I have realized over the past 25 years in this business that there are very few real original ideas, concepts or designs. Most retail exists basically as a derivative of something else. I accept that but it doesn’t mean I like it.
I understand the true “fashion” business and the “inspiration” true designers derive from culture, history, literature, architecture etc. I do believe there are a handful of innovators out there who can dream up original thoughts and take those right to the runway. Once it is there, it’s basically anyone’s game from Zara to H & M to Forever 21 to any department store around the world with the resources to be “inspired” by what is seen on the runways and have a version of it in its stores within 14 minutes. This type of retail has become an exercise in supply chain logistics rather than creative thought and original planning.
Then there are those who actually and shamelessly “knock off” entire concepts, usually at a lower price. American Eagle Outfitters did this with respect to Abercrombie & Fitch (A & F); Children’s Place did this with respect to Gap Kids; Ann Taylor created the ultimate “knock off” – that of themselves – with Loft (they felt they were going after a completely different demographic but who were they kidding?). Then the ultimate starting happening, the knock offs were getting knocked off themselves. Think of Aeropostale and American Eagle Outfitters. Please tell me that you could walk by the three stores’ windows (including A & F) full of mannequins without signage and you could tell each brand apart? Maybe you can, but the average customer couldn’t.
Why am I ranting and raving about this? I just think we could use some energy and creativity in our retail space especially at a time like this when the customer is nervous. We need a spark, a beacon of creative light.
I guess Apple stores fill some of that void; so do Lucky Brand stores, Lululemon to some extent and a Canadian wunderkind named Aritzia. But my hope is that we inspire each other to go for new, different and creative. There will be fallout due to this economic downturn. Let us fill the vacancies with unique and daring stores and assortments. I pray that new stores will be visually stimulating and the new store designs are arresting in their drama and beauty. My fervent wish is for store experiences to exceed expectations (although they are set pretty low at the moment) and that hours are not cut but that training and focus on the consumer once again become hallmarks of any new retail concept we see.
Let us heed the ancient proverb…
“Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path…and blaze a new trail”
For the sake of our industry and the sake of the consumer, it is a clarion call that I hope rings true.