The notion of time plays a powerful role in inspiring and guiding fashion. Designers formulate their creative perspectives through the influences of the past, the urgency of the present, and the possibilities ushered in by the future. The result is a very unique reflection of the prevailing Zeitgeist. That is why we can easily come up with a stylistic narrative for any era, whether it is the roaring twenties, the hippie, folk and rock-infused sixties, or the simultaneous maximalist yuppie and punk undercurrents of the eighties.
Time also guides how the fashion and apparel industries organize themselves. Harking back to the functional purpose of apparel, the industry’s creative workflow is structured around seasons, with design work taking place up to a year in advance before a piece of apparel is delivered. This advance timing presents a cushion for an entire process that involves sourcing, production, distribution, sales and marketing. Any slight misstep in this sequence means money, adding pressure to an already dynamic creative industry.
Take Three Tenses
Fashion’s relationship with time is becoming more complicated, however, if that’s possible. The hyper-immediacy and omnipresence of digital and social media are putting consumers’ impulses front and center in the discovery and shopping journey. This shift has been powerful because it has enabled an intrinsic side of human nature: our need to act on our desires in real-time.
This focus on immediacy presents a new wave of creative and business challenges, and opportunities for brands and businesses. On the one hand, accelerated timelines push brands to be bold, resourceful and fluid in their creation process and more spontaneous in how they connect with consumers. On the flip side of this new way of working is a dizzying environment that can dilute creativity, instill a “Keeping Up With the Joneses” mindset, creating a glut in the marketplace.
The biggest exemplar of the industry’s crunch factor is fast fashion, a global business behemoth that brings to the masses accessibly priced, trend-right apparel inspired by runway collections. Fast fashion done right works because it delivers a powerful value proposition: great style for less, all the time, with ongoing novelty for a consumer experimenting with identity and style. Fast fashion gone wrong, however, can result in shoddy products and a price race to the bottom.
Fast fashion’s full push towards impulse shopping has sped up greatly with the rise of digital and social media and its enabling of a “see now, buy now” economy, a lot of which is mobile led. This new on-demand economy has also ushered in a new set of “time-as luxury” players such as Uber, Blue Apron and Peloton, further broadening the definition of what luxury can and should be.
While this shift to a more real-time experience with the consumer at the helm is good and likely permanent, there is a strong argument to be made that it might not be sustainable in its current accelerated mass production form, and it might not be right for all brands, especially those whose brand equity revolves around desire, craftsmanship and a non-commercial appeal.
At the crux of it all is a much needed recalibration around taking more time, as a strong and growing consumer need for balance emerges as a natural reaction to our highly digitized lives. We see this shift in the rise and appreciation of the slow food movement, wellness and meditative practices, and the popularity of gatherings such as music and idea festivals. In essence, we want more time and space for ourselves, and are looking to fill up that time with richer, more inspiring and life-affirming experiences.
Time is then becoming one of our biggest luxuries, and how it is treated can either augment or reduce a brand experience. The following are some guiding frameworks around how brand leaders should leverage time.
Focus on the Big Story.
It’s easy to develop social-media timing tunnel vision regarding your business and brand. Instead, look at your brand’s full story arc, beginning with the original vision and story that made it standout, the founders who came up with the core vision. How do you see the brand years from now? What is the driving ethos and value system, and how do you safeguard it? How do you leverage it to innovate?
Embrace the Slow.
Consumers are developing a greater appreciation for ideas and craftsmanship. Tilt your timeliness and resources to give more space to the creative and development process, and try to capture as much of that essence in ways that can be leveraged, e.g., through creative storytelling. Invest in safeguarding time-honored traditions as artisans are the new innovators.
Consumers are very sensitive to brands that try too hard. We see this constantly with brands trying to be omnipresent, with seemingly always having something to say. Catchwords for this include real-time content creation and always-on social media. We’re convinced there is a hunger for brands to create more desire by saying less and being more. Apple excels at this, shunning the communications barrage in favor of important moments of unveiling.
Less Is More.
Across the board, remove confusion and clutter. Think of more focused and edited collections. Think of less clutter on the floor, less signage, and communicational and promotional framework that feels less intrusive and overwhelming. Find more whimsical and fun ways to deliver sales.
Focus on Building Relationships.
Take time to get to know your customer. Focus on transformative insights that will allow you to deliver a more inspiring discovery and shopping experience. Don’t overwhelm them with stuff. Instead, give them what they want, find ways of surprising them and thanking them for their business. Think of ways to take loyalty programs to the next level, and to make them feel in love with your brand.
Hit Pause, Build Perspective.
A vision for tomorrow begins with how you see the world. Make sure you’re inoculating yourself against tunnel vision by expanding your horizon, pushing yourself to meet new people, do new things, and powerfully fail and learn in new ways. Do all of this in a way that syncs body, mind and spirit, ushering a new vision.
In essence, a perspective which breeds creativity and innovation takes time; nurture it properly. As Diana Vreland posited, “The Eye Has to Travel.” Make sure you and your brand do so and time will be on your side.