New era tests the cloth of Australian fashion

With the entry of one of the biggest global retailers Amazon into the marketplace in late 2017, and a bevy of closures and downsizing for Australian fashion throughout the year, the times are a-changing.
Last year wasn’t fun for many Australian-owned fashion companies. Many Boomers will be sad to hear that retailers we’ve grown up with are either in voluntary administration or closing stores to try and trade through difficult times.

The Oroton Group is the most recognisable of recent victims. Many of us have been bequeathed our mothers’ special Oroton bag collections and have fond memories of its hey-day.
My mother saved for several months, if not years, to buy her small collection, and my father always knew where to go for a spousal gift.  (My daughter and nieces are carrying on her legacy when ‘op-shopping’ outfits are acceptable to them.)

Some of you will be missing your local Katies, Millers, Crossroads, or Autograph stores. The Specialty Fashion Group responsible for these outlets reportedly racked up a $8.4 million loss in revenue last year.
While Rivers and City Chic brands in their stable of labels have shown some sales growth, the Specialty Fashion Group has decided to close more than 40 stores this year.

Other well-known Australian casualties are Marcs, David Lawrence and several boutique labels. Our department stores are also feeling the pinch and are trying innovative strategies.  Many Brisbane-ites will have witnessed the closure of the Brookside Myer and the opening of the “new” smaller, boutique format for David Jones in the James Street Precinct.

All these companies cite deteriorating sales, general market conditions and poor cash flow. But it’s not only local companies feeling the pinch.

Topshop, one of the first international fast-fashion stores to hit our shores, has been placed into voluntary administration. The Arcadia Group was not able to convert the Australian arm into a profitable business. It appears our consumers are a hard gig.

Pumpkin Patch, New Zealand- based, and Payless Shoes, US-based, have also succumbed to our country’s fashion idiosyncrasies. There is even a rumour that another international company is looking at the longevity of one of its Queensland stores.

So why is Australian fashion feeling the bite now?
Many commentators and management consultants blame the world of digital connection and the plethora of choice internationally for brands.

Some focus on the high cost of manufacturing locally and the more expensive prices that deter some customers in this fast-fashion world. High rents are also cited.
While many of these issues are relevant there is still one resounding theme. Many Australian fashion retailers have lost sight of their customers’ “wants”,  those intrinsic qualities that make a fashion consumer’s heart and soul sing.

There are Boomers, who find it hard to buy fashion that looks, fits and feels fantastic.  

Several of my favourite brands such as Country Road, Cue, Witchery and yes, even Seed, are making it harder to find the length of frock I need to cover varicose veins, the waist measurement I require for a cool pant or skirt, or the fabric (insert ‘no 100 per cent polyester’).

While the Amazon phenomenon may infiltrate the fashion market, local companies should note that there is a consumer who understands and remembers what quality design, manufacture, fit, and customer service mean.
This customer is tech-savvy and can buy online, has money, but is still finding it extremely difficult to replicate the days when buying fashion was an adventure, not a chore.