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Fashion Industry: A Resource Guide

Resources for those studying the business aspects of the fashion and apparel industry.

Introduction

Burdine's Department Store, Miami Beach, 1953. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This guide represents a selection of the many resources in the Library of Congress that may be useful for the study of the business aspects of fashion. It includes all aspects of fashion - clothes, shoes, bags, accessories. It also includes suggested subject headings which interested researchers may select to link directly to our online catalog in order to search for additional materials on this topic.

Also, since keeping up with the fast pace of change is an ongoing process in the "here today, gone tomorrow" fashion industry, we have have included a number of related external resources. Using traditional trade literature and web portals, as well as reports from research groups is essential as a way to find the more general articles and reports but it may be even more important to find reports and articles that look at a particular segment, niche market, situation, or trend so we have included a few links to various web sites that may also be of interest.

A Few Things to Consider

Like a lot of industries particularly those that are consumer focused, change happens fast and constantly. The industry and the consumer is constantly evolving. Fashion retailing is no longer just large fashion houses, fashion magazines, and retail stores/catalogs but evolved first with TV channels that sold many goods including fashion, and then with the Internet and online retailing.

The rise of the Internet has impacted all parts of the fashion industry, not just the selling end of the industry.  It has a role in supply chains, advertising, communications, brand awareness, etc. and blurred the line between business and consumer. Social media channels have not just become important to the selling of fashion but also as part of forecasting and determining future trends.  Bloggers and other influencers may help sell products, but can also be used by "Fashion Forecasters" looking for what's next by looking at Instagram, other social media channels, and street-style blogs.

Below are just a few of the discussion to be aware of. Searching for articles in full-text databases and on the Internet for reports as well as articles is a good way to understanding the new trends in the industry.

These are just a few of the more obvious concepts to consider when looking at the industry.  That have been included because they illustrate the idea that there are parts of the fashion industry that need to be researched in small pieces as part of a bigger picture.

Retail

Carol L. Highsmith, photographer. Clothing store Huntington Beach, California. 2012. Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Traditionally clothes were sold in retail bricks-and-mortar boutiques and large department stores.  There were also catalogs and later television/cable stations. 

The late 20th century saw the rise of the Internet as a major player in the selling of fashion. Many stores created websites to sell items online while large fashion houses created websites as a way to show consumers their product  and as a way to sell directly to consumers.  Newer, smaller brands have used websites to raise their profile and as a way to sell to consumers or boutiques.  There is also an increasing number of web only brands, External and highly specialized and niche sites like those selling only shoes, resale web sites, etc..

One of the advantages for consumers for buying on the Internet is seeing new brands, but there is also the ability to personalize, customize, and see an increased range of items beyond just the narrow range sold in stores with limited space.

There are a few other notable retail trends of note.  One is the concepts store that sells a carefully curated selection of products connected to a theme. These brands are interested in connecting with people though the discovery and experience and has been particularly associated with brands that have strong identities including several in the luxury market. Another trend is the showroom. This is where retail stores act more as a showroom for their products and less as a way to sell items in the store. This concept can also be modified like in the case of the Amazon physical stores, which acts as both store and showroom, but also works in concert with their online store.

Lastly, while social media may have once been a way for companies to market brands and products, it has also increasingly become a way for those social media accounts to also act as a storefront.

Fast Fashion

"Fast fashion" is a term used by retailers for designs that move quickly from the catwalk to the store in order to capture current fashion trends as opposed to waiting for it to filter down via the traditional fashion cycle. Sometimes it is referred to as "cheap and trendy" and covers the entire lifecycle from design to creation, and marketing of fashion.

This sector of fashion has risen to become a large part of overall fashion retailing, and so can be researched as an independent topic within the larger fashion industry. To really look at this sector, you will also want to research the individual companies that make and sell, to get a fuller picture.

Related to this, the trend towards ethical fashion and sustainable shopping has grown in response to the growth of fast fashion and has become its own topic to research with the rise of the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Niche Markets & Underserved Consumers

The industry is increasingly interested in data. Internet retailers are using the data they have collected to better understand customers - who they are, what they are buying, emerging trends, etc. That data is also essential for the customization and personalization that consumers want. The data gathering has also been a boon for the types of customers that traditionally may have been ignored or customers interested in niche products.

For example, those who need plus size fashions and other nontraditional sizes have traditionally had limited options in the retail environment when what was sold was controlled by those who had specific ideas of who their consumer was and were limited by the size of the stores themselves. Internet sites like ModCloth, StichFix, Gwynnie Bee, Avenue, and others have been able to expand their selections beyond just the traditional sizes. The popularity of some niche websites has meant that a few have even decided to move from being an exclusively online to opening physical retail stores.

Another growing area is luxury fashion. While there have always been department stores with luxury brands, individual luxury brand stores, and consignment stores that were focused on luxury brands, the Internet has changed and broadened the market. It provides a way to sell luxury directly from the brand or through sites like Net-a-Porter and Luisaviaroma, but also avenues to sell and even rent, expensive fashions for less through a robust resale market with sites like Poshmark, theRealReal, and Rent the Runway.

Also, thee is an increasing rise in single product category sources. While there have always been stores that sold only one type of apparel - think shoes and undergarments - the Internet has been a boon for those wanting to focus on a single-product category.

See Now, Buy Now

The Internet has sped up the time from runway to retail but has also increased the desire by consumers, for that time frame to speed up even more. Consumers see what comes down the runway and they want what they see sooner rather than waiting for months. See now, buy now is the idea that what comes down the runway will be in the store counted as days not months. Some retailers have tried with varying degrees of success. But this is likely something the industry will continue to discuss.

Getting the word out is a long way saying marketing, and marketing has been an integral part of the fashion industry since the beginning though it may not always be as obvious as it is for other products.

New York City book campaign. 1919. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Traditionally, fashion magazines like Vogue, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan where the way women saw what was going down the runways and what would be considered fashionable. With the rise of TV and tabloid magazines, people also looked at what celebrities wore to big TV award shows and what they were wearing in pictures featured in gossip magazines. Eventually, fashion houses and celebrities worked even more closely together either by just being invited sit at fashion shows, given clothes to wear to the shows and other big events, and featured in advertisements, but also signing deals and even designing the clothes themselves.  Fashion magazines also embraced celebrities, by featuring them on the covers and in advertisements. 

While the partnership of fashion houses, celebrities, and fashion magazines is still alive and well, the 21st century and in particular the Internet, has also changed how clothes and brands are marketed. Fashion houses now:

  • "Sell" their brand directly to consumer viag their web pages and social media channels.
  • Runways are used as more than an insider event but as more as a public media channel.
  • Fashion houses and brands connect to fashion bloggers and other social media influencers and build them right into their marketing strategy because of their thousands of subscribers to their social media channels. Many are paid to feature items in photos and videos and even the "haul" videos that are watched by thousands. These influencers are now part of the marketing plans and are playing the roll once dominated by the fashion magazines.
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