Seven Tips for Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban - Eleanor Snare - Featured Image

Seven Tips for Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban

Last year I successfully changed my consumption habits, cutting my clothing buying down to just two new items and six items of second-hand clothing in a whole year. The experience changed how I interact with fashion in a positive, exciting way. In this article I’ll give you some tips on how to manage if you’re thinking of cutting down on your clothes shopping.

Seven Tips For Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban - Eleanor Snare 2

1. Improve your wardrobe

As you won’t be buying any new gear for at least a couple of months, it’s important to start with good foundations. Clear out any old or unworn clothing and set aside a pile for cleaning or repairing. If you’re missing an essential item – like a white t-shirt or jeans – then get a high quality option before you begin your shopping ban.

A good basic wardrobe will help you make better choices because it’ll have all the foundations you need, and will mean you’re less likely to ‘buy to solve’ a fashion problem during your period of shopping abstinence.

2. Tidy up your clothing space

A messy wardrobe or drawers will make it difficult to see what you own and therefore you’re more likely to buy items you think you need when secretly they’re hiding in the back of a cupboard. Give your clothing space a good clean inside and out. Arrange hangers properly, fold jumpers, and sort your shoes so you can see them.

WRAP’s 2012 report shows an embarrassing number of the clothes in our wardrobe – about 30% – haven’t been worn in the last six months; have a clear out and you might find something you’d completely forgotten about.

3. Put together example outfits

This is a fun activity but also very useful. After you’ve improved and tidied your wardrobe, spend time laying out outfits of different clothing combinations. Photograph or document the outfits, and keep the information handy; it’ll prevent you from thinking “I have nothing to wear with X” which can lead you down a path to purchase.

It’ll also start to focus your personal aesthetic and identify which items of clothing are going to do the most work during your shopping ban.

4. Unsubscribe

After tackling your physical possessions, it’s time to look at those less tangible things which influence our buying behaviours. Unsubscribe from all marketing communications from fashion brands. You have to go cold turkey here; those brands will send you sales materials and they will tempt you into buying.

Sales-related marketing often comes via email newsletters – but you might have to cut yourself off from Instagram too, and ignore those tiny Facebook ads tempting you from the sidebar.

5. Avoid shops and fashion magazines (to start with)

This seems extreme but if you’re taking your shopping ban seriously, you only need to avoid clothing stores and fashion magazines for a couple of months. Like any marketing, store layout is designed to encourage you to buy, and magazine editorial is designed to engage you (often leading to purchase).

My biggest blip last year happened when I started reading fashion magazines again, because it inspired me – and made my current wardrobe look boring. Build up your willpower, then pick up Vogue.

6. Spend time with your clothes

During your shopping ban, you’ll be spending a lot more time with your current clothes than you probably ever have before. Look closely at your garments: where were they made, when and by who? How does it feel when you wear them? Take time to appreciate each piece of clothing as fully as possible and you’ll want to wear them again and again.

If you’re keen to change your relationship to fashion, this quality time is a good place to start. Stop looking at your clothes like they’re disposable, and start seeing them as indispensable.

7. Don’t panic if you do buy

When I bought a second hand item last year, I freaked out a bit – I thought I had failed. But this is your personal challenge; if you renege and end up buying something, that’s ok. Think about why you did it, and if you can avoid doing the same thing in the future.

There’s no shame in buying things, and there’s no shame in enjoying it. The idea of a shopping ban is to shock yourself into new habits, but don’t punish yourself if you don’t quite make it.


At the start of last year, I would’ve found the idea of spending only £80 on pre-made clothing over the next 12 months laughable. But my experience showed me you can change your consumption habits, spend less and enjoy fashion even more than when you’re buying tons of stuff.

Try out these seven tips if you’re thinking of taking a break from shopping, and let me know how you get on.

Read my experience of 2016’s shopping ban: What’s It Like Not Buying Clothes for A Year?


WRAP. 2012. Cited in Breyer, M. 2012. Unused Clothing in UK Closets Worth $46.7 Billion, Report Finds. Treehugger. Available on:


What’s It Like Not Buying Clothes For A Year?

Last year I set myself a goal: to only make the clothes I wanted to wear, not buy them, for the entire year. In this article I’ll share the experience with you to help you see that changing your fashion buying habits is possible – and it can even be rewarding.

What's It Like Not Buying Clothes for A Year - Eleanor Snare - Image of wardrobe and post title




If you’re interested in changing your buying habits, you might already know some of the statistics surrounding our current rate of production and consumption of clothing. Zara produces around 450 million items of apparel per year (Berfield and Baigorri, 2013) – that’s seven items of clothing for every person in the UK.

We spend phenomenal amounts of cash on clothing; Asos’ 2014-15 accounts show they had more than 29 million orders with an average spend of just under £70.00 each (Asos, 2015). Their gross profit was over £574 million.

And yet many of our clothes go to waste, either as part of the 350,000 tonnes decaying in landfill, or as some of the 30% of clothing in our wardrobes which hasn’t been worn for the last six months (WRAP, 2012).

My history of buying clothing has reflected this pattern. I would buy items every couple of weeks, mostly from charity shops, ending up with a huge wardrobe where many pieces weren’t worn for months – or even a year – at a time.



Last year, it seemed more people than ever were interested in reducing their participation in mass clothing consumption.

I’d read about women who had cut out new clothing completely (Hall, 2016), or cut out spending on anything (McGagh, 2016). Livia Firth’s #30wears concept gained traction, partly through the efforts of Fashion Revolution; Jen on the Tartan Brunette explains the idea very well. And the blogger-devised capsule wardrobe ‘33 for 3’ hit six years and widespread uptake (Carver, 2010).

My significant spending on clothing had reduced by the end of 2015 as I aged and my priorities changed. It seemed like an ideal time to challenge my habits and find a new way of interacting with fashion.



For 2016 I set a self-imposed ban on buying any clothing, new or second hand. Instead I would make anything I wanted to wear. The goal was to reduce my consumption habits and increase my dressmaking skill level.



It was a tough year.

If you think fashion is a load of superficial nonsense, not taking part by consuming clothing is probably easier than if you think fashion is expressive, creative, culturally-situated, radical, exhilarating and all round wonderful.

I am in the second camp.

I found, to start with, not buying clothes was an unnatural experience. I felt like I was punishing myself and that I couldn’t take part in what everyone else was doing – the fun and excitement, the new shapes and colours, the joy of expressing yourself in a new way. It was rubbish.

But after the first few months, I started to enjoy the new ways of experiencing fashion that I’d found. I could visit a clothing store in the same way as an art gallery or museum; not expecting to buy anything, but to take in the visual feast on display. Stepping back from consuming meant I could see fashion as entertainment – and some clothing really is entertaining – and enjoy it without owning it.

I was enthralled with developing my skills in sewing. I drafted new patterns, came up with design ideas, collected swatches and clippings from magazines. I was a fair seamstress before, but through 2016 I became a good seamstress, confident and happy in my own skills. Not every piece worked, and not every piece was worn, but the making became the most enjoyable process.

A result I didn’t anticipate was the refinement of my fashion aesthetic. With a buying ban, I couldn’t take part in new trends quickly; I had to carefully consider whether it was worth my time and effort making a hyper-fashionable garment (spoiler: it wasn’t). My core aesthetic became clearer because I had fewer choices, and I wanted my skills to contribute to a garment I would regularly wear and love.



In 2016 I made 11 items of clothing which I kept:

  • 1 long-sleeved wraparound lace jersey top
  • 1 grey wool cropped sleeveless swing top
  • 1 grey and white slubby racerback vest
  • 1 pair mottled leopard print satin wide-leg trousers
  • 1 black and white sleeveless wraparound jersey top
  • 1 pair denim culottes
  • 1 pair black cropped trousers
  • 1 pair black and white checked cropped trousers
  • 1 grey short sleeved t-shirt
  • 1 white V-neck twist-front t-shirt
  • 1 black wool funnel neck sweater

I made three items which I ditched because they were too small, too ugly or too complicated.

Total spend: I didn’t keep track because I owned lots of fabrics and patterns from before I started the challenge.


I did end up buying six items of second hand clothing:

  • 1 grey jersey sleeveless tshirt
  • 1 black padded cotton bomber jacket (for my trip to chilly Stockholm)
  • 1 black men’s tuxedo jacket
  • 1 black sequin and velvet collarless jacket
  • 1 pair men’s camo trousers
  • 1 racerback black jersey tshirt

Total spend: £42.00


Despite my efforts I also bought two brand new items of clothing:

  • 1 pair black thermal leggings (M&S) bought in November 2016 because it was cold
  • 1 pair black satin high heeled mules (M&S) bought in December 2016 as a Christmas present to myself

Total spend: £41.00


During 2016 I bought eight pieces of pre-made clothing, with a total spend of £83.00.



Setting this challenge for myself wasn’t a quick decision, but my interest in developing a sustainable life and my shopping habits didn’t match up. Fashion industry statistics tell a story of over-consumption and under-use, and my personal practices reflected that.

I chose to do something dramatic as a test, and although I didn’t survive the whole year without buying pre-made, I was much more aware and attuned to my consumption patterns.

Changing my habits like this brought multiple rewards. I spent less and enjoyed fashion more because I saw it as entertainment and art, not a way to practice ownership. My dressmaking and pattern making skills improved significantly. I clearly defined my core aesthetic and enjoyed experimenting with its limits.

When I did buy items, it was a considered experience. I bought only what I knew I would love, would use and had been searching for – like the proper camouflage trousers or the satin mules (the style was the same as a magazine clipping of a designer shoe I’d stored in my scrapbook for about a year). Buying became a special experience.

Most importantly, I continued to deepen the relationship I have with my clothes, which I believe is a key factor in changing fashion purchase, wear and disposal habits.

If you have been toying with the idea of making some changes to your relationship with fashion, try it. It’s tricky, but it can be done – and the rewards are completely worthwhile. Let me know how you get on on Twitter.

Try your own consumption challenge: Seven Tips for Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban


ASOS, 2015. Annual Report and Accounts 2015. Available on:

Berfield, S. and Baigorri, M. 2013. Zara’s Fast Fashion Edge. Bloomberg. Available on:

Carver, C. 2010. Project 333. Be More With Less. Available on:

Hall, S. 2016. Sally Hall: My year without clothes shopping. Yorkshire Post. Available on:

McGagh, M. 2016. My year of no spending is over – here’s how I got through it. The Guardian. Available on:

The Tartan Brunette, 2016. The 30 Wears Campaign. Tartan Brunette. Available on:

WRAP. 2012. Cited in Breyer, M. 2012. Unused Clothing in UK Closets Worth $46.7 Billion, Report Finds. Treehugger. Available on:


How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space

In this article I wrote about how I didn’t want to shop at a retailer where the product’s value wasn’t being communicated through proper visual merchandising or service.

This time, I want to use those thoughts to help small, independent retailers fulfil the potential of their shop space.

The shop floor is just as much a marketing channel as your website or lookbook, and there are always ways to make your retail space more effective, interesting and meaningful for customers.

(If you don’t have a retail space, you can still use this article to help you fulfil the potential of your ecommerce site or market stall).

Here’s how to make the most of your retail space in a way that’ll achieve your business aims and please your customers.

How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space - Eleanor Snare


First, stop asking yourself “What do I want to sell?”. Selling stuff is a strategy to help you achieve a bigger business goal (like steady income).

To really fulfil the potential of your physical retail space, you need to ask yourself these four questions instead:

  1. “What do I want to achieve with this space?”
  2. “What is the customer journey in this space?”
  3. “What does my customer need from this space?”
  4. “What does my customer want from this space?”



Your retail space is the physical expression of you, your business and your brand. It’s not just a place to sell stuff. So thinking about what you’re trying to achieve with it is essential to fulfilling its potential.

Your main aim for the space will tie directly to your business objectives and will probably be commercial. For example:

  • My aim is to encourage repeat purchases
  • My aim is to sell high-ticket items
  • My aim is to have every person who walks through the door buy something

But you might also have some aims not related to sales but definitely linked to the perception of value you want your brand to have. For example:

  • My aim is to make the space feel relaxing and welcoming
  • My aim is to exude coolness and ironic trendiness
  • My aim is to express the creativity of my brand

Select the most important of these aims. These are what will shape your store.


How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space


You can split up your store space (or ecommerce site, or market stall) into smaller sections which could have different aims.

This is what big retailers do, and it’s why:

  • Shop window displays always have the most exciting items (and tiny printed prices)
  • Low-ticket items are placed near the till
  • Grocery essentials are put round the edge of the supermarket, not the centre

These smaller spaces are all trying to achieve different aims which reflect different stages of the customer journey.



The customer journey has lots of different variations but the basic premise is the same: customers go from not knowing anything about you, to knowing about you, learning more and eventually buying from you.

The number of customers gradually decreases the closer you get to purchasing – that’s why the customer funnel makes sense (more go in the top and only a couple come out the bottom).

I use this version:

Customer Journey Portrait

Here’s a flavour of how the customer journey works with a physical store:

  • “Oh! You’ve got a shop.” (Awareness)
  • “And you sell those tiny boxes I like.” (Education)
  • “They’re pretty too.” (Consideration)
  • “At that price, they would be an absolute steal.” (Desire)
  • “Do you take card?” (Intention)
  • “I’m so glad I popped in!” (Conversion)

This is a very simplified version, but you can see how it works.

The journey ends with your business aim (the ‘conversion’ point) and the whole journey is geared towards achieving that aim. Here, it’s what you want to achieve for your physical space.



In a retail store, different areas are designed to respond to different parts of the customer journey as the customer travels around the shop. The idea is to get them to move on to the next stage in the journey.

Here are some examples:

  • Awareness – window display and outdoor advertising
  • Education – main in-store display area with range of products
  • Consideration – specific product area with range of sizes
  • Desire – display card mentioning product USP
  • Intention – clearly displayed Visa and Mastercard logos at the till
  • Conversion – till point itself

This is how the most successful businesses think of their shop: not as a space to flog stuff, but as a way to achieve their business objectives by enticing customers onto the next stage of the journey.


Thinking about your store in this way will do two things:

  1. It will help you achieve your aim for the space
  2. It’ll give customers what they want

Designing your store around your aim and the customer journey gives customers what they want because you have to know the customer to get the customer journey right.

(Read more about knowing your customer here).


How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space



The customer journey links directly to the third question: what does my customer need from this space?

First, use the customer journey to work out what a potential customer would need to experience in your shop’s physical space to make it to the next stage of the journey. These aren’t nice-to-haves; these are essentials.

For example, if you don’t have clear signage outside your shop or on your stall, customers won’t be aware you exist. If you don’t have displays which contain a range of your products, they won’t be educated about what you sell.

Take it step-by-step through the journey and you’ll be able to work out the things they need. You’ll also understand the barriers which you might’ve put up which will stop them from moving to the next stage of the journey.



The reason I mention barriers is because lots of independent and small retailers are good at (1) – they know their customer or potential customer and what they need. But they’re not always that good at seeing and removing barriers to that customer journey.

For example, I’ve been in independent retailers with multiple stockists where it’s hard to tell different makers apart due to poor signage or poor layout – which is a barrier to consideration.

On craft stalls, the products might be beautifully displayed and labelled, but if the owner is ignoring passers-by it creates a barrier to desire.

And one of the most common barriers to intention is not having a card machine.

Your shop space should make it as easy as possible for customers to progress through the customer journey quickly and simply. Think about what they need and try to remove barriers wherever possible.



After you have your aim for the space, you understand the customer journey, have given them what they need and removed barriers, you can start to consider what customers want from the space.

You’ll have an aim for your retail space that’s sales focused. But you’ll also have an aim which is more focused on how the value of your brands and products are communicated. This is where to start with what your customers want from the space.

Although it’s your aim for your brand and how it’s valued, always start with your customer and how they want to feel. So if you want your store (and your brand) to be seen as relaxed and welcoming, ask yourself what your customer would want to feel relaxed and welcome – not what you want.


How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space


I think this is one of the hardest things for independent and small retailers. If you’re an entrepreneur with a strong vision and personality, it’s hard to suppress that and think of your customer first – especially if you have loads of creative and innovative ideas.

But your shop is not about you. It is about making it easy for your customer to help you achieve a business aim. Without them, your brand will not survive.



Each business’ customer will be different, and a clear customer profile will help you work out what their desires and fears are. How they shop and spend money are important elements to consider.

A recent example we discussed with my students were concept stores, which look incredible and can communicate the value of the brand very effectively.

But they only work if your customer wants that. If you have a product display with only one of everything, some customers will be too fearful to buy anything. Others will love the idea of being completely unique. You need to know your customer first.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Does my customer want luxury, or everyday?
  • Do they want aspirational qualities, or accessible qualities?
  • Does she want innovation, or tradition?
  • Does he want uniqueness, or belonging?



Your answers to all these questions will help you design tactics to create a space which will achieve your aims. By now you should have:

An aim for your space which is commercial.

An aim for your space which is focused on communicating your brand.

An understanding of the customer journey in your retail space.

An understanding of what your customer needs from the retail space.

How to remove any potential barriers to the customer journey.

An understanding of what your customer wants from the space.


By putting all these answers together, you have a set of criteria. Using these criteria, you can start to develop visual, personal and physical tactics which fulfil all these elements and make the most of your retail space.

You can find some inspiring ideas to get you started in this article on Clever Retail Ideas for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know on Twitter or share your comment below.

Thanks for reading.


Why I Don’t Want to Shop With Brands Who Don’t Value Their Product


Why I don't want to shop with brands who don't value their product - Eleanor Snare


Our high streets are not just about shops and selling. The successful ones are a great experience, an engaging place to visit to try new things.

Mary Portas, This is Money


Recently, my partner bought a set of notebooks from Paperchase. After unwrapping them at home, he realised the cover was made of translucent plastic, not paper (which is what we expected). We thought this was pretty cool, but it made me think a bit more about this retailer.

Why hadn’t Paperchase advertised this product’s USP, the translucent covers, in the shop?

Why were the books wrapped up and filed away on the shelf with all the other ‘normal’ notebooks?

In fact, why do shops do that? Why don’t they make the product’s USP more obvious?

Why do they make it seem like they don’t care about the product?

-If a brand really cares about its product, it should show.-

This experience, combined with many others over the last year as I’ve looked at ways to shop more sustainably, led me to this conclusion:

I don’t want to shop with a company who doesn’t seem to care about what they sell.

I don’t want to buy from brands where the product isn’t valued.



It’s not about the financial value of the product. It’s about whether the value of the product is clearly communicated in store. And it feels like a product isn’t valued when two big things happen in store:

  1. Poor visual merchandising
  2. Poor service

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

Undoubtedly good visual merchandising and good service is subjective, which is where the different business models of different brands contribute to how the product value is communicated.

For example, we might expect a fast fashion model to include:

  • High volume display
  • Merchandising focused on sales targets
  • Low interaction service or fast self-service

An example at the other end of the scale is a luxury brand model, where there’s low volume display, merchandising focusing on product quality and highly personalised service.

Both models reflect what the customer is paying for beyond the physical product. Both communicate the different value of the product and values of the brand.

But even in the highest volume, lowest interaction service models merchandising and service shouldn’t be of poor quality. There’s still a competitive standard to be met, and increasingly competitive as high street fashion brands vie for market share.



If good visual merchandising and good service is subjective, here’s my minimum requirement for fashion retailers:

  • Clear signage or indication of departments, types of garments, sizing and price
  • Clean, undamaged, pressed clothing
  • Tidy display units with enough space to move and see clothes clearly
  • Staff who are ‘visible’ (they’re on the shop floor and have some sort of identifier)
  • Staff who know the shop layout, sizing conversions (e.g. bust measurement of size 12) and new stock
  • Staff who are willing to help and polite

I don’t expect amazing visual displays involving fountains and fruit, or staff who can recite the latest trends to me. Or even staff who smile and are really pleased to see customers, because I know retail is a tough job. Just that list.

(I don’t know whether the list sounds far too simple or radically unachievable. Tell me what you think!)



In some of the disappointing experiences with fashion retailers, I’ve found display units rammed with hangers, making it difficult to see sizing. Clothing is crushed or streaked with makeup from a previous potential customer. Staff don’t know sizing conversions or can’t explain where items on ‘hero’ mannequins are in the shop itself.

In the worst cases, products are so poorly arranged or cared for it feels like you can’t buy them (either from confusion or repulsion). Staff are disengaged (unsurprisingly, given what we pay sales assistants in the UK) to the point of apathy and haven’t been trained in spotting when a customer is ready and willing to buy – so they miss sales.

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

These small things show that retailer hasn’t met that minimum requirement. In turn, it shows that the brand does not value their product enough to clearly demonstrate its perceived value through display or service.

Retailers have to deal with customers and their irritating habits of making a store messy, so it’s expected that over the course of a trading day the shop floor won’t always look it’s best.

But brands still have a choice at the start of the day to display products in a way which adequately communicates their value. They have a choice in staff, and a choice when it comes to training staff. They have a choice to meet a minimum requirement.

So why don’t they?



1: The business model

Partly it depends on what business model they operate. Low cost, high volume retailers work on big numbers of clothing, so it’s imperative they pack as much into their retail footprint as possible. And to cut costs their wages and training funds might be lower than average, resulting in lower than average service quality.

2: Quantity over quality

But also there’s a desire for many retailers to demonstrate breadth of choice over quality of choice.

In Predictably Irrational, my recommended reading from last month, the author explains a number of experiments which show our dislike of losing out on available options even when the options open to us aren’t high quality.

We (apparently) want choice, so retailers work quantitatively rather than qualitatively.

3: Brand aesthetic

Similarly, the aesthetic of a certain brand might contribute towards a retail space which is visually busier than you might expect – like Lush, or Accessorize, where abundance/indulgence are both quite important aesthetic elements.

However, even in these stores clear value is assigned to the product ranges, through experiential merchandising and very good staff knowledge.

4: Lack of appreciation of service skills

Fashion retailers don’t necessarily pick staff with poor product knowledge, but the way British culture undervalues good service means some retailers don’t think the willingness and ability to absorb and communicate product information is that important. Instead, speed and flexibility of working hours might be the reason staff are chosen.

5: Poor internal communications

Many retailers don’t effectively market to their internal customers (their staff) compared to their external customers. That means training programmes are minimal, or hurried, or are consistently these top-down messages so staff don’t feel like they can really take part.

The result is a body of people who are disengaged and therefore don’t accurately communicate the value of the product they’re selling.



Ultimately, the reason retailers don’t appear to value their product and instead display poor merchandising and poor service is because the alternative is high risk.

It’s risky to show a few products in a retail space where five times as many could be packed in.

It’s risky to invest in training for staff who might leave next year.

It’s risky to really think about the perceived value your product is (or is not) communicating, because that would mean questioning the quality of your product and business.

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

Brave retailers who truly value their product are self-assured. They select and merchandise products with care. They train staff so they are living emblems of the business’ values. They see these investments of time, money and space not as high risk, but high return.



As bricks-and-mortar retailers compete with a greater range of ecommerce stores, physical retail spaces and personal selling are becoming bigger USPs than ever. Yet visiting a British high street, neither of these potential differentiators feel like they’re really being addressed.

The real risk isn’t money or space wasted. It’s that there’s a demographic of consumers, interested in finding brands they can depend on and a high quality, fully-rounded experience, who will turn away from these retailers.

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

Why should a customer value a brand’s product when it doesn’t seem to be valued by the very people who make and sell it?

Why love a brand which doesn’t love its products, its people or its store?

Why buy something value-less?


I believe that good service is our basic right. Far too many businesses on our high streets don’t prioritise good service as part of their offer, meaning that as a nation we’ve come to expect no better …[yet]…It’s amazing how the smallest service gestures really make a difference: from connecting with and really knowing and caring for your customers, to having an in-depth knowledge that guides and advises them; serving is quite simply the new selling.

Mary Portas, The Portas Review 2011

Thanks for reading. I share articles like this and more inspiring content from around the web in my monthly newsletter. Sign up, and you’ll get a free multi-page guide for great ideas about marketing your business in a way that shows your customers you care.

Sign up the newsletter and get your free Great Ideas Guide here.


The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues of 2016 Eleanor Snare

The Need-to-Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016

The Need-to-Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016

The catwalks for 2016 highlighted the relationship between fashion and big, global issues – I picked up on a new type of feminism, new religiously-motivated consumers, and clothing as representing the fragile global security we’re experiencing.

These issues will continue to influence designers over the next twelve months, but what about fashion businesses and their customers? Let’s get a little Mystic Meg and predict the future: read on for the need-to-know big fashion issues for 2016 and a snapshot of how they might affect your work and fashion habits.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


Do consumers really care about the sustainable credentials of their clothes? Mark Sumner, previously Sustainable Raw Material Specialist with Plan A at M&S and now my colleague at the University of Leeds, often cites research from the high street giant showing consumers put ethics and sustainability at the top of their ‘requirements’ list when questioned.

But when it gets to point of purchase, ethics drops right down below price, quality and brand. Not surprising, but why is sustainability such a buzzword?

In part because newer generations of consumers look like they might care more deeply about where fashion is coming from and, importantly, how fashion businesses are operating sustainably. Lucie Greene, in Harriet Quick’s article for Wallpaper*:

Millennials are expecting more than ever from brands, and they’re increasingly starting to lead in the luxury space, causing a need for luxury to pivot to appeal to them … They expect hyper-transparency, ethical behaviour, sustainability and values from the brands they consume.

In 2016, business operations will need to be sustainably-managed too, from dealing with energy shortages to your PR and marketing teams handling ‘greenwashing’ claims. Across finance, marketing, consumer behaviour and day-to-day working life, 2016 will be the year we truly start to feel the pull of sustainability.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


As of August last year, four-year-old Instagram had racked up over 25 million images with the hashtag #fashion, fashion brands were some of the top advertisers on the platform, the numbers of hours we spend watching YouTube videos increased by 60%, and we all started going a bit barmy over the potentials of rapid Snapchat+fashion. James Kirkham, global head of social and mobile at Leo Burnett:

The future of advertising looks like this, and it is bloody glorious. Hardly anyone in ad land has ever used Snapchat, let alone gets its potential … the excellence of this campaign is its insistence to create and leverage ‘urgency’ in the audience. In a time when appointment to view is increasingly hard, where consumption is more difficult to achieve through proliferation of choice, this feeling of urgency is a new secret weapon.

At the same time, stress-reducing colouring in books were some of the most popular non-fiction purchases of the year, searches for ‘wellbeing’ and ‘mindfulness’ increased rapidly and at least one high profile blogger ditched social media for something more wholesome (apparently). Consumers are looking to slow down or streamline, but fashion can’t stop speeding up.

So 2016 will be the year of focus for fashion brands (and maybe individuals too). Marketing spend is wavering and teams are stretching resources across multiple channels with negligible ways of measuring benefit. This year brands will pull back and focus attention on core communication channels – maybe not even social media – and long-term, narrative-driven, personalised marketing.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


The fashion industry is collecting more data than ever about its customers, as ASOS’ 2014 financial report shows, or as BoF highlighted in their special report on Inditex’s incredible tech silo. Brands are getting better at segmenting data and – in many cases – serving up the right stuff to the right people.

But our consumer groups are rapidly evolving too. The Pew Research Centre predicts Islam will be the fastest-growing religion in the world over the next 25 years, giving the fashion industry a new, and unique, set of customers. Caitlyn Jenner became the first transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair and Pantone announced a 2016 colour that blended two culturally-gendered shades into one.

World migration and forced displacement are reconstructing societies; in 2014, the number of people moving due to forced displacement rose by 8.3 million. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner:

We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.

Businesses (fashion or not) have whole new consumer groups to deal with and, in a few years time, a new generation of young customers who will be products of two or more cultures, with a mentality similar to the Baby Boomers of post WWII.

All this means that, in 2016, fashion business will start to develop highly specific consumer profiles based on dependable, longitudinal data. Brands will emerge catering to those consumers appearing on the ‘edges’ of existing demographics. You’ll be asked to put your customer’s world under a microscope, which could mean enlisting the help of people trained in anthropology, ethnography and cultural studies who’re able to dissect the unique circumstances surrounding these global consumer groups. And you’ll need to articulate your customer profile in much more detail – physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological – than ever before.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


As consumer groups become more niche so to does our interest in personalised information. The flavour of neo-liberalism can be tasted across every sphere of life, heavily influencing our ideas of the individual as entrepreneur, as unique, as isolated, or as ‘special’ (just for existing).

Fashion brands have dabbled in personalisation for decades. A recent example spawning plenty of copies was Burberry’s monogrammed ponchos and scarves from 2014 and 2015. Widespread personalisation in 2016 will mean more brands creating simpler ‘mix and match’ product personalisation options – like Nike’s build your own trainers or Ferragamo’s build your own classic shoe – but also developing services, marketing and content tailored to individuals.

Rather than personalisation purely being associated with high-end brands, 2016 will see middle-range fashion businesses echoing the service levels of independents with the consistency of luxury names at every customer touch point. As social platforms develop their marketing algorithms, consumers are more likely to be served relevant content, so the in-store or on-paper experience will need to reflect this.

The trick for fashion brands will be creating cohesive campaigns which can be highly-individualised and yet part of a greater whole. You might need to re-train shop staff in personal service skills, ramp up your customer response teams as a whole, or dedicate team members to developing ‘personal marketing’ tactics – from hand-written thank you notes to email newsletters where content segments are swapped depending on the recipient.

Over the next year I’ll be writing on each of these issues in turn, delving deeper into why they’re important in 2016 and how you can work with them, rather than against them.

Thanks for reading.

Signature ES2.1

Are there any big issues you think I’ve missed?
Let me know in the comments.

Photographs: [space] by NASA via Unsplash | [leaf] by Joe Wroten via Unsplash | [river] by Leo Rivas-Micoud via Unsplash | Freckles by Frédéric Poirot via Creative Commons | Tourist – Fashion – Santa Fe Indian Market by Larry Lamsa via Creative Commons | Icons found via Creative Commons and edited | All images available for non-commercial re-use license with credit
Figure 1

The Most Inspiring Elements of Fashion are Still on the Catwalk

For someone obsessed with fashion, I don’t often write about clothes. Fashion is a cultural product and, like any other cultural product, is influenced by a huge range of global and local phenomena. I find these influences – how, for example, economics affects local fashion production – sometimes more interesting than clothing itself.

But I’ve realised that’s not because the clothes of fashion are boring. It’s because the clothes of fashion we’re presented with day-to-day, in mass-read editorial or mass-market retail, are boring.

The ‘trickle down’ effect

Harriet Posner (the author of an important introductory text to fashion marketing) describes the ‘trickle down’ effect in the pyramid of the fashion industry: a creative concept travels from haute couture and high-end ready-to-wear all the way down to mass and value markets (Posner: 2011). At the top there are few products and few customers; at the bottom there are millions. As with any service which must be used by many, many people, what’s produced needs to be loved by as many people as possible, which in turn leads to a kind of ‘lowest common denominator’ of product.

To carry on with Posner’s analogy, the creative concepts embodied in couture and designer fashion become ‘watered down’ as they drip down to the mass market, because they need to appeal to a broader range of consumers.

Harriet Posner Basic Hierarchy of Fashion
Figure 2

The ‘watered down’ effect

While a high street retailer might produce one or two items a season which turn out to be completely ‘out there’ and commercially unsound, realistically even their most unusual items will be bought by hundreds of thousands of people. Compare that to luxury designer brands, who might make thousands of one item, or couture, who may not even make ten. These higher-end designers, with a smaller and more intimate customer base, can create fashion which is more exciting – because they have fewer customers they need to appeal to, and whom they know much better than those retailers catering to millions.

This mass market is also more in tune with commercial appeal and the importance of sales (and rightly so) than couture or high end, which means if a trend or item works, they keep repeating it. That’s why in summer you can guarantee high street stores will stock floral and ‘tribal’ prints (a troublesome term), and in autumn it’ll be some sort of riff on safari/army and jewel tones. Every single year.

For those of us paying attention to the cycles of fashion, and interested in fashion as a creative cultural product (not just something to wear), this starts to get boring. Certain anomalies might intrigue us (like AW15 suede – impractical but very attractive) but if you looked at the timeline of fashion with half-closed eyes, you’d start to see the same splotches of cultural products occur again and again.

Manish Arora SS16 Ready to Wear
Figure 3

The well of creativity

One of the solutions is to return to the source of fashion: the big ideas driving fashion trends, the couture and luxury designers embodying those trends, and the unannounced influences which send certain trends off in another direction (like sub-cultural groups, political events, individual styling, etc.).

It takes time and energy to go back to the source, and I’ll reiterate here that (like the Internet) the fashion industry is not democratic: there are a number of barriers to seeing designer collections first hand, whether that’s a ticket, circulation figures or a decent WiFi connection. But when you do – as I’ve done for the first time in a while with the recent SS16 shows – there are many more exciting ideas and cultural products than mass editorial and retail would like us to believe.

Follow my SS16 Key Trends board on Pinterest to explore some of the concepts which have caught my eye, and share your favourite trends with me on Twitter.

Posner, H. 2011. Marketing Fashion. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Featured image: Joy, T. 2014. Untitled (detail from Harvey Nichols AW14 fashion show). [Online]. Available from:
Figure 2: Posner, H. 2011. Basic hierarchy of fashion. In: Marketing Fashion (p.13). London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Figure 3: Vlamos, Y. 2015. Untitled (Manish Arora SS16 Ready to wear Look 42). [Online]. [Accessed 13 October 2015].  Available from: