Over the past few years the fashion world’s two-season model has been cranked up to lightning speed. Designers now churn out up to five collections a year: pre-fall, winter, holiday, resort and summer, all of which are immediately imitated by fast fashion retailers such as Topshop, H&M, Zara and Forever 21. With these rapid-fire factors at play, it’s no wonder that the boldface seasonal trend has become a relic of the past.
Eveline Morel, owner of EM & Co. boutique in Los Angeles, has noticed the shift firsthand. Of the phenomenon, she explains: “There’s a pressure among retailers to constantly give consumers something new. [Consumers are now] very sophisticated and trend-aware, especially because H&M and Forever 21 have made trend surfing accessible to everyone. Fast fashion brands are able to pinpoint up-and-coming trends and react very quickly to them. There’s a higher expectation for small retailers to keep up with all the options.”
According to Morel, this need to keep up with micro-trends has forced boutiques to buy less—and less often. She continues: “Although most major labels and European brands still stick to a twice-yearly schedule, many emerging designers—especially in the US—are now sending deliveries every few months. A lot of buyers are starting to move toward a one to three month schedule, and are buying less since it’s hard to commit to large orders when you don’t know where the season is going to take you.”
Julie Fredrickson, founder of fashion blogging community Coutorture, echoes this point: “The triumph of micro-trends over all-encompassing seasonal trends has more to do with delivery schedules than anything else. The two-season system is essentially defunct as designers are pressed to keep consumers stimulated with new goods. In that sense, there isn’t room for an overarching vision because the schedule has accelerated so dramatically.”
While independent retailers are still deciphering the ever-changing nature of micro-trends, online boutiques are inherently better equipped for the challenge. “Online retail allows for a quick turnaround and access to collections as they arrive,” notes Sarah Curran, founder and CEO of my-wardrobe.com. ”Customers who don’t live near a major city can still have access to the season’s must-have pieces and most desirable brands—many [customers] even ‘cyber-stalk’ their favorite online stores to be the first to buy the week’s newest pieces.”
Just like the fast-fashion retailers and their trendspotting teams, online retailers are able to react almost instantly to the next micro-trend bubbling under the surface. Curran observes: “The front page of the site and our e-mail campaigns allow us to present themes and trends on a regular basis—and we’re able to quickly evaluate and change them depending on what our customers respond to the most.” In a sense, online retailers have become new media outlets themselves, broadcasting the newest shade of black faster than a traditional retailer can say “Who Wore it Better?”
Despite the rise of micro-trends and their impact on the rest of the industry, the current economic slowdown may prove fast fashion isn’t as invincible as it seems. According to a recent report by JP Morgan, non-food retailers are being faced with the biggest inflationary costs in a decade, which may lead to higher prices for the consumer. If the day comes when that tribal-printed maxidress can no longer be purchased for less than a margarita, shoppers may become more discerning about which trends they buy into. And, by virtue of natural selection, this could ultimately lead us back into the headline trends of yesteryear. Until then, consumers will continue to be spoiled with choices—and we’ll do our best to keep up.