Show once again take over four floors of the Embassy Suites LAX North hotel. West Coast Trend is a staple on the men’s contemporary trade show schedule. Activity was good.

West Coast Trend Show at Embassy Suites LAX

The feedback from buyers and agents from the shows so far is typically inconsistent. One long time women’s contemporary retailer told me that business is flat despite the better economy. A sales agent who sells to specialty stores and the majors is happy with business after being very downbeat about sales when we talked six months ago.

McKinsey & Company have an excellent article on their website that looks ahead to the 2019 fashion industry landscape – The State of Fashion 2019: A year of awakening.

McKinsey believes that the fashion industry turned the corner last year and sees sustained growth in the industry for 2019.

With news articles, industry reports and anecdotal evidence generally trending positively, I expect next week’s trade shows in Las Vegas to be busy. It is too early to tell if this quick start to the year will continue. I am hoping very much that it does.

The industry and those that rely on its success have suffered a number of false dawns in the very difficult 10 years since the 2008 Great Recession. Many across the industry have worked very hard in the past decade to stay in business. Many haven’t made it. Sustained good times are deserved.

Paul Brindley
Principal Adviser

[1] United States GDP Growth Rate, https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth, Web, January 15, 2019
[2] Howland, Daphne, 27% of apparel sales are now online, www.retaildive.com,
July 2, 2018, Web, January 15, 2019
[3] Fashion e-commerce in the United States – Statistics & Facts, statista.com, Web, January 15, 2019

Posted by Paul Brindley
on June 14, 2017

The U.S. Retail Apocalypse

June 12, 2017

US retail sales rose by 4.5% in April compared with the same month last year.

Meanwhile the US Commerce Department reported that online shopping boomed in April, climbing 11.9% year-on-year.

The Dow is up over 15% since the nauseating result on November 8.

The employment figures are the best in a decade.

In my own industry segment, Contemporary Apparel, the first half of the year has seen the most positive trade show results with the strongest attendance since the Great Recession.

Consumers are spending again at a rate not seen since before the GR.

Everything’s coming up roses, right? Wrong. Bricks and mortar retailers are closing at a rate that one online article described as “The Retail Apocalypse”.

Let’s start at the top.

The current and future contractions of the department stores and major chains are being well documented in the press.

USA Today reported last week that according to Moody’s:

“The list of U.S. retailers with troubled financials that could make them potential bankruptcy risks now totals 22, according to ratings by Moody’s Investors Service — topping the 19 recorded at the peak of the Great Recession.

And the worst could be yet to come. The ranks of distressed firms and retail sector defaults are likely to grow during the next 12 to 18 months, the rating agency predicted in a separate report issued Wednesday.”

Names on the list include Neiman Marcus, Sears, TOMS Shoes and Vince. Disturbingly many of the companies are either apparel and accessories sector retailers or they have significant apparel floor space.

Like JCPenney, some companies bounce back from the list. However, their participation is usually mentioned in the first line of their obituaries.

Macy’s and Nordstrom continue to disappoint. Macy’s has under-performed consistently for an extended period. The previously steady Nordstrom has seen a 21% drop in it’s stock over the past 3 months.

The iconic Macy’s is almost done. The headline on The Street website this morning is blunt: Sears Is Going Down in Flames So Look Out, It’s Going to Be Messy.

There is no indication that Nordstrom is anywhere near Macy’s territory. Being a more contemporary and nimble organization with heavy participation by the Nordstrom family, it should find it’s way through.

However, the days of the many tentacled retailer as we have known them are coming to an end. I set down my thoughts on this issue in a blog 12 months ago: It’s the End of the Department Store as We Know It? It Better Be

But it’s not just the top-heavy weights that are bearing the brunt. Yes, we have better Store-Closing-sign paul brindley consultsresults for some smaller retailers. I was even told by an apparel agent that they met with new small local retailers for the first time in years in their showroom during last week’s Los Angeles Fashion Market Week. However, the numbers show massive store closures occurring across the country. The conversations I have almost daily with small independent store owners reveal ongoing pain at street level.

On April 10, The Washington Post got straight to the point in an article, More retail stores have closed in 2017 than at the same point in 2008:

The bad news for the retail industry is coming fast and furious these days. Big names are shuttering stores or going out of business.

Add it all up and more than 2,880 retail stores have been closed this year to date, a pace that is running ahead of the same point during 2008’s recession, according to a recent Bloomberg report. What’s worse is that the future isn’t looking any brighter.

The “bubble has now burst,” Urban Outfitters Chief Executive Richard Hayne told analysts. “We are seeing the results: Doors shuttering and rents retreating. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future and may even accelerate.”

There are no prizes for guessing why. Internet shopping. Specifically Amazon, as the WaPo explains:

One factor is, not surprisingly, Amazon. The online giant has taken away significant sales from malls and chain stores. (Amazon.com Chief Executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post). “The Seattle-based company accounted for 53 percent of e-commerce sales growth last year, with the rest of the industry sharing the remaining 47 percent, according to EMarketer Inc.,” Bloomberg reports. But there’s another thing going on: too many stores have been built and that’s caused an overall glut in retail space. The U.S. has far more square footage devoted to retail per capita than any other country – six times the amount of our European and Japanese counterparts.

So there you have it. The bricks and mortar of US retail sector are being involuntary torn down into a space relative with the rest of the world (not that your average American would care). We should be beyond the days of buy, buy buy, spend, spend, spend. The future is sustainability in all things. Consumption being one of the most crucial.

From what I see and hear there is a natural correction underway. The Millennials and younger aren’t big spenders on stuff. They spend their money on experience. Every week, I am hearing of a new festival to attend or how much they want to travel (unlike the majority of their forebears) or how they are doing anything but shopping. Thankfully, they are leaving behind the desolate concepts of “retail therapy”, “mall as destination” and Malcolm Forbes’ grotesque “He who dies with the most toys wins”.

But what does all this mean for the future of the retail sector in particular and the economy in general? What are the alternatives to the dangerous myth that consumer spending drives the economy? What role is technology playing?

The Atlantic addressed some of these questions in April in the excellent article: What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?

The nub of the matter is that despite the better retail sales numbers, there is not enough cash to go around to the oversupply of retailers. Add to this the technological and spending preference changes that are allocating resources elsewhere, and you have the very peculiar situation in which we find ourselves – massive retail store closures in a period of economic upturn.

A fundamental adjustment in the US retail sector has been underway since the Great Recession. I believe it will continue well in to an unpredictable future.

Paul Brindley
Principal Adviser

Posted by Paul Brindley
on January 12, 2017

REVIEW: Agenda Long Beach Trade Show, January 5-6, 2017

The view from the JanSport lounge at Agenda Long Beach

The view from the JanSport lounge at Agenda Long Beach

Before you could say “2017?”, Agenda Long Beach got the apparel trade show year off to a cracking start last Thursday at the conveniently close Long Beach Convention Center.

I will not rehash the whys and wherefores of Agenda. I have covered the development and expansion of the show in my twice yearly reviews since 2011. You can read the previous reviews here.

The rain (yes, rain in Southern California) did not stop the first day being well attended and energetic. There was nothing new in the general layout of the show. The Berrics (skate), Enclave (street and men’s contemporary) and Footwear sections to the left. The Point (surf), The Woods (contemporary and lifestyle apparel and accessories), Pin & Patch (personalized accessories), The Essentials (grooming and personal goods), WMNS (women’s contemporary apparel and accessories), Resource (industry providers) to the right.

The one marked difference from previous shows was the very noticeable drop-off in foot traffic and activity on Day 2. For consistency of comparison, I prefer to walk the show at about the same time both days, usually during the busiest times of late morning to early-mid afternoon. Being only a two day show, both days are usually bustling. The weather was no worse on Friday, in fact a little better. It may have been an anomaly.

The brands and booths that caught my eye were:

Pray for the edgy streetwear of Ignored Prayers

Pray for the edgy streetwear of Ignored Prayers

Ignored Prayers leveraged this display for some brand awareness in the Enclave section. The edgy streetwear is only available on their website at Supreme and Union.


San Pedro's own Ascot

San Pedro’s own Ascot

San Pedro label Ascot was showing high quality, locally made caps along side Bates leather jackets. Ascot also does tees and sweats.


Sevag Kazanci, co-founder of Parks Project

I first met Sevag Kazanci, the co-founder of Parks Project when he spoke on a panel at one of the Molina Entrepreneurship Series events last year. Parks Project holds the license to produce apparel for the US National Park Service. They are currently servicing gift stores in 28 national parks with a 10 year goals of supplying 100 parks.

These are not your typical gift store tees, caps, sweats and beanies. The graphics, fabrics and styling compare very favorably to anything you can buy in a contemporary boutique. They are selling in boutiques in Japan. I will be investigating the Australian market for them.

By the way, the top 3 selling parks’ apparel? #1 – Joshua Tree, #2 – Yosemite, #3 – Muir Woods.


JanSport Diamond collection

JanSport Diamond collection

Over the past few years, I have been tracking the expansion of the range of JanSport backpacks, bags and accessories. JanSport has been an old fav of mine for years. Growing up, they were the first brand of backpacks I was aware of (that is after the army surplus backpacks that were hip in the late 70’s).

JanSport has been around since 1967 with functional, outdoor gear that is well priced and durable. Over recent seasons, they have been stepping up their design, styling and fabrics into the lifestyle and contemporary segments. The Wayward Collection has done very well. They have just introduced the resort-inspired Diamond Collection and camouflage influenced Ranger Collection. Neither are as yet available on their website.


Noral Collections - Made in LA

Noral Collections – Made in LA

Noral Collections specializes in high quality crystal and gemstone bracelets, rings, necklaces and key rings, all handmade in LA. The workmanship is first rate. The price points are very reasonable.


Tiger Mist from Melbourne

Tiger Mist from Melbourne

I caught up with Yvette Collis, the livewire Brand Manager of Melbourne’s own, Tiger Mist.

I first met Yvette and the owners of the label, Stevie and Alana Pallister at PoolTradeShow in 2013. Yvette has continued to successfully sell the range directly to US retailers without using a US distributor or agent by targeting the right trade shows in the US and working directly with buyers. The brand is doing very well for Nasty Gals, Revolve, Dolls Kill and is Forever 21’s #1 selling branded label.

Online sales have continued to grow strongly on the back of a successful social media campaign focused on Instagram and Snapchat.


Olyss sweaters out of New York at Joken Style Showroom

Olyss sweaters out of New York at Joken Style Showroom

Joken Style Showroom had a very solid Day 1 meeting with TJ Maxx, Quiksilver and small local boutiques, including Topaz Sun from Manhattan Beach, New Jack City in Huntington Beach and Long Beach’s Prism Boutique.

paul brindley consults recently brokered a national sales representation deal between Joken Style and the popular Australian bag collection, The Redletter Club. RLC will be launching in the US in the Joken Style showroom at next week’s Los Angeles Market Week.


Respected heritage label, Kennington

Respected heritage label, Kennington

As usual at Agenda, I stopped by Kennington. Not many brands can say that they have been in business for 60 years. Kennington is one of those rare few. I was very impressed with the look of the prints and colors.

I will be working with Kennington to secure an Australian distribution deal for the coming Spring/Summer 2017 season.

Where to from here?

Next week is Los Angeles Market Week. Next month are the Las Vegas trade shows for Fall/Winter 2017. Between now and Vegas, we will have a new president and a new administration with a Republican majority in Congress.

I think we can all remember the consequences of the last Republican political straight flush. We very nearly lost the economy completely.

Over the coming weeks, it will be very interesting to see and hear how the industry reacts to our new circumstances. The second half of 2016 was very encouraging. Lets see if the rhetoric of the campaign starts to become reality. I have a feeling it might trump whatever gains we have made.

Paul Brindley
Founder & Principal Adviser
paul brindley consults


Posted by Paul Brindley
on December 15, 2016

See Now, Buy Now – The Biggest News in Fashion for 2016

There is no doubt that the most far reaching, disruptive development in the fashion and apparel industry for 2016 is the “See Now, Buy Now” experiment in seasonal product delivery.

See-Now-Buy-Now blog image


See Now, Buy Now describes the industry-shaking practice of showcasing a seasonal collection on a runway while simultaneously having the range available for purchase in store and/or online. Customers can immediately buy what they saw in the runway debut. This is literally turning the apparel wholesale model on its head.

For as long as anyone can remember, fashion industry orthodoxy has demanded that you proceed in this strict chronological order:

  1. Design, develop and sample a collection.
  2. If you are important enough or cashed up enough, show the collection on a runway somewhere. Generate as much marketing collateral and media buzz as possible.
  3. Let all the fanfare die down while you have your corporate sales force, distributor or independent sales agent flog the range to retailers of all descriptions with a ship date at some time in the future (up to six months).
  4. Close the wholesale order window to give yourself enough time to produce the orders to meet the ship date.
  5. Ship the boxes to the stores, put the range up on your online store, and sit back while the money rolls in.
  6. Hopefully repeat prosperously into the future as the seasons demand.

Major brands including Burberry and Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, along with a handful of smaller labels like Rebecca Minkoff and Vetements, have as of February this year, committed the heresy of showing collections that will be immediately available for purchase. The excitement and exposure generated by the runway show isn’t confined to video or photo or editorial for the six months until the collection hits stores or websites. What you see, is what you get.

Previously, if you wanted to buy styles hot off the runway, you could probably have found them selling in a store somewhere in Hong Kong as a friend of mine in the Australian fashion world did just years ago when he saw a dress for sale that a major designer had shown just days before in Paris. This unfortunately only works for the counterfeiter.

We are in a post-trend world where anything goes. Consequently, designers have been increasingly unshackled from the conformities of “the seasonal look”. The freedom to design trans-seasonal collections not only adds to the functional utility and sales window of the individual pieces, it also gives the collection a more global reach. Both of these factors allow designers to take advantage of selling directly to the widest possible audience which will further facilitate See Now, Buy Now.

So, how has all the fuss of See Now, Buy Now been affecting the designers’ bottom lines? Quite well, so it seems. There are caveats. These are explored in the following two articles.

Business of Fashion reported on the sales impact of September’s Fall16 runways, Are ‘See Now, Buy Now’ Shows Driving Sales?

So did Fashionista in the article, ARE PEOPLE ACTUALLY SEEING NOW AND BUYING NOW?

Where did See Now, Buy Now come from? Where is it going?

The origins of See Now, Buy Now can be found in one word: Technology.

Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and CEO elaborated neatly in a South China Morning Post article, “Customer behaviour has changed so dramatically. I’m not sure any more that when we watch something, and then six months later, we’d remember it again because we have all become so used to technology allowing us to experience everything immediately. It doesn’t mean that you lose any creativity or any of the artisanal skills behind the collections.”

The customer is now driving process.

Bailey also told the BBC, “This is technology enabling fashion.”

The Where is this all going? question can also be answered in one word: Sales.

The Fords and Hilfigers of this world have the reputation, following and cash to produce and offload every stitch produced in a season no matter what the business model. But what about your small to medium contemporary label?

Innovation for innovation sake is a very expensive and unsustainable indulgence if enough revenue is not being profitably generated. And herein lies the rub. Can a designer gamble on producing a collection ready for sale without the benefit of a wholesale selling season to book indent orders and know what styles, colors and prints are financially viable to manufacture?

It is not long ago that it was inconceivable for a small to medium contemporary apparel designer to even consider the financial outlay and business risk of producing a collection on spec which is basically what See Now, Buy Now demands. In most cases, it still is. With the exponential increase in internet sales and social selling combined with the traditional wholesale channels, designers now have the additional sales outlets that make See Now, Buy Now more of a possibility but a very, very precarious one.

They could follow the example of the designer, Monique Lhuillier and make a minority of a collection available immediately with the rest produced and sold using the traditional model.

Or the innovation of David Dixon, the Canadian designer who, as detailed in a Fashion Magazine article, experimented with a limited buy-now-wear-now model that allowed customers to order certain dresses and have them completed in three to four weeks. It was successful, but Dixon says those aren’t necessarily the dresses he shows on the runway: “They’re dresses that are the bread-and-butter kind of thing.”

The article also stated that, ‘The answer, for many, lies in e-commerce and focusing on tried and tested staples rather than reinventing the wheel each season. “It’ll be a different mindset in terms of how we design clothes,” says Dixon.’

Many independent designers must be hoping that See Now, Buy Now remains the domain of the rich and famous. If the practice was to become the norm, there are too many barriers and risks for most labels to overcome. There would be a massive contraction in brand diversity in the market. Some would think that a good thing given the current oversupply of designers. Darwinian law would apply. The strongest would survive.

See Now, Buy Now is not going away.  No matter what difficulties are presented to the wider fashion manufacturer, it is likely to flourish and fundamentally change the industry just as other disruptors like Uber and Airbnb have changed theirs.

The fashion industry across the board has lagged in adopting the technological advancements of the past 20 years. The traditional fashion business model has incrementally and painfully been catching up. The changes wrought thus far to the apparel supply chain have caused major business and job loss.

See Now, Buy Now is the most fundamental systemic change that has been brought on by technology but will reach further and deeper than anything experienced so far. This article has focused largely on designers. Should the practice become ubiquitous, See Now, Buy Now will touch, affect and change every aspect of the fashion supply chain and business cycle.

We shall wait and see.

Paul Brindley
Principal Adviser
paul brindley consults



Posted by Paul Brindley
on July 06, 2016

REVIEW: Agenda Long Beach Trade Show, June 29-30, 2016

It was all systems go at the unofficial launch of the Spring 2017 season round of apparel trade shows last Wednesday and Agenda Long Beach, June 2016Thursday with Agenda Long Beach at the Long Beach Convention Center.

The busiest period of the fashion week and trade show year will continue through the end of October with major stops in Miami, Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles.

The original street, skate and surf focus of Agenda has expanded and diversified steadily over the past 5 years to include contemporary and progressive men’s and women’s brands in Agenda WMNS and The Woods sections, personalized accessories in Pin & Patch, grooming and personal items in The Essentials, and industry service providers in Agenda Resource. Read more about each section here.

The broadening mix of brands at Agenda brings together industry veterans, today’s apparel movers and shakers, buyers of all stripes, sales agents from across the spectrum, millennials chugging beers at 10AM, and kids on skateboards. It is a fascinating cross section of the industry. There are bodies in constant motion in every direction to the accompaniment of chatter and laughter, DJ-ed beats, and the clatter and scrape of skateboards. The bars and food trucks inside are never short of customers.

The sights and sounds create a frenetic energy that gives Agenda Long Beach a party feel. But there is still plenty of business done. Most of the brands and sales agents that I spoke to were very happy with the amount and quality of the buyers seen.

Some eyecatchers for me were:

The famous LA heritage brand, Kennington

The famous LA heritage brand, Kennington

Kennington has been doing it right for 60 years. They sport their famous prints and colors in a contemporary, slim fit body for their younger customer and their time tested regular fit in long and short sleeves. I particularly like the Flume Short in three colors and the jackets in three bodies – Bomber, Garage and Safari – that they are doing for Spring 2017.


Gypsies & Debutantes at Joken Style booth

Gypsies & Debutantes at Joken Style booth

Eme Mizioch of Joken Style Showroom was super excited by the response to Gypsies & Debutantes‘ bags. The bags are beautifully constructed with paneling made from re-purposed traditional women’s blouses from South America. They had seen buyers from Diane’s Beachwear, Fab Fit Fun and Crossroads.


Giving Bracelets benefits Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children

Giving Bracelets benefits Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children

The soft leather, metal and electro-plated crystal adjustable bracelets and necklaces from Giving Bracelets are unisex, comfortable and empowering to wear (I haven’t taken mine off). 10% of the proceeds go to support Giving Bracelets benefits Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children. Wholesale prices start at $13.50 with no minimums.


The Wayward Collection by JanSport catching the higher end, natural look

The Wayward Collection by JanSport catching the higher end, natural look

I was impressed by the new Wayward Collection from JanSport. JanSport has captured a natural eco-look with subtle colors and prints to appeal to the higher end of the market.

They were two very strong days at Agenda. The activity bodes well for the upcoming wholesale selling season. I am looking forward to the reports from shows in New York and Miami in July. I will be blogging from Las Vegas in August. I am expecting Vegas to be the strongest show since the 2008 financial crisis.

Paul Brindley
paul brindley consults

Posted by Paul Brindley
on June 03, 2016

Bern Baby Bern but Don’t Bern Down the House

Last Friday, I had a flashback to election day, 4 November 2008. I was volunteering on the ‘No on 8’ campaign to stop the hurtful, regressive and reactionary Proposition 8 that sought to add the preposterous notion that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” to the California Constitution.

It was a day of mixed emotions. Barry O won the presidential election but so did Prop 8. The many young volunteers that worked on ‘No on 8′ were devastated. It was their first taste of political defeat. They talked back and forth all day as we moved from polling station to polling station about how just our cause and how certain our win. The prejudice behind Prop 8 made no sense to them. Their enthusiasm was infectious. Their true belief in equality was inspirational. Their disappointment was heartbreaking. I left them with the wish that they work through their disillusionment and stay engaged and fight on.

And fight on they did. With the emotional and educational groundwork laid by those older, it was largely the younger generations’ enlightened and almost banal attitude of acceptance and inclusion that dissolved the prejudice against marriage equality. Marriage equality became the everyday reality that even the most reactionary of Supreme Courts could not resist (I am glad Scalia was around to taste that defeat). I knew that day in November 2008 that although the young people I had worked with had lost a battle, they would win the war. They did.

I had that same feeling when I looked around the crowd at last Friday’s Bernie Sanders rally at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro.

The organizers had expected the maximum crowd that the outdoor area could hold – 2,700. So did I. Doors were opening at 8AM. Not wanting to miss out, I got to the Maritime Museum at Harbor Blvd and 6th Street in San Pedro just after 7AM to find that I was about the 200th person in a very quiet line. I had expected more volume in all respects.

Viva La Revolucion!

Viva La Revolucion!

Those first waiting few were a microcosm of the crowd to come. Most under 30, some over 60, few in between.

8AM came and went as the line lengthened and the merchandise paraded past. My favorite was the tee shirt sporting the famous Che Guevara head with a superimposed Bernie face and the slogan “Viva La Revolucion”.

Bernie Sanders campaign buttons 2 for $5, 3 for $10??

2 for $5, 3 for $10??

Some of the campaign buttons were clever. “Birdie For President” touting the feathered friend that alighted on Bernie’s lectern mid-speech a while back. I assume Nike and/or Michael Jordan are supporters given the presence of an ‘Air Bernie’ button. I was tickled by the progressive pricing model for the buttons – “2 for $5, 3 for $10” was the cry. I had to ask the young man next to me if I had heard the woman selling the buttons correctly.

Having broken the ice with the young man, I proceeded to inform him and his young female companion that I was there to write an article about the rally and asked them if they would mind answering a couple of questions. I promised I wouldn’t be using their names so I didn’t ask for them. Both are born in the US to Mexican parents. He is 23. She is 20.

He had voted for Obama in 2012. This is her first presidential voting opportunity. Before Bernie, they weren’t interested in politics. So what is it about Bernie’s platform?

  • access to lower cost or free tertiary education
  • an easier process for work permits for those wanting to work in the US
  • a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens
  • wages growth and increased benefits for workers

They both realize that Bernie would have trouble getting his platform through Congress but believe he would point the country in the right direction if elected.

If Sanders doesn’t secure the nomination, they will both vote for Hillary against Trump. Reluctantly. They listed the same negatives about Hillary that I heard all day from others people I spoke to or heard talking around me:

  • She’s a liar
  • She’s corrupt
  • She’s a friend of Wall St
  • She’s a corporatist
  • She’s a warmonger
  • She’s broken the law by using a private email server so says the State Department
  • She says anything to get votes

I asked the couple where they had gotten their information. He had formed his opinion from information off the web or TV channels like CNN. She had gotten most of her information from him.

I asked the young woman if it was important to her that a woman become President. She said yes but not Hillary. I resisted the urge to press further.

The line continued to grow as we got further past the supposed 8AM doors open. We began filing through the security check at about 9AM, and then made our way to the open area right on the harbor to the left of the Maritime Museum. The raised stage with podium and bleachers raised the anticipation of the Bernie experience among the crowding throng of the young in tees and jeans, union members in their colors, families and old lefties. There wasn’t a suit or tie or corporate type among us. I felt overdressed in a blue dress shirt and Zegna lace-up leather boots.

With what I thought I were the thousands still in line being slowly security screened at Checkpoint Bernie, I knew were in for a wait (There turned out to be less than half the expected crowd so said the chap in the suit who was running the checkpoint). Once I had found my spot, I asked the guy standing next to me some of the same questions I had asked the young couple in line. Donald from Montclair gave me very similar responses. Donald isn’t devoted to any party. He votes with his conscience for those that support the middle class. He supports all of Bernie’s platform. With Bernie’s almost done, I asked if he vote for Hillary against Trump? No, he would vote for the Green Party. Why? Because California is a safe Democratic state so he would protest against Hillary by voting Green. He listed off the congenital Bernie-supporter complaints about Hillary – corporatist, untrustworthy, not sure whose side is she on, first for something then against like fracking and free trade. Unprompted though, he agreeably informed me that he would vote for Hillary is California was a marginal state.

At around 9.30AM, the Bernie fever spread with an elongated version of the national anthem by a soul singer with a beautiful voice evidenced by the holding of many a note and with the warm up speeches by local union leaders (one in which a speaker assured us that “Bernie wants to make America great again” – I assume he would like that one back). The fever passed with no Bernie but a long lull while we listened to a slightly annoying loop of truncated songs (we were on the road again with Willie Nelson then bern baby bern-ing to “Disco Inferno” then feeling power to the people with Lennon [John, not Vladimir], et al.) as the gloom burnt off revealing wispy white clouds in a gorgeous blue sky and a sun determined to get hotter and hotter. The podium stood invitingly against the blue with three green Evergreen container crane sentinels in the background.

By 11AM, there was still no Bernie or any updates from the organizers. I had been there four hours. With no hat and sore back, I had had just about enough. Relief was stymied by a sighting at the podium. The president of the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the main organizers of the event, slipped into us with a rousing tirade about the rigged system and the disappearing middle class and better wages and all for one and one for all before making the announcement we had all been waiting for …. heeeeeere’s Bernie!

Bernie graced us with his presence right on 11.15. Fists were raised, Bernie signs were waved, and the enthusiastic but vaguely defeated chant of “Bernie, Bernie, …” filled the air. I had the odd thought that he looks more like Bernie live than on TV. I am still not sure what that meant.

My next thought was more coherent. It was very soon into the speech that I was convinced that Bernie is in this for the right reasons. He is sincere. He is not on an ego trip. He knows that the only way he has any chance of realizing the changes that he and his supporters believe in is to push Hillary all the way.

He is a compelling speaker. He worked his way through his platform. I won’t regurgitate here. Though I would like to mention that he only called out Hillary once and that was for taking Wall St super PAC money. “How can you take on Wall St when you are taking money from Wall St?”. There was a lusty round of boos for Secretary Clinton as Sanders refers to her.

Some highlights for me:

“This is the richest country in the history of the world. There is no excuse for the poverty we have in this country.”

“There is no excuse for women making 75c on the dollar compared to men.”

“We need to demilitarize local police departments.”


He gave Trump and his supporters, and the Republican Party a right old kicking.

“We have the ludicrous situation of a billionaire like Sheldon Adelson giving hundreds of millions of dollars to another billionaire like Trump!”

He lampooned the Trump and the other Republican climate change deniers with whom he sits on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.


“Together we can do this”

It was strong stuff until about 25 minutes in when Bernie started to repeat himself. I can understand his need to stretch the speech and entertain the crowd who had lined up and waited all morning. But I was done.

As I made my way through the gathered proletariat, I had mixed feelings. I believe Bernie is genuine and I agreed with everything I had heard. I appreciate that his campaign has called out the rigged US political and economic system for what it is while naming the bad actors who perpetuate and benefit from their warped creation.

I am very optimistic about the ability of the generation of change agents that Bernie has energized to carry forward and realize his agenda. I am sure this is only the beginning of a lifetime of political engagement for many of the young people at the rally. This is a very, very good thing.

But … its time. Its time for Bernie to put the cue in the rack. Its time to let Hillary Clinton get on with annihilating Donald Trump in November.

I understand the fury among the shrinking middle class and the exploited working class for meaningful change to a system that is stacked against them. Despite her long fight for social and economic justice, many see Hillary as part of that system.

I understand that ‘Clinton Fatigue’ is almost natural after nearly 30 years of hearing about him, then him and her, and now her.

I understand that Hillary has at times in the past (particularly during the 2008 presidential run) tried to be all things to all people. She is the most unfairly scrutinized and criticized woman in public life that I can remember. Constant attack is bound to make anybody hyper sensitive and to say things that please. Plus she is woman operating in very hostile male territory who must tread carefully and watch what she says during this campaign. Do you really think that the white male power structure wants to give the keys to the kingdom to a woman? It is crystal clear that they have been looking to skewer Hillary since well before she announced her run. As much as they hate it, they would rather have a black man in the White House. As Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook who Inc. magazine called ‘arguably the most influential woman in business’, was recently quoted in an Inc. piece, “As a country and as a world, we are not comfortable with women in leadership roles …” I’ll say.

Now remember, Hillary has secured more primary votes, more delegates, and almost all the super delegates that the Democratic Party primary system allows. Bernie and his supporters complain that too many independent voters have been deprived of voting in the primaries. It is the Democratic Party primary.

Between her successful legal career, 12 years along side Bill when he was Arkansas governor, 8 years in the White House, 8 years as the senator from New York, and 4 years as a universally admired Secretary of State (outside the US where the admiration or not of the Secretary of State counts), Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified people ever to run for the presidency.

And unlike Bernie, Hillary is stripped down and ready to go. Bernie hasn’t endured anything like the scrutiny of personal belief or public record or job performance that Hillary has been subjected to for the past 25 years. There is no stone unturned in Hillary’s life and work. We do not know what the Republicans jackals will find in Bernie’s past or present. They have largely kept their powder dry on Bernie’s democratic socialism (= communism). Bernie will end up looking like Uncle Joe Stalin but the time they are done.

For me, above all, it is time for a woman to be President of The United States.

I like the way Brendan Quinn put it on the Blue Nation Review website in an April 2015 article:

When a woman takes up the mantle of “Leader of the Free World,” our nation will cross a line, never to return. I’m not saying that Hillary Clinton becoming president will magically create nationwide gender equality, because it won’t. But when we join the ranks of countries like Germany, Denmark, and Chile (and dozens of others) by placing a woman as our Head of State, a new generation will grow up with an altered view of what a woman can do.

When women take on leadership roles, the way women are perceived and talked about changes. In just the last half-century, the way women are discussed in the media has changed dramatically. Because my generation grew up seeing women as senators and governors, (and creating laws that improve the lives of women) we perceive them in a different way than our grandparents. Unfortunately (for now), I can only imagine the discourse of a generation that grew up with a woman in the Oval Office.

Sexism is the ruling “-ism” from which all others corrupt. It is the first we learn as children. That boys and girls are different and, for millenia, boys are better, stronger and more valued that girls. I believe that the education and empowerment of women in the US and across countries and cultures is the key to solving all the problems of the world, be it, economic, social, environmental or religious.

The younger generations are more accepting and more tolerant than any generation before them. They can make the final spiritual leap to full equality and empowerment for all in the US. We have seen their effect on public debate and policy through the acceptance, codifying and ratifying of the marriage equality and marijuana legalization laws across the country. Bernie has energized them. He can now direct that energy to transform the lofty rhetoric into reality. It won’t be with him as president. He knows what he must do.

If Bernie is all about solving the real problems we face and blocking the fraudulence and selfishness of Donald Trump and the deformed Republican Party then he must do his part when the time comes. When Hillary is confirmed, he must unequivocally and unconditionally support her candidacy and direct his supporters to do the same in his name. “A vote for Hillary, it is vote for all of us”.

Electing Hillary Clinton as President of the United States will not only put the most qualified and experienced and capable candidate in the White House. It will send a message to everyone everywhere that anyone can do anything.

Posted by Paul Brindley
on May 26, 2016

It’s the End of the Department Store as We Know It? It Better Be

When was the last time you shopped for clothes or accessories at a department store? And when I say department store, I mean nothing short of a Macy’s. Let’s not count the popular secondary department stores like Marshalls or Ross or the department stores’ own secondaries like Nordstrom Rack, Macy’s Backstage and Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th.

If or when you did last grace the departments, did you linger and walk the floors like the good old days? Or was it a smash and grab raid like you were shopping online? Could you live without department stores in your shopping life? After all, you have never had more buying options for apparel or just about anything for that matter.

I ask these questions because you may have to consider life with fewer or even (well down the road, if ever) no department stores. The business press has been reporting the on the struggles of the US department stores for some time now. Recent poor financial results have increased the pressure on some big names.

The Business of Fashion just posted an excellent article on the subject, Why American 1-macys-genista-flickr-cc_650Department Stores Are ‘Broken’Macy’s saw a 5.6% drop in year on year sales for the first fiscal quarter of 2016; Saks Fifth Avenue was down 5.7 percent, and the usually invulnerable Nordstrom dipped 1.7%.

Why are they broken?

  • Retail in general is struggling despite all the usual economic parameters for strong retail sales currently set in ‘Go’ mode. The Business of Fashion outlines the reasons in another excellent article, “Why Aren’t Americans Shopping“. I couldn’t put it any better, so I won’t except to say that we live in a very different retail world post the 2008 Great Recession (aka “The GFC” or “The Global Financial Crisis”, as it is known elsewhere).
  • Department stores haven’t changed they way they do business in practice or look and feel for years. Walk into any department store today and it looks like it did 20 years ago. Just buying up the next popular online site or simply posting more content on social media or having sales staff working off iPads and or jazzing up your advertising will not cut it in this millennial world. Its all about customer engagement. Even the edgiest marketers are still figuring out how to effectively influence millennials. I do like “The 5 Ways to Sell to Millenials” on Inc.com:

1.  Authenticity matters most

2. Realize you’ll be fact-checked–almost before you finish.

3. Make your point, and then shut up.

4. Make your message an emotional story.

5. TV? What’s TV?

Department stores are way behind the game.

  • I heard an industry type on NPR last week state that many in the department store upper echelons have been in the system for their whole careers and that they may little or no feel for the new world of retailing. I’m not sure about this take. Surely someone involved in the running of a premium department store like Saks or Nordstrom or Bloomingdales is staying abreast of all the selling, promotional and demographic trends and needs. If not, then there will be some hefty pink slips making the rounds.
  • Competition is fierce, very fierce. Marshalls and Ross are as busy as ever with both recording healthy increases of year on year sales for Q1 2016. We all know that traditional bricks and mortar apparel retailers have been losing business to the online sellers for a long time now. The scope and pace of the e-commerce effect is broadening and quickening daily. But its now not only the Amazons of this new brave new world that are throwing shade. Retailers now need to contend with popular re-commerce sites like thredUP which are essentially online thrift stores that allow you return good for free within a certain amount of days, and fashion share sites like Rent the Runway where you can rent clothes and send them back.

Where to from here for the premium department store chains?

I think we will see a significant physical and influential downsizing of the department store presence in the market while they attempt to polish their customer engagement by returning to what set department stores apart years ago – the destination shopping experience.

The department store experience should include:

  • good quality restaurants and coffee shops pitched to the spending power of their demographic. E.g. Macy’s would have a cafeteria, Nordstrom would have something more upmarket. I would give them a mid-century modern look to hark back to the 50’s movies where people often seemed to be eating and drinking at the department store before or after a spot of shopping.
  • personal shoppers, spa services, and parties for regular customers
  • pop-up shops spotlighting new, innovative products.
  • more store-in-stores run by the brands themselves along the European department store model.
  • friendly and attentive sales staff
  • easy and efficient return policies
  • more bounce and pep to the look and feel of the stores. They should get ultra modern or mid century or something out of the ordinary.
  • and most importantly when it comes to apparel, more focus on the products that people are wearing now and not what they will be wearing in 3 months. I agree with the Business of Fashion piece that calls for enough of “the “early” retail deliveries, which are increasingly out of sync with the physical seasons and result in markdowns during what should be peak selling periods, hurting full-price sales potential. “As it stands, Pre-Fall clothes are delivered from April through July, while Autumn/Winter clothes are delivered from July through October,” BoF reported in March. “Heavier items like outerwear and knits are often deeply discounted in January when cold weather finally hits.” 

I am sure it seems inconceivable to many that we could exist in a retail environment without department stores. They have been the big fish of the retail world for 150 years.

Fortune.com ran an article in January titled ominously, How American Department Stores Are Fighting Extinction. They concurred with many of the points that I suggested above.

Do I think a mass extinction is imminent? No. But things are going to have to change and change quickly. Department stores better figure out how stay connected and relevant or they will be left way behind in this ever evolving, ever accelerating retail environment and may not catch up.

Paul Brindley
Principal Adviser
paul brindley consults

Posted by Paul Brindley
on March 25, 2016

REVIEW: LA Fashion Market Week Fall16, March 14-17, 2016

9th St & Los Angeles - the epicenter of LA contemporary apparel wholesale

Where it all happens

Last Tuesday saw me strolling down Los Angeles Street in the downtown Los Angeles Fashion District heading for the Fall 2016 Los Angeles Fashion Market Week.

What is Market Week? Its a four day affair of seasonal wholesale buying in the showrooms and trade shows of the main wholesale centers: the California Market Center, the New Mart, the Cooper Design Space, and other venues in the Fashion District.

Five times a year, US and international wholesale buyers roam the showrooms and booth shows determined to stay within their budgets as they buy what’s hot, pass on what’s not, and perhaps gamble on what’s next.  Most buyers who want to stay in business or keep their jobs have a good idea what is working for their customers, and what to take a punt on to freshen up their floors.

By the time I get to the crossroads of contemporary apparel wholesaling at Los Angeles and 9th, I can usually tell how the day is progressing. The telltale signs are everywhere. What is the foot traffic like on the sidewalks and filing in and out of the buildings? How many people are sitting in the cafes? How many are waiting at the traffic signals to get across to the adjacent buildings? How full are the parking lots?

First impressions were that this was going to be the average Fall market week that it turned out to be. You can muse over the full California Apparel News review of the week.

Fall market week in LA is the second busiest behind the October Spring edition. Despite Los Angeles having the largest apparel infrastructure and being the second largest city and metro area in the US, the LA market week is not as consequential as you would think. By the time buyers have been to the massive Las Vegas trade shows and the marquee New York showcases, LA is left to mainly service west coast and some international buyers.

Last week, I focused my time on walking the temporary booth trade shows – Brand Assembly in the Cooper Design Space, Designers and Agents in the New Mart, and the accessories showcase Coeur and the activewear and lifestyle grouping ALT in the California Market Center.

Brand Assembly Emerging Designers Showcase - - paul brindley consults

Brand Assembly Emerging Designers Showcase

Brand Assembly has expanded to 125 brands and now takes up the entire bright, white 13th floor event space of the Cooper Design Space. The carefully curated premier contemporary women’s showcase, “gathers designers with similar price points while avoiding direct brand competition”, as it was explained to me by co-founder, Hilary France. There is a well written profile of Hilary on Fashionista.com.

“Due to exhibitor demand, we could be much bigger but we are committed to a selective, curated approach that optimizes the Brand Assembly experience for our brands and buyers”, professed the other co-founder, Alex Repola.

We Are Kindred - paul brindley consults

We Are Kindred from one of my favorites cities, Sydney at the busy SYDNY showroom booth

I was delighted to see We Are Kindred hanging beautifully in the busy The SYNDY Showroom booth. I introduced the label to The SYDNY. The SYDNY does an excellent job representing Australian designers and brands in the US market.

Brand Assembly was by far the busiest space of the week. Maybe buyers are taking the advice of one of the exhibitor brands, Monrow who have declared that “Brand Assembly Los Angeles is an incredibly well-curated assortment of brands & categories. If I was a boutique, I would only shop there.”

The advanced contemporary Designers and Agents on the 3rd floor event space at the New Mart was close to full but a bit light on buyer traffic when I was there. D&A is known as an independent, international show that attracts brands from the US, Europe and Japan. D&A New York is a much larger, busier show.

Ben De Luca of Brooklyn Hat Company told me he had a busy Monday but Tuesday was slower.

Brooklyn Hat Co - paul brindley consults

Brooklyn Hat Co felts selling strongly for Fall16

Coeur and ALT were stranded on the buyer desert that is the huge penthouse event space of the California Market Center. It was very quiet up there. The penthouse space is only ever full for the LA Textile Show. The space is massive which tends to diffuse whatever energy is created. I think they should switch the smaller showcases to the more cozy and attractive 10th floor, 10B Loft. 10B Loft is about a third the size of the Penthouse and would create a significantly more intimate setting.

Coeur has suffered over the past two or three seasons from a lack of a permanent home (it was at the Alexandria Hotel last season) and most significantly from no longer sharing the 13th floor space with Brand Assembly. Coeur’s accessories and Brand Assembly contemporary apparel complimented each other nicely and fed buyers from one to the other. Coeur was squeezed out by Brand Assembly’s expansion.

The only eye catcher for me at Coeur was Mansi Shah, the namesake brand of New York artist, you guessed it, Mansi Shah. The print focused accessories and caps fuse the subtly innovative prints with a clean, hip mix of color and style, and are well priced.

Mansi Shah from New York

Mansi Shah from New York

We are told that the economy is doing better. The unemployment rate is down and there is even talk that there is sustainable wages growth on the horizon. Retail should be doing significantly better. But it isn’t. The Census Bureau’s Advance Retail Sales Report released March 15 reported that seasonally adjusted sales in February contracted month-over-month with January revised downward.

Continued softness in the retail sector is naturally reaching back to the wholesale market. I am hearing that business at the Fall16 trade shows has been choppy. In my February article, US Economy in 2016 – Steady As She Goes?, I detailed the reasons why I thought 2016 would be a steady year. I still think that a year with some positive momentum is how we will look back on 2016.

It is four months until the swimwear and resort trade shows in Miami and five months until the breaking of Spring17 collections in Las Vegas. I am looking forward to seeing where we are at as an industry should our current slow but steady economic momentum continue or even pick up.

Paul Brindley
Principal Adviser
paul brindley consults

Posted by pbc_admin
on February 05, 2016

US Economy in 2016 – Steady As She Goes?

About this time last year, I wrote an article cautioning against the then prevailing over-optimistic posture of most of the financial and apparel industry press that 2015 was going to be the bumper year leading us all to prosperity.

You can read here: https://usplustrading.com/full-steam-ahead-us-economy-2015-just-hold-horses/

The broad insistence of the enthusiasm was alarming. The fundamentals of the US economy didn’t jibe with the predicted boom. Jobs growth was slow and of questionable quality, wages growth non-existent, consumer confidence was lagging, the financial market was manic depressive. Where was this supposed surge going to come from? How was it going to be paid for? Was there to be another credit bubble?  Not again. Not another cycle of boom and bust. I could hear the words of the Credit Manager of the bank I once worked for echoing down from the barren post-1987 crash years, “This will never happen again”. Well, he has been at least 5 times wrong since. And the last one nearly saw the whole place circle the drain.

Twelve months on, we are thankfully getting a much more sober appraisal of the economic year ahead. The party line this year is that the economic trends of 2016 should mirror those of 2015. The US will see steady progress up an easy gradient of an estimated 2% growth while the rest of the world at best staggers along a flat path.

What can we expect during 2016?

  1. Weak Retail Sales – U.S. retail sales declined in December to ensure the weakest retail year since 2009. I bored everyone with the obvious in last year’s article (and ad nauseum elsewhere) by reiterating that the most significant driver of retail sales is disposable income. Right now, if people have it, they aren’t spending it. Rising healthcare and housing costs are exacerbating the continued weak wages growth for those who have decent paying jobs. Many people are scraping by. The jobs growth figures appear strong with an official unemployment rate of 5% which is technically full employment. No-one believes this number. But even if this were true, wages growth is lagging badly. If you are thinking of opening a bricks and mortar store, you better be a 1000% sure that you have the right product(s) at the right price for the right market and that you have a good quality, well targeted online presence, otherwise, don’t do it. I have retail clients and friends with retail stores in popular shopping districts in the greater Los Angeles area. Things are not good, and haven’t been for a while. The holiday season was a bust with a low year on year increase of 2-3% (below the National Retail Federation prediction, as usual), with early discounting, and with no last minute boost as experienced in previous years. We are waiting on January’s figures.
  2. E-commerce keeps clicking – web retail totalled more than $350B in the US for 2015. The US Commerce Department reports that internet retail accounted for 7.5% of total retail sales in 2015, up from 6.5% in 2014. For 2016, expect improvements in the functions of mobile online shopping such as slicker browsing and check-out processes, expect more relevant content coming your way than ever before through a more personalized online experience, expect more video content, and expect to see more social co-creation in 2016, especially in the apparel and accessory e-commerce sector where shoppers can drop their templates into existing designs and actually alter the designs of existing products and come up with personalized one-of-a-kinds.
  3. Careful with the plastic – there have been disquieting reports of the levels of household debt recently. a December 2015, Time.com article states, “Even after accounting for inflation, household debt has jumped 15% faster than income over the past dozen years.” They quote a new study by NerdWallet“After the significant dip following the recession, there was a lot of talk that Americans were using their credit cards better,” says NerdWallet credit expert Sean McQuay. “The numbers aren’t showing that. Americans are taking on more debt.” After the near meltdown of 2008 due to the overloading of debt, this news beggars belief.
  4. Continued social and political dysfunction – with a general election in November and with the delibitating influence of crazed nativists and religious militants both at home and abroad, we can expect continued social discord and political gridlock in the US. There is much handwringing in the US about the absence of legislation expected out of Congress this year as the Republican majority ensures no good and all bad for the White House and Democrats. There is not much to be done about this. With our rigged and corrupt political system and our polarized, irreconcilable social values, the best we can hope for is a Democrat to win the November election and at least keep the inmates from running the asylum.
  5. Which way the US housing market – most analysts believe the only way is up. Southern California saw a price increase of about 15% in 2015. The Real Deal website reports, “San Francisco prices are up 79.2 percent since 2009. Atlanta is up 53 percent. Phoenix, up 47.1 percent. Denver, 42.6 percent. Los Angeles, 49.7 percent. The magnitude of these gains rivals what we saw during the nuttiest portions of the 2000s bubble.”  The article goes on to state that “Don’t call this a bubble — mortgage borrowing is still low by historic standards — but things are changing. Consider a new type of mortgage San Francisco Federal Credit Union recently promoted. In response to “skyrocketing home prices” hampering affordability, the bank is offering a no-money-down mortgage with an adjustable interest rate and without requiring private mortgage insurance. Even 2005’s mortgage market would blush at those terms.” Prices will have to cool at some stage. Many analysts believe we are reaching that point.
  6. All eyes on China – some analysts believe that the China Syndrome the world caught in the last half of 2015 has passed while others are still concerned that a full blown contagion is still in the air. All agree that the Chinese economy will continue to slow. The positive take is that as China transitions both from a manufacturing-led to a consumer-led economy, and from a state-directed to a free market, it’s economic growth is hopefully slowing to a slower and more sustainable rate. A crash would be disastrous. China is such a big force in the global economy that the so-called “hard landing” that some predict would have a severe affect. Just last week, George Soros told an economic forum in Sri Lanka: “China has a major adjustment problem. I would say it amounts to a crisis. When I look at the financial markets there is a serious challenge which reminds me of the crisis we had in 2008.” Eek.

Soros isn’t the only doom and gloom merchant abroad. Some think the housing market in the US is overvalued by at least 25%. Others are, like Soros, think China’s convulsions are more serious than growing pains. Many think the US stock market is grossly overvalued. The Royal Bank of Scotland recently told their clients to “sell everything” because “in a crowded hall, the exit doors are small.”

Any one of these could occur. Who knows? For now, steady, sustainable growth is fine by me. The most important component of the “sustainable” is cash funded, not debt funded. We are in desperate need of more living wage paying jobs, and for more jobs with some wages growth. Until the population feels it has that bit extra to spare, it will not be shared around and the economy will continue to inch along.

My deepest concern is the outcome of the US presidential election. While I think Obama has been too lenient with Wall Street and the banks after their disgraceful and criminal activities leading up to the 2008 crash. And we don’t have a single payer health care or an expanded Medicare system, despite Obama explicitly campaigning and winning a strong mandate for health care for all. I believe he has done a remarkable job. Severely restricted by a bought and paid for Congress, he has run a pretty tight economic ship while paying for and winding down wars, keeping a gutted economy upright and ensuring the weakest and poorest aren’t completely forgotten.

He has also repaired some of the damage done by Bush and Cheney and their outlaws abroad. Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy in geo-politics is ridiculed in the US as weak but praised almost universally around the world as a relief. The world is done with the US bursting into the joint and blasting away like a drunken cowboy (or dry-drunk in George W’s case).

We are slowly gathering some positive momentum. A lurge to the right now by would be a disaster economically, socially and diplomatically.

Paul Brindley
Principal Adviser
paul brindley consults