SKU’d: 3 designers reinventing fashion’s business models

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Editor’s note: Kaarin Vembar is obsessed with the luxury and apparel markets. She also has a sassy mouth so her managing editor decided to give her a column in an attempt to harness insight for readers. Kaarin can be reached at [email protected]

It’s no secret that fashion is going through a period of drastic change. 

Runway shows aren’t necessarily needed in order to gain traction as a brand. And a trend’s genesis can be traced back to TikTok or Instagram as readily as fashion week. Magazines, which once told us what was in and what was out, have receded to the point that the monthly print fashion magazine doesn’t even exist anymore

Moreover, how people shop is in flux. Department stores still exist, but those that sell luxury or conceptual apparel are fewer in number. Shoppers can buy directly from a label, either online or in person, while the pandemic taught us that a company doesn’t need a brick-and-mortar store in every major city to have an impact. Customers are much more open to product drops, to purchasing things secondhand and to buying things through social media channels, which are rapidly evolving to accommodate e-commerce. 

While consumers are changing shopping habits, some brands are rising to the occasion to meet people where they are. That, in turn, is pushing creative thinking when it comes to business models.

Whether it is Telfar creating a Bag Security Program, Tommy Hilfiger investing simultaneously in the metaverse and runway or Marc Jacobs seeing success by limiting scope, here are three designers who are approaching the business of retail in ways that push boundaries. 

1. Telfar

While many labels are still trying to figure out how to deliver product drops without making half of its fanbase want to set things on fire (looking at you SNKRS app), Telfar has a counterintuitive approach: Give everyone everything they want. 

Telfar Clemens became the hottest name in fashion a number of years ago with the release of his vegan leather bag, which went on to become known as the ‘Bushwick Birkin.’

With their practical-yet-fashionable design and affordable price point, Telfar products consistently sell out. The designer is very clear with his label’s purpose of “not for you — for everyone” and has come up with inventive ways to make his products accessible. Especially during a time where people (and bots) like to immediately buy up products only to flip them on secondary markets.

The company is using Telfar TV as one tactic to combat that. The designer announced the launch of the label’s 24-hour, live network during New York Fashion Week in the fall of 2021. “Basically we launched a TV Channel without any content — because we are tired of being content for other channels,” the company explained. Fans are further encouraged to send in their own videos so they can be featured on the channel while maintaining ownership of their work. 

“We are not about hype and scarcity. We didn’t set out to make [it] impossible to get product.”

Telfar TV features “drips” which are targeted product drops. At random intervals the brand will flash a QR code on screen for one minute. Viewers can scan it with their phone to order products. “A drip is less bags than a drop — but your chances of getting one is higher,” the company explained.  

Telfar also launched its wildly popular Bag Security Program in 2020. The effort allows shoppers to order as many items as they want in any color which will then be made and delivered within a few months. 

At the time of the announcement a statement on the company’s website said, “We are not about hype and scarcity. We didn’t set out to make [it] impossible to get product … But the truth is (with or without the bots and resellers) when thousands of bags sell per second we can’t even know how many to make.” 

Ordering through the program requires shoppers to pay all costs upfront. That in turn means the designer can fully fund the initiative and have an idea of supply chain needs. 

The fourth iteration of the program was introduced this past April and ran for 36 hours. Shoppers could purchase any shopping bag, in any size and color with no limits. (Ok with some limits. It didn’t include circle or duffle bags or the brand’s collaborations, but everything else was fair game.) Shipment was guaranteed between July 15 and October 31 of this year. 

An update to the latest Bag Security Program was emailed to shoppers in early June, and stated that the company was ahead of schedule. It also said to its eager recipients “please don’t ask us when! It’s coming” and preemptively answered the question of why one person would get their order before another with the quip, “God has a plan.”

Tommy Hilfiger models in a virtual space.

Tommy Hilfiger also participated in the first Metaverse Fashion Week.

Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger


2. Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger is going back to New York Fashion Week. 

After three years, the company will attend the trade show via an “experiential runway event” that aims to deliver an experience that is both in the physical and digital worlds. 

This September, the company will present an in-real-life showcase in Brooklyn and simultaneously deliver a metaverse experience centering on its Fall 2022 collection.