Before online retail dominated, the UK fashion industry was based largely in the capital for proximity to the right circles, talent, and simply the prestige of the postcode.
In today’s democratic retail landscape however, the industry is much less London-centric. As fast fashion has grown, it has become possible for everyone to appropriate catwalk trends without having to wait until payday, but also for anyone to make fashion their business. Now, there is a shifting focus to Manchester, which has become the base of numerous leading online fast fashion brands.
Priced Out of the Capital
Ever since Zara became the benchmark for reproducing catwalk trends with an unprecedented turnaround, fashion has become much more inclusive. Low-cost, wear-once, Instagrammable clothing has become the new norm.
The fast fashion business model therefore requires sensible overheads to facilitate such a need for speed. With lower rents and salaries, a fairly easy commute between Manchester and London for meetings and remote working on the rise, it is becoming more attractive than ever for brands to base themselves in Manchester.
Additionally, the crowded fashion market in London means that as well as the financial advantages, Manchester has become a place for brands to carve out their identity and make themselves known. There is also the advantage of being able to attract talent up north with fewer competitors on the doorstep to tempt them with better offers; as well as making it easier for employees themselves to enter the industry with fewer candidates to go up against than in the capital.
The Northern Powerhouse
Manchester has, of course, historically been highly significant to the apparel industry. Its rich industrial heritage birthed its alias of Cottonopolis, a proud moniker still touted today in honour of the city’s reputation as a textile powerhouse during the Industrial Revolution. The city has now seen a resurgence in the textile industry, which has created thousands of jobs over the past few years.
Manchester’s prevalence in the UK and world economy has also seen the city become recognised as a serious player in Europe. An increasing number of Manchester areas have now become hubs of creativity, including Salford Quays, the Northern Quarter, Cheetham Hill and Ancoats.
These areas have become go-to locations for the creative and digital industries, bolstered by the BBC’s ever-growing presence at Media City which gives increasing cachet to the area. We’ve created a fast fashion map (above) of the various online womenswear retailers located around Manchester.
The Retail Experience
It was thought just a couple of years ago that the high street was rapidly on its way out, with the threat of online retail too much for bricks and mortar to compete with. However, as Amazon blazes a trail opening its first ever physical bookstores, omnichannel has become the valuable new retail challenge. So, as brands look for more ways to connect with consumers and stand out in a crowded online space saturated with similar messages, some Manchester e-tailers are giving added credence to the belief that there may be a reverse or slowing-down of that threat.
Missguided and Glamorous both started out online and then used their profile to open physical stores. With the power to attract incredible PR opportunities with launch events and in-store parties which can unite shoppers with the influencers they look up to via Instagram, stores become destination experiences which can cut through all the noise of brands competing for attention from the heads-down generation. Various Manchester sites provide prime opportunities to test this move; Missguided and Glamorous both have presences at the Trafford Centre, as well as in the city centre’s Selfridges store.
Understanding the Audience
The owners of Manchester’s most prevalent brands are forces to be reckoned with. They understand their audience inside out; the generation Z shoppers who have a perfect grasp of the technology they grew up with and a natural affinity with the glamorous, uncomplicated influencers they want to emulate, from bloggers to reality TV stars. They want a shortcut to the latest trends, without having to wait long for them to reach the high street, or part with much of their cash. Umar Kumani at Pretty Little Thing is the son of Boohoo co-founder Mahmud Kamani, who previously founded a multi-million-pound textiles business, and has demonstrated a similar knack to his father for building an online brand for the twenty-something market.
Nitin Passi of Missguided is also part of a fashion dynasty, his father being the owner of a design house which supplied high street brands including Topshop. In The Style’s Adam Frisby started the brand from his bedroom after working in a bank and capitalised on the opportunity to work with the new breed of reality TV influencers, taking a social media-centric marketing approach to build a customer base which has now been adopted by many other brands who have followed suit.
For some of Manchester’s online fast fashion brands, conquering the UK market is no longer enough. Back when Boohoo bought out US fast fashion behemoth Nasty Gal, its shares soared. It was subsequently announced as one of the fastest-growing fashion businesses in the world, and with projected sales of £3 billion within seven years, Boohoo’s plans for international expansion seem to know no bounds.
Pretty Little Thing has used partnerships with Kylie Jenner to aid it in its bid to break into America, whilst brands such as Missguided and I Saw It First have partnered with ITV2’s Love Island to target the 57% of 16-34 year olds who tune into the premiere of the 2019 series. With so much success from these market leaders already, the potential seems limitless. This in turn makes Manchester look ever more appealing to the fast fashion industry.
The Future of Fast Fashion
With fast fashion’s quest to become a global force, concerns have been raised as to how sustainable the fast fashion industry is. One solution is the transition towards eco-friendly ranges. Brands such as Alternative Apparel, H&M and Boden have taken a step in the right direction with their eco-friendly clothing ranges. However, in the future, we believe more environmentally sustainable clothing ranges will be introduced to the world of fast fashion.
Brands such as Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and ASOS have recognised the importance of variable sizes of their shoppers. Fast fashion retailers are now taking notice of plus sizes and the power of “one size doesn’t fit all” consumers. Therefore, we believe the future of fast fashion will continue to evolve to appeal towards all types of under-represented markets.
At Return, we understand how to transform your business’s marketing strategy regardless of your sector. Whether you need to drive sales though paid search and social, increase your organic visibility or raise brand awareness, we can help. Contact us today for a chat