the Insiders


May 3, 2013 5:17 PM

Business, Retail

Strong Words, Fashion Lets It Fly

Every once in a great while the fashion industry hits a sleepy patch and a week passes when nobody says much of anything -- at least in a public forum that we can scrutinize....

Every once in a great while the fashion industry hits a sleepy patch and a week passes when nobody says much of anything -- at least in a public forum that we can scrutinize.

This was not one of those weeks. Whether it was due to the seriousness of events, the onset of spring or something in the water, the fashion and retail crowd was ready and willing to speak their minds this week. Let's take a look at what was said.

  • "I'm troubled by the deafening silence from other apparel retailers on this." -- Galen Weston, executive chairman of Joe Fresh parent Loblaw Cos., on compensating victims of the Savar, Bangladesh, factory collapse.

Global supply chains are global, extremely complex and difficult to manage. It is possible for bad things to happen at factories that make goods for well-meaning brands. But just like some of the profits from factory workers' labors find their way back to the brands, so should some of the responsibility when something goes wrong.

  • "We want to know what every product in the world is. We want to know who every person in the world is. And we want to have the ability to connect them together in a transaction." -- Neil Ashe, president and ceo of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Global eCommerce unit

This is either a rhetorical flourish of hitherto untold proportions, a case of hubris or a sign that the $469.2 billion Wal-Mart is serious about continuing its growth curve. If the latter turns out to be the case, everyone else in retail better watch out.

  • "We have rationalized [during] the last five years. That's good news for the operating companies around America. It's bad news for the unemployment rate. Those people that we laid off in 2008 and 2009, there's no need for us to hire back. We've gotten more efficient. We've gotten more productive." --Ronald Perelman, billionaire financier and chairman of Revlon Inc.

OK, so that sounds kind of rough, but he's probably right. Capitalism is an unfortunately messy affair. Here's hoping that the tech start ups from Silicon Alley to Silicon Valley are successful enough to snap up the talent other companies are leaving behind.

  • "I would characterize the high end of retailing as undergoing an enormous period of transformation. There's more change going on than most of us have seen in our careers, and a lot has to do with omnichannel." --Steve Sadove, ceo, Saks Inc.

After two years of being sure that omnichannel was an empty buzz word, I've finally figured it out. Omnichannel is to retailing what convergence was to tech gadgets. The cell phone became a camera, a video camera, a computer, a map and on and on. Now stores are doubling as warehouses for e-commerce sites. That size two woman looking for a yellow dress in Kansas can order online, the dress is pulled off the rack wherever it is and shipped. That's one more full-priced sale and a better profit margin via the magic of omnichannel.

Here's hoping next week is as interesting.
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