The fickle fads of fashion: an encounter of the close kind
The times are changeable, and so are fashions. It’s difficult to predict which ideas will carry the day, what will work on the market and what customers will not accept. This element of surprise might well exert a pull on fashion victims: one never knows what designers of big and small brands alike will dream up, nor what will ultimately make the journey to the stores. For textile logistics specialists who are responsible for this odyssey, the success of a single designer can decide between success and failure. If designers present popular collections, the shippers will also profit from the sales.
If the fashion companies’ creations fail to hit the mark, the transport companies will suffer as well. Add to this unpredictable equation the fact that the merchandise is naturally delicate – and that wherever apparel is transported on hangers (and hence very carefully), lots of air travels with it. No one pays for that. To score on the market, textile logistics providers too need innovative ideas.
A burden shared is a burden halved
Fashionet Austria is a European-wide logistics and distribution network that meets the industry’s challenges with a wealth of experience – and the solid infrastructure of its parent companies Gebrüder Weiss and Lagermax. Founded in 1997, the joint venture is headed by managing directors Michael Jahn and Michael Eberl, while Karl Tordy oversees product management; business revolves mainly around Austria and the neighboring countries. Hanging goods form the core, but this shipping method has its drawbacks particularly in less developed regions. The volumes that need to be moved from A to B cannot fill a vehicle to capacity. Fashionet has developed a solution to this problem by cooperating with DPD. The parcel delivery business is also subject to strong season fluctuation, with sharp peaks during the three months preceding Christmas. While Fashionet experiences variation as well, the timing differs; volumes rise when new collections arrive between January and Easter and then again from August to September. The idea is simple, but brilliant: a clothes rack is installed in DPD vehicles that also deliver to remoter areas, so the garments can be shipped together with the parcels. In urban districts, Fashionet operates its own fleet.
Jahn and Tordy would not describe themselves as fashion experts. Yet the two do have a nose for trends. On the one hand, they naturally observe how customers feel and how they change over time; on the other, they need only glance into the warehouse to see the collections, even before they’re in the stores. And color trends are the most obvious.
Where fabrics are concerned, both of the textile logisticians prefer fine silk: it requires special care and should never be crushed into a small box. Synthetics, in contrast, are uncomplicated and therefore perhaps cheaper for end-customers – but not for logistics providers. This also applies to down jackets, another popular product, but a bulky one that can only be compressed to a certain degree. So everyone has their favorites – even the shippers!
Exceptional situations require exceptional solution
To smooth out the garments, the Fashionet warehouse offers a steam tunnel that handles up to 1,000 pieces of apparel per hour. While transporting and storing the merchandise appropriately is the cornerstone of Fashionet’s business, other services are offered as well, including order picking and preparation. The steam tunnel does more than “iron” the textiles; it also removes odors, i.e. by evaporating cleansers used to disinfect the transport containers. They definitely require steam treatment – just like the 60,000 nursing bras recently imported from the Far East that proved malodorous upon arrival at Fashionet. Piece by piece, they were sent through the tunnel. That’s good for business. Because without this service, it would not have been possible to get these pieces onto the market.
What’s bad for business is the growth of e-commerce services that are also impacting specialty providers. When Karl Tordy joined the company two decades ago, the sales structure was still quite simple: the garments were shipped from the producers to the retail dealers. But then big chains entered the fray, and since then the specialty retailers and chains have been joined by a burgeoning online business. In other words, things are not getting any easier with time. Yet even if retail continues to decline and urban shopping zones become more interchangeable, the major fashion chains at least will maintain branches that need merchandise. Delivery windows are nonetheless slated to become smaller and supply chains more transparent. Shops want their goods quickly, punctually, and ideally early in the morning before they open. And they want to know where their shipment is at all times – understandably so, particularly for major brand collections. After all, there is often a small fortune hanging in these delivery vehicles. In today's world, store customers are willing to tolerate 48-hour delivery times at most. And that period is due to keep shrinking.
That being said, Jahn and Tordy confidently face the future, because their stable network and the synergies it generates constitute unique selling propositions in a very small market. In Fashionet Austria, 60% of the shares are held by Gebrüder Weiss and 40% by Lagermax, another Austrian shipping company that would otherwise be a competitor in the free market. In the textile industry, however, the two companies have joined forces and get well together, notwithstanding the transitory nature of fashions and trends.
Miriam Holzapfel is a cultural scientist, author and editor for the Atlas.