According to Stefan Siegel, founder of Not Just a Label (NJAL – notjustalabel.com), in the West, clothing items sold in the high street stores are only worn around four times before they are disposed of (1). It is easy to imagine the economic, social, cultural and environmental impact that this implies.
Around Christmas 2013, Siegel sent out a call for a revolution in the fashion sector (2), “a world that seems to look no further than the constant desire to change, stimulated by low prices”.
What revolution is he calling for?
Created in 2008, Not Just a Label is a world-leading online platform that presents 15,000 promising young fashion designers from 106 countries (3). They can use this platform to promote themselves, not only with a view to being hired (talent market), but also to sell their designs to customers around the world (fashion product market).
Siegel’s regular contact with promising young designers got him thinking about the possibility of commercializing fashion in a different way. With this in mind, his goal is for NJAL to become a meeting point where demand and supply for designer fashion converge.
What is so different about this marketing strategy?
NJAL’s marketing strategy is underpinned by 5 main pillars:
- Hand-crafted items, often one of a kind. NJAL pre-selects the best designers and presents products made using hand-crafted methods, items of clothing with a story behind them.
- Visibility of the creator. The customer knows exactly who is behind each item and can contact with the designer directly.
- Designers have a significant source of revenue, keeping 70% of the sale price for themselves. NJAL does not impose any additional charges for being present on the website. (Siegel, 2013) (4).
- Web-based. None of this would be possible if it were not for distance selling via the web. However, rather than simply enabling commercial transactions, the site provides a platform for a community of people that share similar values and an appreciation of craftsmanship. This is how these human values create demand.
- Hand-crafted, anywhere around the world. With the exception of logistics, this method eliminates the geographical distance between the designer and the customer, giving rise to an innovative retail concept that blends the magic of craftsmanship, usually associated with a local scope, with the cosmopolitan nature of the users that visit the website.
NJAL’s new retail proposal directly takes on what we could refer to as “mass fashion”, headed by large fashion companies that offer a broad variety of clothes, always “fresh” and on trend at remarkably low prices.
The world of fashion seems to be a reflection of post-modern society: consumers who require constant change due to the passion for their appearance. Customers do not ask any questions about the story behind each item. They place no importance on its background, how it was designed or made.
Continuous changes of appearance are also facilitated by low prices, the result of mass production in countries with low salaries, and optimal logistic management (5). Based on the statistics, we can safely say that mass fashion has succeeded as a business model.
Operating against this statu quo, NJAL places the emphasis firmly on the visibility of the process, particularly with respect to the designer, underpinned by a different set of values: authenticity, creativity and sustainability.
However, the NJAL model involves a significant side effect – its products are expensive as a result of three factors:
- they are hand-crafted;
- the higher transport costs of shipping items individually, and
- accounting for the designer’s salary, who uses more expensive materials as they buy smaller quantities.
All of this means that, without intending or wishing to, NJAL moves towards the premium or even luxury end of the scale. In other words, NJAL’s initiative not only competes with mass fashion, but also with luxury clothing producers. They are battling on all fronts.
Moreover, there is the additional challenge that luxury fashion companies are also changing. Due to the fact that many customers are increasingly less loyal, as well as the desire to sell more by attracting new segments of wealthier customers, some firms are using elaborate marketing manoeuvres to access the world of ‘masstige’ (an abbreviation of ‘mass-market’ and ‘prestige’), launching more affordable sub-brands, whilst striving to maintain their DNA, traditionally rooted in craftsmanship and exclusivity.
Furthermore, nowadays, luxury fashion is also sold on the Net, with successful online stores such as Net-a-Porter, a website that combines “the thrill of shopping at a chic boutique with the pleasure of reading a fashion magazine” (Brodie, 2009) (6).
Will there really be a commercial revolution?
There can be little disagreement that NJAL represents an innovation both in terms of business model and commercial strategy. One of the decisive factors is the fact that the products need to be sold at a high price that few people can afford. As such, NJAL is unlikely to become a mass revolution if we measure the shift in terms of sales volume.
NJAL’s commercial model offers great opportunities to designers, the biggest winners in all this, as long as the platform attracts a segment of customers with a certain purchasing power that share particular underlying values.
And this is exactly what NJAL’s customer profile is like – primarily young independent women, who are extremely confident and value authenticity, creativity and sustainability. They work in professions for which they earn significant disposable income. They want to wear clothes that set them apart and which are impossible to find in conventional stores. Their loyalty to NJAL and the number of times that they shop there are far higher that the standard rates for traditional fashion retail.
In short, NJAL will not steal market share from mass fashion, but rather it will gain ground in the segments of luxury fashion or masstige, as it attracts a very specific profile in terms of its potential clientele, which is not only characterized by its purchasing power but also its human values with respect to life.
In terms of management, this represents an innovation in commercial strategy focused on a particular segment and customer profile that is clearly on the rise at a global level.
With this in mind, I believe that NJAL will not be herald a mass commercial shift, but rather a segmented commercial revolution.
- Boyd, C. (2012) “Behind the design: An interview with Not Just a Label”.
- Siegel, S. (2013) “Editor’s Letter 2013. Calling for a Revolution”.
- According to 2014 statistics.
- Siegel, S. (2013) “Editor’s Letter 2013. Calling for a Revolution”.
- Kunde, A. (2013) “Western Europe Overview: From Home of Haute Couture to Hotbed for Disposable Fashion”. Euromonitor.
- Brodie, J. (2009) “A winning formula for fashion retail”.
Source: Código 84, nº 182.