Saturday, November 10, 2012

Acceleration and flexibility in the economy

This is a fascinating story in the NYT about Zara, the huge Spanish clothes retailer, which says a lot about business and consumption. Zara has vastly accelerated the cycle of fashion. They monitor what customers are buying, and also saying to sales clerks. So if one item is selling, they can have more of them and more similar designs manufactured, shipped and on the shelves within three weeks.

Merchandise moves incredibly quickly, even by fast-fashion standards. All those thousands of Inditex stores receive deliveries of new clothes twice a week.

In this way, says Masoud Golsorkhi, the editor of Tank, a London magazine about culture and fashion, Inditex has completely changed consumer behavior.

“When you went to Gucci or Chanel in October, you knew the chances were good that clothes would still be there in February,” he says. “With Zara, you know that if you don’t buy it, right then and there, within 11 days the entire stock will change. You buy it now or never. And because the prices are so low, you buy it now.”

And fashion trends are now worldwide and instantaneous.

I remarked that it must be interesting to see what is fashionable in Turkey but not in New York and vice versa. I imagined that different nationalities still had different tastes, at least in terms of fashion. But I was wrong.

“Actually, the customer is more or less the same in New York and Istanbul,” she said. “There are differences, like Brazilian girls like more brilliant colors, whereas in Paris they use more black. But in general when you find a fashion trend, it’s global.”

It is similar to the evolutionary paradigm I have talked about before, in fact, from the very beginning of the blog. They try lots of small experiments, shipping just three or four skirts or jackets to a store. When they find something working, they immediately replicate and build on it. And they adapt extremely fast.

I wonder how fast the economy can really spin, though. Fashion has always been a special case. Change for the sake of change, for display and identity, might apply to clothes or phones. It seems to apply less to things like cars than before, though. The economy is increaingly intangible altogether.

And some things get increasingly commodified and generic at the same time as other things become the object of relentless change. Commodification is just a heartbeat or a moment away.


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