Despite the challenges, our revenue remains higher than last year. We have proven our ability to face all the craziness that both Covid-19 and the bushfires brought to the fashion industry here in Australia, and we’re proud to say we ended the year as a stronger business.
Lockdowns had a big impact on consumers’ fashion choices last year. What patterns did you observe across your business?
Initially we saw a drop in sales across all our brands. Following the initial drop, we then saw a shift to what we describe as ‘casualisation’. As more and more people began working from home, customers were looking for more casual styles that kept them comfortable while still looking great.
As we approached spring and things started to get a little closer to ‘normal’ with lockdown restrictions lifted in many parts of the country, we noticed that our customers were returning back to more regular purchase patterns, including lots of dresses, and fewer casual and utility pieces.
Overall, though, there’s been a definite shift away from styles that were ‘occasion’ focused, including bridesmaid and formalwear, and lots of demand for pieces that are multi-use. This was observed across all of our brands, and will be something we continue to cater for moving forward to 2021.
In order to minimise waste, how do you determine which styles customers will buy?
We invest heavily in developing software and technology to help us understand and predict customer demand. We have immensely detailed systems in place to track every single scrap of material we use, so that we can buy and plan to use only exactly what we need, and nothing more.
Our design, planning and merchandising teams then use these reports to ensure the optimal number of styles and stock is ordered. Almost everything we do is in-house, including fabric and patterns, so we’re able to control supply and keep our wastage down as much as possible.
Waste reduction is one of the key pillars of our business, and was one of the main reasons why we were able to achieve our BCorp certification.
Plus, for the past 12 months, we’ve been working on a first-of-its-kind clothing waste reduction project that will be launched in early 2021. While we can’t give too much away right now, it’s set to be one of the most innovative consumer clothing projects in Australia – possibly even the world. Watch this space!
When it comes to sustainability, what grade would you give the wider fashion industry?
Across the board, it’s clear than many players in the industry could do better. However, we don’t believe in judging or ‘grading’ the industry, because sustainability means different things to different people. We are really pleased to see that there is lots happening in the sustainability space and the conversation is gaining a lot of momentum.
The path to sustainability isn’t an easy road, and can often cost more initially. We believe that this is where smart business models and data comes in. At ABA Labels, our profit for purpose mentality has allowed us to simultaneously maintain a good profit while still preserving our ethical and sustainable credentials. We’d like to see more brands do the same. And consumers are increasingly demanding it.
What are your top priorities for the business in the next 12 months?
We will continue to work hard, evolve, grow and keep responding to whatever 2021 brings. In the new year, we have plans to launch four new brands, and will be continuing to invest in our team and our technology.
Early next year, we’re launching an innovative new platform to reduce clothing waste. It’s set to revolutionise the way people think about and interact with fashion, and will have a huge impact on people, e-commerce, and the planet.
With innovative new sustainability projects planned for early 2021, we believe we’re in the best position to respond to the growing consumer demand for sustainable, ethical fashion.
What are your thoughts for the Australian retail market in 2021?
After the year we’ve had, it’s hard to be completely certain about the outlook for 2021. That’s why fashion retailers must ensure they’re focussing a lot of energy on staying agile, putting processes in place to be able to pivot quickly, and making their online presence as strong as possible.
We also know that as consumer demand for transparency and sustainability grows, brands will be forced to step up their game and prove to their customers that they’re doing everything they can in this area.
Lip service and well-written copy aren’t enough: brands need to be putting in the hard work behind the scenes to make their operations as sustainable as possible. If not, customers will simply move to those competitors who are making a real, tangible positive impact on the planet.
This article was originally published in the Australian Retail Outlook, sponsored by KPMG. To download the report, click here.