The Current Market Levels of Fashion.
The fashion market is a colossal industry made up of an abundance of brands, all of which offer a variety of different products, price points, atmospherics and many more unique attributes to the trade. Looking at the entire fashion market as a whole can be quite overwhelming, however branching the market into more compact segmentations, enables a clearer comparison of brands and market levels.
The fashion market can be deciphered into 7 separate market levels; Haute Couture, Luxury Fashion, Bridge Brands, Diffusion Lines, High Street, Fast Fashion and Economy. These 7 segmentations divide the market into smaller components and individual brands are categorised into each section based on a variety of elements, including designers, price range, consumers, accessibility, etc. Analysing each of these levels closely conveys which brands are housed within which section and why the market level was initially established.
The highest market level, sitting at the top of the fashion hierarchy is Haute Couture. Haute Couture dates back to the nineteenth century where is was created in Paris, and now the label ‘Haute Couture’ is actually a legal term. This means that for a garment to be considered as being Haute Couture it must meet the four main requirements of the French Ministry of Industry. Due to these criteria’s it is not an easy feat for fashion designers or fashion houses to be classified as Haute Couture and therefore only a concise list of people in the industry are included. Chanel, Christian Dior, Versace, Valentino are some examples of the big names in the exquisite industry of Haute Couture. Consisting of opulent bespoke garments which have been “constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric, sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced sewers, often using time consuming, hand-executed techniques” (Britta von Basedow. 2017), every piece in this category is made to measure and is one of a kind. Although many people desire to have these kinds of pieces in their wardrobe, the reality is that the actual consumer market for Haute Couture is not vast at all. In fact, it is estimated that there are no more than 2,000 women globally who purchase Haute Couture items, and the main buyers are from Russia, China and The Middle East. The reason for the small clientele is predominately down to the fact that only the select few can actually afford it, as the entry price for a Haute Couture garment is somewhere in the region of about £10,000, depending on the intricacy of the piece being created. With prices like this it comes at no surprise that Fashion houses receive very little profit from Haute Couture, and a lot of their financial gain comes from people who buy into the brand through their more affordable collections, such as their fragrance and cosmetics lines for example.
Sitting second in the market level segmentation pyramid of the fashion market is, Luxury Fashion. This level includes high quality designer brands, most of which belong to the three main designer conglomerates, LVMH, Kering and Richemont. Unlike Couture, the garments in Luxury Fashion are produced rather than hand-made, however they are not mass-produced, so they do still offer the desirability which comes with having limited availability and finite accessibility. The entry prices for Luxury fashion vary per item and depend of the type of product being purchased, yet due to the nature of how the pieces are made, the price of a luxury garment is not as steep as a Couture one. However, most items are still priced high enough to be considered as maintaining the feeling of being a part of an elite market. The largest consumer group of luxury products comes from China and it is usually individuals who have a high income..Typically those who are earning more than 100,00 per year. Over the last few years, the Luxury market has grown significantly, and it is forecasted to continue growing further on an upwards trend. The Luxury Fashion Market is dominated by French Fashion House, Louis Vuitton, who are ranked as one of the most valuable luxury brands around. Other Luxury Fashion brand names are normally the ones who are featured in the four major Fashion Week shows, and it includes the likes of Hermes, Gucci, Prada and Burberry, just to name a few.
The third market level of fashion is known as Bridge Brands, and these include brand names which are considered to be placed below Luxury but above High Street, and they have been created to bridge the gap between the two. Bridge Brands originated in the 70’s, when a space in the market was identified for high quality garments without the price tag associated with a designer name. The brands within this level offer great quality clothing at a more adequate price point, so they are considered as being at the high end of affordable products. The typically entry price for a garment from a Bridge Brand would be around £50, and prices will increase depending on different items. Bridge Brands are perfect for those who may not be able to afford Luxury Fashion items, but still want to purchase pieces which are of a higher quality. Some example of Bridge Brands include names like Reiss, Whistles, Jaeger, Ted Baker, Cos and many more. They all offer a range of simplistic and minimalistic pieces which focus on giving the highest quality possible within an affordable price bracket.
Taking central place in the fashion market hierarchy are Diffusion Lines. Similarly to Bridge Brands, these also build a bridge between high street and luxury, but the difference is that Diffusion Lines have actually been created by luxury labels as a more budget friendly, secondary line. Like the levels above, Brand Diffusion is produced in bulk, but is still not mass produced, and these lines usually offer more variety of items than what the luxury brand itself does..However, the original brand will create more niche products in order to not devalue them as a brand. Once created, the fashion house then decides on the price point which they want to retail their lines at in accordance to other similar diffusion lines on the market. The entry price for products in diffusion lines can be anything between £40 – £400 depending on the type of item being sold, and usually the diffusion lines are priced at 30% less than the original brand full prices. These Diffusion brands make the inaccessible luxury brands accessible for an audience who desires to wear the brand but can not necessarily afford the designer labels. Typically, diffusion lines appeal to a younger consumer who may potentially end up being able to afford to shop the main luxury line in future years. These secondary lines are a perfect stepping stone into shopping a luxury label. There are many luxury labels who now offer Diffusion Lines, but some of the most well known ones would be; SEE by Chloe, RED by Valentino, DKNY by Donna Karen, CK by Calvin Klein, Mui Mui by Prada and Versus by Versace. In addition to these, there are some brands which actually offer multiple diffusion lines. For example, Armani have four different diffusion lines under their label and they cater for a variety of ages and a variety of budgets too.
Moving towards the lower end of the market levels there is High Street, which was established in the early 1900’s in an era where women predominantly stayed at home and cared for their children. In attempts to offer a new and exciting experience to these women, the Department Store was created. These stores offered accessible, quality fashion, with a longer life span than economy items at affordable prices. Due to the reasonable pricing of pieces available and the fact that the products are mass produced to ensure the cost of each individual item can be bought down as much as possible, this market level sits third from the bottom. Typical high street consumers include both males and females, whose purchases and lifestyles are dictated by their finances. The traditional High Street brands that can be found nationwide in most towns and cities include stores such as Marks & Spencers, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Debenhams and Harvey Nichols, all of which are department stores offering a wide range of budget friendly products and a customer experience as well. However, it is becoming apparent more recently that the tradition high street is actually turing into a dying trend. The majority of the high street customers are moving to fast fashion and a vast number of transactions are now being carried out online instead. If this continues, bricks-and-mortar shops will inevitably fail eventually.
The penultimate market level of the fashion industry is Fast Fashion, and this is the level where you will discover the majority of the well-known, affordable brand names. The main conglomerates which are included are Inditex, H&M Group and Arcadia, and the likes of Topshop, Zara, H&M, Primark, Forever 21 and River Island are just a few brands which are renowned for having an extremely quick turnover in fashion and trends, meaning they are considered as Fast Fashion labels. Fast Fashion is a phenomenon in the Industry where the process of production is expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and as cheaply as possible..it is a term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk to stores extremely quick in order to capture the current fashion trends. The clothing collections created are usually based on latest fashion trends which have been presented at the most recent Fashion Weeks, and one of the main focuses of these Fast Fashion companies is to create quality clothing which has been inspired by the the foreseen up-and-coming trends, but to offer the similar pieces without the designer price tag..All of which needs to be done in a minimal time scale. Typically, a fast fashion brand is known for their ability to develop a new product and have it inside their stores ready for sale within just two weeks, whilst other retailers can often take up to six months. As a result of this, the tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis is being challenged. Today, it is not uncommon for fast-fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times in a single week, meaning that new styles and trends can become obsolete in just a matter of weeks. The consumers of fast fashion can vary for each particular store, with many attracting the mass market. However, these labels would typically appeal to individuals who have a deep desire to look stylish and appear on-trend, but they want to do so in a budget friendly manner.
Last but not least, there is the Economy market level which is the lowest level of the fashion hierarchy. This is the home of mass production and it works efficiently at getting items from sweatshops to store. Creators of economy fashion will take on board key seasonal trends and they will attempt to turn them into affordable pieces in order to let their consumers look stylish at a much lower cost. The entry price for economy fashion can be as little as 50p for an accessory or £2 for an item of clothing, and prices do not tend to exceed the £40 mark. Economical fashion brands are able to maintain such low prices due to the fact that the manufacturing of products is done in bulk, and whilst the price point is great, this technique actually results in low quality and short lifespans of products making it the least environmentally friendly fashion market. Another disadvantage to economy fashion is that this value market can often be late to big, up-and-coming trends at most times, meaning that they launch them at their peak time, which in turn makes them more undesirable than their fast fashion competitors. Economy brands usually fulfil peoples basic needs, yet with the low budget that economy fashion labels have, items can tend to look cheap, therefore it is beneficial for these brands to focus mostly on selling the essential pieces that the mass audience are most commonly purchasing, so items such as vests, tops, leggings and jumpers are going to be most advantageous to produce as they are likely to sell best for the brand. Some examples of Economy Fashion labels are George at ASDA, F+F at Tesco, Tu Clothing at Sainsbury’s, all of which are perfect for mums on the go. These kinds of brands are ideal for people who have limited amounts of time to spend clothes shopping for themselves, as they are able to do it whilst doing their weekly food shop.
The distribution of Fashion can be described in several forms; A movement, a flow, a trickle from one element of society to another. From the centre to the periphery, the diffusion of influences may be envisaged in hierarchial terms, such as the Bubble Up or Trickle Down theories.
The Trickle Down Effect theory is the oldest theory of fashion distribution and it was first coined in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen, an American economist and sociologist. His idea was generated on the concept that fashions worn by the upper class were imitated by the lower class. To operate, the trickle down theory relied upon hierarchical society and the desire to move up the social ladder. In this model, a style is first offered by the people at the top strata of society and then gradually becomes accepted by those lower in the strata. Not only was this evident in history, but also continued into the haute couture with “knock-off” designer labels being sold to lower class consumers. This effect presumes a social hierarchy in which people seek to identify with the affluent and those at the top seek distance from those socially below them, so once the fashion is adopted by those below, the affluent reject it and continue to look for something different.
The Bubble Up Effect is the latest of the fashion movement theories. In this pattern the innovation is initiated from both different cultures and the streets, and the fashions become a trend. These fashions are firstly adopted by the lower income groups, and the innovation then eventually flows to the higher income groups where they go on to emulate the styles; thus the movement is in reverse, and goes from the bottom end of the hierarchy, to the top end.
From the bespoke pieces of Haute Couture to the mass produced items of Economy lines and everything in between, this break down of different market levels shows just how vast the fashion industry is, and by separating everything into smaller categories it is easier to get a better understanding of how the industry works.