COSH! in Weekend Knack

'We should be proud of buying clothes at full price'

Niki, COSH! founder, tells Weekend Knack readers why she’s pleased the sales were pushed back to August the 1st and how the current sales system is broken. Read below a translation of her original piece.

Click here to read the original article in Dutch

With the rise of fast fashion, clothing stores started to change their collections more and more often which meant that there was always leftover stock to sell off at the end of each season. As trends continued to speed up and production times went down, fast fashion chains kept on buying more and more clothes. Where shops used to have a small rack of leftover discounted stock in a corner beside their new collection, sales started coming earlier and earlier and people bought more and more clothes. Governments were also pushing for economic growth and so retailers got obsessed with generating profit.

As a result of this sales system which survives on overproduction and overordering, shops finish each season with shelves full of clothes. These clothes then get removed and often sent to the incinerator. The mass production of clothes has a heavy environmental impact and it’s wasted when many of these clothes end up in landfill or incinerated. Not to mention all the human energy that has gone into the production of these clothes…

Pricing

So, why do brands buy so many clothes if they can’t sell them? Because the drive for economic growth is huge. Manufacturers and textile manufacturers give discounts for larger orders so by buying larger quantities, the cost of each product decreases and profit margins increase. Ordering larger quantities of clothes, therefore, enables retailers to still make money when they heavily discount their stock at the end of the season or for Black Friday deals.

The fashion industry is going in the wrong direction here: this old system driven by profit margin calculations needs to be replaced if we’re going to have a more sustainable fashion industry. Up till now, the retail industry has religiously stuck to this system: they over-buy so they can sell almost at production prices during the sales. In other words, a zero-profit operation.

Disastrous for the economy

When a retailer buys more than they can sell, they end up with full shelves for sales and at the end of the season. How has this affected consumers? Consumers have learnt to wait until the sales to buy anything new. ‘I’m not going to buy it at full price because it’s probably still going to be available during the sales.’ Instead of saving up for an item, people have now gotten used to waiting for discounts in shops or they find cheaper alternatives online.

So what should the system be? Here at COSH!, we’re super happy the sales have been delayed by a month this summer. Even tying sales started later than usual despite popping up everywhere. Many sustainable retailers were able to offer their summer collection until the second or third week of July without any form of discount and are happy to have done so. Conscious consumers know the value of clothes and are happy to pay fair prices to the retailer.

Seasonless fashion, which doesn’t just become irrelevant after a few months, is the most sustainable route to take. Looking at the current system of seasonal fashion though, sales at the end of the season are the way to go. It’s the discounting that happens before the end of the season that needs to go. We hope Modeunie.be (Belgian union for fashion retailers) will continue to lobby Minister Muylle to officially move the sales a month later. Did the moving of the sales go perfectly this year and did all retailers stick to it? No, but it was a step in the right direction and it was much needed after the lockdown over spring.

Like in previous years, we saw a sense of shame among retailers who, under pressure from large chains, had to start tying sales anyway despite them supporting the move the sales movement. Perhaps a stricter and better-moderated sales move is needed? One where sales are allowed to start for 2 to 3 weeks before tying is allowed? I hope the legislation we saw this year will be extended not only to the next few seasons but also systematically throughout Europe. All the involved parties though must be given the time to change their mindset for themselves. If they realise that a change in the system will actually benefit them then they will be far more supportive and better allies.

Sales shopping in a environmentally-conscious way

So, is it or is it not a good idea to go shopping in August? As far as I’m concerned, it certainly is, but try to consciously shop. Remember that every time you spend money, you vote for the world you want to live in.

There are a few things you should keep in mind when shopping in person. First of all, it is very important to follow the Corona measures. Whether you’re someone who feels safer wearing a mask and social distancing or you’re furious at governments for restricting freedom, we must all follow the measure to support our local traders!

Go shopping alone, wear your mouth mask and wash or disinfect your hands regularly. In exchange, retailers are also taking great care to uphold safety measures. From extra steaming of clothes to cleaning the shop long after closing time, they’re doing everything they can to guarantee their customers a safe shopping experience. In addition, they’re also working extra hard to get internet orders to customers on time. Respecting the measures and adapting to the situation is, therefore, a form of respect to the retailers who are doing their very best.

Think before you start

Before you start, make a list of what you really need. You only have 30 minutes per store so you need to be well prepared. If you want to support the Belgian economy and sustainable shopping, look for Belgian and/or fair & sustainable brands and shop them via COSH! (online) from a retailer near you. On our website, you can also create a personalised physical shopping route, which shows you local shops adapted to your own style and budget.

Are you second-guessing an item because there’s no discount on it? If it’s a perfect match, just buy it! You’ll be helping the local trader.If you think that the price is too high and you should be getting a 50% discount on a garment, don’t forget that the profit margin a retailer adds to a garment has to cover 21% VAT, cash register systems, marketing and rent of the shop’s premises. It also covers staff’s salary which shop owners also pay tax on. On top of all of that, fewer customers are allowed in shops at the same time meaning fewer sales... It’s very hard for retailers to cover all their costs due to Corona.

Online or offline?

What do you prefer? Do you prefer shopping online or in-store with the corona measures? During lockdown when shops were forced to close, some local retailers opted for a delivery service. But now they have to stay open which must be a difficult and exhausting balancing act. Just take a quick look at the social media channels of your favourite boutiques and find out how they prefer to operate themselves.

And last but not least: change your mindset! When you’re buying something, make sure you’re also gaining something new - a different mentality. Instead of priding yourself on how big a discount you scored, show off all the pieces you bought at full price. These are pieces that you will love for years, that you will cherish longer and for which you paid a fair price! Bingo! The fair price paid to a small, local and sustainable trader guarantees that the textile workers, the stitchers, the designers, the models, the photographers and the traders all received fair wages for their work. A system that ultimately benefits everyone!