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

Posted by Paul Brindley
on December 15, 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