Production in this climate is “horrible”, says London-based designer Chet Lo, who started his ready-to-wear brand of spiky, brightly coloured knitwear in his bedroom in 2020. In 2021, he joined incubator Fashion East for two seasons, then the British Fashion Council’s Newgen programme — making his runway debut for Spring/Summer 2023. The brand gained eight new stockists after the SS23 collection, in addition to existing partners including Ssense and Farfetch. However, while this should be a moment of excitement for the designer, the current climate also makes him uneasy.
Despite growing awareness of the brand, retailers have pulled back on buying budgets for SS23, he says. “It’s hard not to take it personally, especially because it’s my name on the brand,” Lo says. “Our retail partners explained that the [threat of] recession is super real. Clothes might be a luxury fewer people are buying into at the moment — and I totally understand. But, it’s stressful to have a business in this climate.”
New York-based brand Puppets and Puppets, founded by artist turned fashion designer Carly Mark, doubled its sales for SS23 and is growing its team to meet demand for its sweaters, novelty cookie-embellished bags and artful dresses and separates. Mark notes that many buyers are hesitant right now to back emerging designers. “On top of all of the issues going on in the world, specifically in the fashion industry, so many new brands have cropped up since Covid and nobody knows who to invest in, especially when times are questionable,” she says.
Turkish couple Ceylin Türkkan Bilge and Emir Bilge launched luxury brand Siedrès from Istanbul in February 2020. Its colourful, mediterranean-inspired dresses and separates are stocked at 31 retailers including Harvey Nichols and Farfetch. Like many emerging players, Siedrès already faced Covid-related production delays and studio closures. After the war in Ukraine, Turkey’s inflation rate hit over 83 per cent in October 2022, the highest rate recorded for 24 years, according to a report by Reuters. Siedrès has to raise employee salaries every six months in order to keep up.
“Sales are really low right now compared to last season,” says Türkkan Bilge, “it’s really not looking good for us. Some of our retailers said they can’t stop selling Gucci but they can stop selling us. So, they’ve paused us for a season. It’s difficult because we already made investments in production [before the retailers pulled back. We have a team of 25 people here right now. When retailers cut their orders or place an order and then they cancel it, it’s a huge problem for us.”
Fighting for production capacity
From raised prices from European suppliers to higher shipping costs from China, production and logistics have become a major challenge across the industry, but especially for fashion’s fledgling labels.