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Expecting Zarafication?

My first brush with Zara and Inditex (Zara’s parent company) was in the 1990s, when we were comparing product development and supply chain best practices for another European retailer.

In 2002, after writing a case study on the Zara business model, I was (and continue to be) surprised at the number of downloads from the website (referenced at the bottom of this article).

In 2004, the interest at the Images Fashion Forum was so intense that the Q&A after the presentation exceeded the allotted time, to the extent that I was almost declared persona non grata by the organising team!

I’m glad to say that we’re all still friends and, together, witness to the logical next phenomenon: the much anticipated Zara store launch in India in May 2010. And what a phenomenon! On a high-footfall day, at full price, the Delhi store looks as if the merchandise is being given away for free.

In 2006, India was the 8th highest source of traffic to the Inditex website (more than half a million, almost 2 per cent of the total); incredible, considering that the other Top-10 countries already had Inditex stores. Although Zara finally signed a joint-venture with the Tata Group, I’m pretty sure that those thousands of other rejected prospective Indian licensees and franchisees must be getting their Zara-fix now as customers.

What does the Zara launch mean for the Indian fashion and retail sector? Is this the beginning of a new era? Should we expect Zarafication of the market, where the customer is driven by fashion, and the supply chain will turn and churn products faster than ever before? Should other international brands and Indian fashion brands be worried?

A peek at history is useful here. It is said that when Spanish conquistadors landed on the shores of the Americas they managed to conquer the land and the people through a combination of guns, germs and steel. [Credits to Jared Diamond for that evocative phrase.] That is, the Spanish carried guns and fine steel swords but, most importantly, they also carried diseases that were alien to the local population. In many places, the weakened and leaderless indigenous people were simply too battered psychologically and physically by disease, to fight the colonisers.

Keeping that in mind I would say, Zara’s entry is a warning bell only if your business is suffering from recent financial and operational illnesses. It is only dangerous if your team are psychologically weak, and would be overwhelmed just by the thought of the supply chain wizardry that Zara has deployed in its business internationally. It may be fatal for sleepy marketing teams whose only strategy has been to spend lots of money on advertising in season and on mark-downs after the season.

But it’s not doom and gloom for brands and businesses that have a competitive spark of life. If you’re prepared to learn, Zara’s business can provide lessons on how to create a product mix that doesn’t stay on the shelf for months, and on how to create the buzz and excitement around the brand.

Zara’s business success in India is not a foregone conclusion. Let’s look at the facts.

Zara’s business model in its home market was built on getting up-to-date fashion into the market before anyone else, and at lower costs. Its prices encouraged fashion-conscious consumers to buy more frequently, and though its limited production quantities were a way of reducing risk, it added to the allure of the brand. In most overseas markets, however, Zara is a somewhat more premium brand. The “value-for-money” for the brand rests on fashionability rather than product quality.

The Indian consumer base, on the other hand, is less fashion-sensitive than the European consumer. This is not equivalent to being less sensitive aesthetically – Indian consumers can tell good design from bad; allowing, of course, for varying taste! However, value consciousness drives many consumers to buy during discount sales with delay of 2-3 months, rather than buying current fashions at full price. This can be a problem for a brand that thrives on change.

Zara will initially have a limited physical footprint. It is targeted at the premium to luxury end of the market, fitting a certain physical profile of customer. Its products that are imported are disadvantaged by a hefty import duty and shipping costs, as well as the shipment lead time. So, there is time available to Indian businesses that want to adapt their business model, and learn from this new competitor.

With the product development strengths and the agility that Indian apparel companies have displayed in the past, there is no reason why Indian brands cannot compete effectively with Zara on their home turf. When it comes down to it, I think Indian businesses (the small ones, with less “organisation” and “process” orientation) are fast on their feet in identifying design trends and are able to responding to the trends with products being available in the market very quickly. I would call them the Indian “baby Zaras”.

So the real question is this: can these Indian “baby Zaras” learn to be disciplined and structured, and learn to scale up their businesses?

Could we, perhaps, even see some people creating copies of Zara’s styles and bringing them to the market quickly at much lower prices (in effect doing a Zara on Zara)? Let’s not forget, what is today an 11-billion Euro business was once a contract manufacturer to other retailers, and Zara started with one shop carrying low-priced versions of products inspired by those of high-fashion designer brands.

The coming years promise to be interesting and I think we should watch out for an Indian version of an Inditex emerging in the next few years. It remains to be seen whether it will be from among the existing players in the domestic market, an exporter who is a contract manufacturer for western retailers (as Inditex once was), or someone totally new.

The people who should be really worried are those international brands whose product mix in India is weak, whose prices make you want to marry a rich banker, and whose brand ethos is totally unclear. To them I would say: Zara has you in its gun-sights.

Exuberance and Despair

In the last few months, I’ve interacted with retailers and their suppliers from a number of countries in North America, Europe and Asia and, except for a handful, the conversations have not been happy.

In November-December companies in France, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom were dealing with a season where there was as much red on the P&L statements as in the Christmas shop windows. In January 2009, the National Retail Federation’s annual convention in New York had participation that was somewhat thinner than in past years, but the gloom in the atmosphere was thick enough to slow everyone down.

On the other side, the factory of the world, China, had been battered by a Year of the Rat that brought increasing costs, erratic power supplies, slowdown in orders, safety concerns and product recalls. All of this culminated in reports of factory closures and migrant workers at railway stations on their way home for the Chinese New Year holiday carrying not just clothing, but all their possessions including fridges and TVs. The resultant unemployment figures expected currently range from 20 million to 40 million people.

The Indian retail sector, of course, has had its share of pain. In an idle conversation on a sunny December afternoon, a real estate broker in Ludhiana had a pithy description for one of the retail chains: “Unhone apne haath khade kar diye hain. Bakee logon ne abhi tak toh haath neeche rakhe huey hain – unke bhi upar ho jayenge.” (“They have thrown their hands up in despair. The rest still have their “hands down” – but they’ll also give up eventually.”)

On the one hand you have the gloom-seekers. In the eyes of some of these people, the retail boom is over. In the eyes of others, the retail boom was all hype anyway, a big bubble of artificial expectations.

On the other hand, you have other people asking some uncomfortable questions: here’s a country that apparently has the largest population of under-25s, where millions of new jobs have been created and incomes have been growing. How can retail businesses be showing a decline in their top-lines?

I don’t think anyone has all the answers, but I can offer at least one speculation, borrowing from the title of a book that came out some years ago, named “Irrational Exuberance”. Robert Shiller’s first edition was related to the dot-com stock bubble, and his 2005 edition added an analysis on housing bubble that was developing at the time. He had, in turn, borrowed the term from the US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan who in December 1996 had said in a speech: “…how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions…?”

We now seem to be in such an unexpected (but was it really unexpected?) and prolonged contraction. Of course, consumers are feeling more cautious about spending, even if their actual income has not been affected (just as it wasn’t affected when they were feeling suddenly wealthy 12-18 months ago). Obviously, stores that should not have been opened will now get closed, or excessively large stores will be reduced in size. Companies that are over-stretched may collapse completely.

But I would label the mood prevailing now “irrational despair” as far as a consumer market such as India is concerned. From a position of over-optimism, the pendulum seems to be swinging to the other extreme of utmost misery, dejection and complete pessimism, and I think that is a swing too far.

I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of the factors that make India a market for sustained consumer growth. The country looks likely to have a large under-25 profile well into the next several decades. These young people will grow older and get into jobs. They will get married and therefore expand the number of consuming households. If the policy-makers don’t really mess up, real incomes should go up. Infrastructure projects should largely remain on track, regardless of the political party or parties in power, facilitating industry, trade and wealth distribution.

So the time is right for business plans that have sound fundamental assumptions – or as the cement ad says: “andar sey solid” (solid from within).

I’d like to repeat issues that I have highlighted earlier as top priority for retailers and consumer products companies in India. These are as follows:

  1. Realistic demand estimation: Let’s work with realistic sales expectations, and not expect all consumption to multiply like cellphones have in the last few years.
  2. Productivity Analysis: As a retailer (especially in food and grocery), margins are thin. Except for marquee locations there is no excuse for continuous losses. Store productivity depends on merchandise availability, staff capabilities and store operations, customer traffic and a host of other factors, and you need to know what’s working and what isn’t.
  3. Moderated growth: Many retailers in India have had tremendous growth in scale without growth in sophistication in processes or people. Some have been driven by motivation to capture market share, others driven by their investors who want an exit, and a few might have been driven by ego. I’m not asking anyone to grow slower that they want to, or slower than they should. However, I would say: do look at Intel. A manufacturing company that makes its own products obsolete in an industry where rapid change has been the norm for the last 40 years. Intel alternates changes in its production and supply chain processes, and products – it doesn’t change everything at once.
  4. People: A leader of the industry pointed out a few months ago that there is no shortage of people in India. But the race to the top of the heap (or as it seems now, the bottom of the loss-making pile) has created artificial scarcity of talent. One benefit of the downturn is that artificially inflated compensations for people jumping on the “retail boom bandwagon” will disappear (at least for now). If we can use the experience of people who have been in modern retail trade in India for decades, and train others who are fresh but committed, it will provide a more solid and lasting impact for businesses.

A number of companies worldwide that we know as market leaders and businesses to be emulated found their feet in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. That should give some hope to entrepreneurs and professionals.

However, does that mean that only bad companies or unprofessional managements will fail in the current downturn? Certainly not. Does it also mean that all good companies or competent entrepreneurs will succeed? Again, the answer is, no.

Some bad companies will manage to ride through this trough, while some really deserving people will run out of cash, ideas and opportunities. Life and “natural selection” processes are not fair.

But, by and large, if we can get our heads down and focus on getting the right people together, making money to get through and having something left over to invest in the future of the business, we would have more chances of succeeding than by over-stretching, or by swinging to the other extreme and being totally defensive.

I won’t even attempt to predict how long the current downturn will last. The Great Depression lasted a whole decade, was “walled” by the Second World War, and the first blooms of real recovery only appeared in the early-1950s, or about twenty years from the first downturn. Other recessions have been shorter. In 2000, after the dot-com bust car bumper stickers in the US quoted a political satirist, saying, “I want to be irrationally exuberant again.” Within a few short years, many people were showing those very signs.

We can be pretty sure that such a time will come again. But I’m also quite sure that durable companies are unlikely to be built on bursts of such exuberance.

Creating & Managing Lifestyle and Fashion Brands – Third Eyesight Knowledge Series© Workshop – 23 August 2008, New Delhi, India

The Third Eyesight Knowledge Series© comprises of workshops designed and developed to help functional heads, line managers and executives refresh and upgrade functional and product expertise.  

Third Eyesight’s next workshop in this series is focussed on Creating & Managing Lifestyle and Fashion Brands.

 

IS THIS FOR YOU?

This workshop will be useful to you, if you are 

  • a brand owner wanting to look at growing your scale
  • a manufacturer wanting to add value to your products and to gain additional margins
  • a retailer wanting to invest in your own brands / private label
  • a brand manager looking to expand the footprint of your brand over more products
  • an entrepreneur wanting to launch a new brand
  • an investor who wants to understand how brands create value 
  • an exporter or buying office professional wanting to understand your customers and markets better
  • a brand owner and believe that your business is undervalued
  • a designer wanting to scale the business beyond yourself
  • a marketing or sales professional looking to add value to your skill-base
  • a service provider working with the lifestyle and fashion sector
  • a teacher or researcher looking at understanding the process of brand development

THE WORKSHOP CONTENT

This workshop will help participants in understanding:

  • the basics of lifestyle brands and their positioning in the lifestyle consumer goods industry
  • the development of the brand ethos
  • how to translate the brand intangibles into reality,
  • how to attract and retain new customers in the competitive environment, and
  • how to sustain and nurture the brand value over a period of time

REGISTRATIONS

Click Here or Call +91 (124) 4293478 or 4030162

Textile Facts & Fabric Sourcing – Third Eyesight Knowledge Series© Workshop – 4-5 July 2008, New Delhi, India

The Third Eyesight Knowledge Series© comprises of workshops designed and developed to help functional heads, line managers and executives refresh and upgrade functional and product expertise.  

The Soft Goods Series is specially focused at the Clothing, Textile and the Fashion Industry. Within this, the Textile Facts & Fabric Sourcing module is aimed at developing a working knowledge of fabrics commonly used by the apparel industry; identifying the domestic and international source markets for these textiles; understanding the costing of textiles based on the value add and finishing processes;  and familiarizing participants with the common and varied end uses of these fabrics.

                 Dates:                4th & 5th July 2008

                 Duration:           10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

                 Venue:               PHD Chamber of Commerce
                                           August Kranti Marg, New Delhi.

                 Workshop Fee:   Rs. 5,500 per participant (plus service tax)

Other modules in the Series cover topics related to Product Development, Supply Chain Management, Merchandise Buying and Planning, Business Communication and Fashion Brand Management.  The workshops have been designed as an integrated series. However, each module is complete and self contained and participants have the flexibility to select independent modules based on their training requirement.

Participant profile: Production Managers and Coordinators, Merchandisers, Retail buyers and Product Developers, Buying House Merchandisers.

For further information please contact us at +91 (124) 4293478, 4030162. 

History repeats – India’s role in global fashion

India has a rich tradition of textiles which dates back many centuries. The history of the Indian readymade garment industry, however, is very recent and can be traced back to the Second World War.

During the Second World War, as a contribution to the wartime needs of British rulers, clothing units for mass production were set up to manufacture military uniforms. With India’s independence in 1947, the industry stagnated as the policies of the Government were now diverted towards building a new nation. However, the industry began to expand after 1959 with the revision of the textile policy to allow the import of machinery for manufacturing.

The 1960s witnessed social shifts as a whole generation of young people questioned the very basis of their existence, and the hippie movement was born. Tired of their materialistic ‘man-made’ lifestyle, these young people began to seek answers in communing with all things natural, love and peace being the anthem. They began traveling, to explore, to seek the ancient philosophies of the East.

This voyage of discovery not only led to a change of lifestyle, but also the way they dressed. Natural fibres were rediscovered, and principally amongst them “Cotton”. India, with its natural abundance of this fibre, was an automatic choice of a supply source. Simultaneously, the growing settlement of Indian abroad led to a ready outlet for a variety of India merchandise and clothing textiles as an article of trade because of its growing demand.

This sudden demand for cotton garments resulted in the Indian industry growing by leaps and bounds in a very short period. Export of “High Fashion” garments from India started off with the cheap cotton kurtas and hand-block vegetable dye printed wrap-around skirts in cotton sheeting to meet the demands of the western youth.

Cashing in on the boom any and everybody got into the manufacture of clothing. The Government, realizing the potential of earning foreign exchange for the country, announced incentives and tax exemption for exporters. The fallout was an industry that grew in an unorganized manner and developed a reputation for producing low cost, low quality, volume merchandise.

The 1980s established that the industry was here to stay but, in terms of product profile, India still had not been able to move out of the lower end of the world market and continued to have an average unit value of under US$ 5.

The 1990s saw the industry make a conscious effort to shake off the image of being producers of cheap, low-quality merchandise with unreliable delivery schedules. The second generation had begun coming into the business, and contributed to reorganizing their firms for clearer structure and professionalism. Funds were ploughed back into the business with the emergence of large and modern production facilities. Even though most of the export houses were family-owned, trained professionals were inducted into the business for clear-cut departments and areas of functions. Consolidation and retention of business was the focus of the late nineties as the abolition of quotas planned for the new millennium became a reality.

The industry was euphoric but at the same time apprehensive of what the post quota era would bring. Many of the producers looking for a synergy in the business and also to sustain the large production facilities began tentative forays into domestic retail. The face of the Indian consumer was changing. Exposure to the western society via the electronic media helped in creating a ‘borderless’ world for lifestyle products, and contemporary fashion merchandise found a ready market in domestic retail.

The new global consumer over the years has evolved as a demanding and yet discerning individual. The novelty factor along with price and quality has become the watchword of the new millennium consumer. As consumers around the world change, so does the product strategy to keep consumer interests alive and ensure loyalty.

The new millennium has seen the emergence of the ‘Quick Response’ or ‘Real Time’ merchandising in fashion as a strategic solution to nurture, retain and grow the business. ‘Fast Fashion’ was born. Retailers could no longer work on the concept of two major retailing seasons with a couple of promotions thrown in. Product planning and the merchandise on the racks had to be constantly current and trendy.

Fast Fashion is not simply a solution to increase consumption by introducing greater product variety but a strategy to retain, consolidate and sustain the market through proactive product development and efficient product delivery to consumers, and thereby grow the market by increasing market share or developing new markets.

However, fast fashion has been tried and tested in different avatars through the years. In the 1960s and 1970s it was present in the quick reaction time of the unorganized sector to service the demand for block-printed ethnic clothing merchandise. In the 1980s and 1990s it was represented in the proactively researched product development at the source market level by wholesale importer/designer buyers (like Rene Dehry, Giorgio Kauten, Diff and Steilmann). Today it is technology-aided product research and development techniques (practiced by Anthropologie, Rampage, Zara and H&M), coupled with responsive buying processes.

In product design terms, India has moved on from producing and selling ‘fashion basics’ to ‘basic’ merchandise, and now back to ‘fashion basics’ once again. History says that this is where India’s inherent talents and strengths as a source market lie. Rather than reinventing the wheel or try to catch up with other competitors strengths, India should cash in on its strengths to practice and master fast fashion.

PrimeSource Forum – Hong Kong – April 2008

Prime Source Forum (Hong Kong) has become the ‘must attend’ annual event for the apparel industry, offering senior executives from all over the world the chance to meet and discuss current challenges and opportunities with their peers, providing also a meeting place where competitors speak freely to each other in the knowledge that many major issues can be resolved only through mutual understanding and common solutions. More than 50 senior executives from 14 countries will lead the discussions ranging over the challenges and opportunities confronting the industry in today’s changing economic and political environment.

The event will be prefaced on 31 March with industry workshops.

The main event will be opened by the Keynote address – “The World May Be Flat But the Terrain is Rough: Global Sourcing in The Next Three Years” – by Dr William Fung, Group Managing Director, Li & Fung Limited.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, will be moderating the panel on the emergence of brands as retailers in their own right, and the change this is creating in developed and developing markets. The panel will include

  • Shuman Chatterjee, CEO, Levi Strauss (India) Pvt Ltd

  • Edward A Gribbin, President, Alvanon Consulting Group, Alvanon, Inc

  • So Hee Kim, Editor in Chief, Malcom Bridge, Korea

  • Carlo Rivetti, Member of the Board of SMI-ATI, President, Sportswear Company, Italy

  • Fernando Urrea, President, Leonisa S.A., Columbia

  • Fritz Winans, Senior Vice President – Corporate, Global Manufacturing/ Sourcing, Liz Claiborne Inc

Devangshu Dutta will also deliver the closing summary at the event.

The event agenda is available on this page – PrimeSource Forum 2008.

For more details on the event, including registration information, please visit the event website: http://www.primesourceforum.com/

 

The Profession of Social Entrepreneurship

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”
Bill Drayton, CEO, chair and founder of Ashoka, a global nonprofit organization devoted to developing the profession of social entrepreneurship

One of the exciting by-products of the increased awareness and practice of corporate social responsibility has been the emergence and growth of social entrepreneurship as a serious social and ‘business’ trend in the last two decades. The potential of successfully marrying the competencies of business generating sources and markets, with solutions to social and environment issues is the main principle that underlies the concept of successful social entrepreneurship.

Today’s social entrepreneur is a dynamic, committed and driven individual who is able to identify sustainable solutions to social problems. He uses earned income strategies to pursue a social objective, and the outcome is directly connected to his commitment to resolve the social or environmental malaise he chooses to address through this enterprise. The profitability of a social entrepreneurship is driven by both financial and social returns, with the financial returns being redeployed into the enterprise to further its growth and sustain the ‘business’.

The future of permanent and lasting social change lies in the ability of these social enterprises becoming independent and self sustaining, moving away from philanthropy and becoming financially independent.

Modern day social entrepreneurship therefore, is actually about sustaining social change and growth through self-sufficiency instead of charitable contributions and government grants and subsidies.

 

Breaking Ceilings – No Sin in Growing Big

In several conversations recently, there has been reference to how much contribution comes from small-medium enterprises, the need to protect the small-scale industry (SSI) to provide diversity etc.

After all the conversations, one thought keeps coming to mind. While small businesses need to be enabled, and an ecosystem and environment created for them to thrive, there is no reason to keep them from growing.

Entrepreneurship is organic, a business is a living thing. Basic high-school biology teaches us that living things (as opposed to non-living things) grow. Preventing a living thing from growing is going against its very nature.

But that is exactly what reservation of certain manufacturing sectors for small scale does – it creates a government-regulated ceiling beyond which the business cannot invest (and, therefore, cannot grow).

The apparent objective of the policy is to “protect” the industry sector from competition from large companies. The underlying assumption is that large companies compete unfairly, and that small companies in the reserved sectors effectively cannot compete against larger players.

However, many industries and sectors in India are paying the price for that policy. For instance, even after the clothing sector was allowed a higher cap of investment in plant & machinery, and then finally removed from the list of SSI-reserved list, it struggles with its fragmented structure, against larger-scale and more efficient competitors based in China , neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries.

Obviously, in global trade, restricting the growth of domestic industry does nothing to make the country competitive. It only protects it from itself, and makes it inefficient.

So every time the list of industries reserved for small scale is reduced, in my opinion it improves the potential competitiveness of Indian industry. In that light, the government’s announcement this week of removing some more industries from the list is an occasion to cheer.

The government has identified mechanical equipment, electrical goods and stationery as the categories to be opened to larger scale manufacturing.

Consumers, retailers and consumer products brands have something to look forward to, considering that this may include products such as steel cupboards, doors, windows and ventilators, steel furniture, locks, steel and aluminium utensils, builders’ hardware, sewing machines, kitchen gadgets, and pens.

We await the final list with bated breath. And look forward to other consumer goods also being removed from the SSI-reserved list and being opened to higher investments.

A Critical Question – What is a Brand?

Even in these enlightened marketing times, many people believe that the brand is the name. They believe that once you advertise a name widely and loudly enough, a brand can be created. Nothing could be further from the truth.

High-decibel advertising only informs customers of the name, it cannot create a brand.

If we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, a brand is an image, comprising of a bundle of promises on the company’s part and expectations on the customer’s part, which have been met. When promises are delivered, when expectations are met, the brand develops an attribute that it is defined by.

The promise may be of edgy design (think Apple), and the customer expects that – when the brand delivers on the promise and meets the expectation the brand image gets re-affirmed and strengthened.

However, these attributes are not always necessarily all “positive” in the traditional sense. For instance, a company’s promise may be to be low-cost and low-service (think Ikea, or “low-cost airlines”), and the customer may expect that and be happy with that when the company delivers on that promise.

The promise may be products with a conscience (think The Body Shop), which may strike a chord with the consumer.What that brand actually stands for can only be created experientially.

Creating this image, creation of the brand, is a complex and step-by-step process that takes place over time and over many transactions. Repetition of the same kind of experience strengthens the brand.

The brand touches everything that defines the customer’s experience – the product design and packaging, the retail store it is sold in, the service it is sold with, the after-sales interaction – all have a role to play in the creation of the brand.

For instance, to some it may sound silly that market research or how supply chain practices can help define a brand, but that is exactly how the state of affairs is for Zara. Changeovers and new fashions being quickly available are what that brand is about, and it would be impossible for Zara to deliver on that promise without leading edge supply chains, or a wide variety of trend research.

Similarly, it may sound clichéd that your salesperson defines the brand to the consumer, but even with the best products, extensive advertising, and swanky stores, for service-oriented retailers everything would fall apart if the salesperson is not up to the mark. This is indeed a sad reality faced by so many of the so-called premium and luxury brands.

Of course, brand images can be changed or updated, but the new image also needs to be reinforced through repeated action, a process just like the first time the brand was created.

(Extracted from the article “Brand Immortality and Reincarnation“)

Fast Fashion

Fashion is, by definition, perishable. Like, bread, eggs and milk. Or is it?

When bread turns stale, eggs turn rotten or milk turns rancid, you do have to throw it away. Fashion is different, because its perishability is artificial, driven by popular perception that something is “out-of-date” or that something else is “the look of the day”. You don’t really have to throw that blue peasant skirt out in the garbage or in the Salvation Army bin…but you do anyway, because it is so yesterday…or that’s what everyone else is saying.

Earlier, perceptions took time to spread, today they can be spread instantaneously through the web, TV and cell phones, and pretty quickly, even through slow media like print magazines.

So ‘Fast Fashion’ is really a product of fast media and communications technologies.

Having said that, it is here to stay, and regular (mainstream) slow-coaches do need to be worried about customers being seduced away by the ever-fresh look of a Chico’s or a Zara.

I can’t even begin to estimate the millions of dollars that must have been spent on “studying the Zara model”. However, while Zara’s model seems to scream “best practice” and everyone wants to emulate it – is it really for everyone?

Inditex (Zara’s parent company) has grown over 40+ years of evolution, in a specific market and business context. It may have “exploded” on the global scene when it floated its IPO in 2001, but the business model has been brewing a long time.

It has such significant investments in production that Inditex is as much a manufacturer as a retailer. Its people and process model almost diametrically opposite the command and control, “buying director – driven” model of other retailers. Its technology investments are focused better than most of its peers. (See case study and presentation)

Would your company’s DNA allow you to invest in and manage fabric and apparel manufacturing? Would it allow young people to be sent out to take bigger-ticket purchase decisions with fewer approvals than they do now? Would your design team really trust your frontline store staff with feeding them relevant trend information every day?

And yet, and yet…As labour costs rise in Europe, Zara is also being forced to rethink its model of local or regional production. As it does move more production to places like India and China, the big question is whether it can maintain the sanctity of its business model.

I won’t advise other retailers to breathe easy, but they don’t need to roll over and die just yet.