Editor's View - May 2014

Not More Of The Same?
By Wanda Jankowski, Editor-in-Chief

In our “Asian Partners” feature that begins on p. 8, Richard Sherman, president, Bedford Cottage, comments on the growing “sameness of things” when he says, “It seems everyone is in everyone’s business and eventually everything looks similar. At some point there will be a saturation point where the customer says, ‘Enough, I want something different!”

That saturation point may be near. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a company called By Hand London. The company was formed by three young 20-something women in the U.K. for home sewists. The e-mail announced that now customers can have fabrics printed in their own personally created designs. Consumers not only making their own clothes, but in their own custom prints.

Jill Sands, publisher of “The Trend Forecaster,” comments in “Industry Views” next door to this editorial that “Millennials have their own individuality, which they project in their homes and in the clothes they wear.”

With digital printing allowing for short fabric runs and 3D printers popping up to realize custom designs, can we be on the verge of a new era in retail? Perhaps technology will provide the means to up-end the need for so many same-look mass-market products beyond commodities. Mass production was a new trend after World War II; maybe it’s time for a change. They say every movement has a counter-movement. If too many products are getting to look too much alike, how far will the pendulum swing toward not more of the same?

Our friend, Jill Sands, agrees that change is in the air. “Yes, absolutely the beginning of a new era,” she says. “As technology’s advancements continue, it will become easier and easier for small start-ups in cost, number of employees required, and equipment to produce short runs and always be fresh.

“Yes, World War II provided the technology for mass production, but the trade-off has become international sameness with little individuality,” Sands continues. “Feeling there was too much sameness, Saks is recreating its flagship Fifth Ave. store in New York with merchandise from new, young designers in lieu of the established designers who are everywhere. They plan on taking this model to their other stores, buying individually to complement their markets, rather than dictate what their markets will wear.

“Had you seen that Etsy is launching a wholesale division? Sellers pay a $100 joining fee and 3.5 percent per purchase order. It’s aimed at connecting sellers of unique items with qualified independent stores in the U.S. and abroad,” says Sands.

This isn’t the end of large factories and big volume production. But fueled by the Millennials’ desire for personalization, it could mean better times for small businesses and for retailers who veer off-trend to offer not just more of the same old same old.

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