15 June 2023
4 min read
Fashion Industry Adapts to Rising Costs: Profitability and Demand
In a year when consumers were regaining confidence and demand was on the rise, the fashion industry faced unprecedented challenges. Skyrocketing transportation costs, surging prices of raw materials, and soaring energy expenses have created a perfect storm for fashion operators globally. As a result, 44% of major fashion groups experienced margin reductions in 2022, prompting 50% of them to employ a bold strategy: passing some of these cost pressures onto the consumers themselves, while cautiously hoping that this wouldn’t impede the recovery of demand.
The Fashion Industry’s Great Expectations Dashed
Two years after the onset of the pandemic, 2022 was anticipated as a year of complete recovery and restored consumer confidence in the fashion sector. However, these expectations were abruptly shattered in the first quarter. In February, the eruption of the war in Ukraine caused renewed instability in Europe and obliterated a crucial market for several leading global fashion groups, most notably Russia. As energy prices soared to unprecedented levels, exacerbating the existing supply chain crisis and the rampant inflation of essential raw materials like cotton, fashion companies were left grappling with multiple challenges. To make matters worse, the specter of a potential economic crisis loomed over consumers, prompting a significant number of major players in the industry to issue profit warnings, signaling the detrimental impact of the macroeconomic climate on their margins.
Strategic Price Adjustments: A Necessary Response
Consequently, 50% of the largest fashion groups swiftly responded by implementing price hikes in 2022, adopting both direct price adjustments and modifications to their product mix. Such a move was uncharacteristic of an industry historically entrenched in deflationary trends and embroiled in relentless price wars over the past two decades. Notably, one of the first prominent fashion retailers to announce price increases for 2022 was Next, a leading player in the UK market. In early January, they cautioned that they were facing an exceptionally challenging commercial environment due to financial pressures and escalating manufacturing and shipping costs. The company projected an increase of 3.7% to 7% in product prices over the subsequent twelve months.
Further waves of price adjustments followed suit, including a second increase of up to 8% announced by Next in March, set to take effect in the latter half of the year. This decision was primarily driven by the ramifications of the Ukraine conflict, as Next halted operations in the country and Russia when the war erupted in late February.
Determining Factors: Rising Costs and Evolving Landscape
The price hikes can be attributed to a perfect storm of factors, including soaring raw material prices, escalating energy costs, transportation challenges, and factory disruptions in Asia. Fast Retailing, for instance, announced further price increases in June for selected products in their autumn campaign, citing rising logistics costs and the weakness of the yen. This domino effect of companies raising prices quickly spread throughout the industry, with major players such as Inditex and H&M, the two largest fashion retailers globally, joining the wave. Moreover, these pricing adjustments were reinforced by a concerted effort to enhance their brand positioning.
Initiatives like H&M’s Innovation Circular Design Story and Zara’s Atelier, offering higher-priced collections with a focus on sustainability and superior material quality, were introduced to appeal to a discerning consumer segment.
Simultaneously, Inditex initiated several price increases in 2022, emphasizing that they were “necessary adjustments to protect margins,” as the company stated in March of that year. In Spain, the average price hike was approximately 12%, predominantly targeting the spring-summer campaign.
Even the ‘Low Cost’ Segment Feels the Pinch
Remarkably, not even the traditionally affordable fashion segment was immune to the price surge in 2022. In April, following the aftermath of the war, Primark joined the chorus of companies implementing price increases.
Navigating a Changing Landscape: Challenges and Legislation
Beyond cost pressures, fashion companies have also faced mounting challenges associated with sustainability and circularity regulations. For instance, in Spain, the Waste and Contaminated Soils Law, passed in December 2021, stipulates that within three years, producer responsibility regimes must be established for textiles, furniture and furnishings, and non-packaging agricultural plastics. Producers and distributors must organize themselves, as is already the case in the packaging sector, to ensure proper collection and management of textile waste, assuming the associated costs.
Striking a Delicate Balance
The fashion industry’s response to rising costs has exemplified the delicate balancing act between maintaining profitability and meeting consumer demand. While price adjustments have allowed companies to safeguard their margins in the face of significant challenges, they also risk affecting consumer behavior and demand levels. As fashion operators navigate this evolving landscape, striking the right equilibrium between cost recovery and customer satisfaction will be paramount to sustain the industry’s recovery and growth trajectory.