Will digital showrooms save fashion’s wholesale brands?

Back in January, the Copenhagen trade show CIFF introduced its first digital showroom. The initiative received little fanfare at the time, but as the unfolding pandemic crisis has halted the global fashion industry’s events, the concept of the digital showroom may just about save the season.

In partnership with online showroom Ordre, CIFF created both a digital and physical presence allowing participating brands the possibility to engage with buyers and retailers unable to travel and attend the fair. For brands dependent on wholesale, digital showrooms be turn out to be the new normal.

Ordre was founded as an additional and complementary channel to facilitate the management of luxury wholesale networks globally, but it may soon be the dominant channel as global fashion weeks are being postponed or cancelled, leaving brands with wide distribution networks and those hoping to penetrate new markets scrambling to reach buyers.

While digital showrooms solve the problem of visibility, they don’t compensate for disrupted supply chains, closed factories and the web of businesses and individuals needed to produce clothing collections and prototypes. Nor does it solve the difficult task of shooting look books with strict social distancing rules enforced. Without physical garments and images, it is nigh on impossible to sell collections. Or is it?

Digital-only collections

The Fabricant, an Amsterdam-based digital fashion house, produces digital-only clothing, creating augmented reality solutions and products as a marketing tool for fashion brands. It may soon prove to be an indispensable sales tool, too, with factories closed for prototyping and global travel embargoes keeping buyers and retailers at home. Virtual samples may be the new normal, which from a practical viewpoint is less costly and easier to executive, when dependent on fabric and trim suppliers and factories with a back-log of order productions. With canceled fashion weeks, showrooms are expecting a drop in retailer attendance, leaving many brands to cut budget forecasts and look for novel possibilities to sell.

The question, of course, is will retailers buy into the concept of the digital showroom as a primary means to see collections? Without the ability to touch garments, to physically see the cut of the cloth on the body, how fabric responds to movement, how various garments can be curated together as looks and, perhaps most importantly, how the quality is executed, shows the inherent drawbacks of digital fashion. As is so often the case, the value of what is intangible is difficult to define. In an ideal world, the physical and digital realms complement each other, augmenting sales and personalising experiences. For certain, a digital wholesale platform can be a significant refresh for a buyer who has been to four international fashion weeks and seen countless of collections.

Like most industries, fashion will have to work through new processes and solutions for the upcoming season, which will still be heavily clouded by the pandemic crisis. For some, digital showrooms may be just be the tool to survival.

Images via The Fabricant

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