Back in January, Unmarked Street held a Live Demo on the SKU Rationalization process, and the engagement from our attendees was amazing. This week, I wanted to address one of the questions that came out of that workshop, and elaborate on my thoughts around it.
The question was: Do you see a trend in the fashion industry to extend a style’s life for more than one season and where have you seen this?
These types of product lines in the apparel industry do exist. We call them “Evergreen” products, because they live on from season to season, year after year. Similar to many other categories of business, the ability to design and develop a product that can then continuously perform for years to come is a product manager’s dream. Especially when that garment becomes a fan favorite and it becomes one of your best sellers in the line. Why ever touch it again if it’s bringing in high revenue with minimal work to maintain? In the entrepreneurial world, this is what becomes known as passive income. Record a course or write a book once, and let it continue to bring revenue back to your business for years to come. This type of product development should be essential to every apparel brand, but instead, we tend to see very little of it in the world of fashion.
When I watch or follow apparel brands these days, I feel like I’m seeing constant color updates, new silhouette additions and that continuous push toward reinvention. Even at brands where I’ve worked on evergreen product lines, these products still tend to get updated or changed every two to three years. Creative design teams that are good at staying on top of the latest trends will push for modernity. Sales teams will crave newness to drum up excitement at each presentation. And often enough, executive leadership at apparel and product companies look toward innovation and refreshed products as a sign of strength in their team.
Unfortunately, this puts us into a tailspin within the industry that is difficult to maintain. The first group that is hit by continuous change is the internal development team. Brands across the world are overworking their product teams, asking them to constantly update and refresh their lines. For some reason, I’ve seen this phenomenon happen more often at small brands who have severely understaffed teams for this type of work. I fear that a general misunderstanding of good business practices, paired with a constant sense of “keeping up with the Joneses” is pushed at smaller brands, and they burn their employees out year over year. If they were truly paying attention to bigger brands, they would see that their basics never change. For example, if you wanted to buy a Nike dri fit t-shirt similar to the one you bought and loved several years ago, you’ll be able to find one that is, if not exactly the same, super similar.
Our customers also suffer from this constant product turnover. Take that same Nike t-shirt that is a go-to piece for millions of people around the world. What happens if they stop making it to create something new and trendy to take its place? What happens if their customers can no longer find their favorite t-shirt when they shop at Nike? They go to another brand. As apparel companies remove their best-selling products from their line while it’s just picking up traction or while it’s at a peak in sales, they’re eroding any brand loyalty that they’ve built with that product. The customers that want to come back to their website to purchase their favorite piece again won’t find it, and they will be disappointed. How many times have you tried to go back to a brand for your favorite pair of jeans or your favorite sweater, only to find that they no longer offer it? How frustrating is that?! It’s one of my biggest pet peeves about the fashion industry.
Sustainability plays a huge role in evergreen product lines as well. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but thoughtful product development processes help reduce our carbon footprint on the planet. Reinventing products just for the sake of newness every couple of years is wasteful and excessive. The amount of prototypes that are added to the trash along with the amount of new photo samples and salesman samples that have to be made for new products are extreme. We’re talking about thousands of garments that cannot be sold and ultimately go straight into global waste that could be eliminated just by choosing to keep a great product in your line that already exists.