Out of fashion

As the Nokia Young Fashion Designer Awards hit the stage, Kelly McKillion examines the fate of Ireland’s fashion industry.WITH AN IMPRESSIVE array of designs showcased at this year’s Nokia Young Fashion Designer Awards in Dublin, the future of Irish fashion appears bright. For the winner, Aoife Gallagher, a student attending Limerick Senior College who received €5000 and a work placement with House of Frasier, it marks the beginning of a budding career in the fashion industry.fashionHowever, like many other industries, the fashion world has not escaped the current economic crisis. Consequently, emerging young designers such as Gallagher will now find it harder than ever to forge themselves a career in the sector. Fashion has always been notoriously competitive, and the current recession only serves to exacerbate this competitiveness.In recent months, a string of large scale retailers have collapsed due to financial losses. Sasha, a store exclusive to Ireland, recently announced that its 42 stores are to close, resulting in a loss of approximately 300 jobs.The successful British chain, Principles, has also went into liquidation with the announcement that its 66 stores will close. Its parent company Mosaic Fashions has gone into administration and have sold off their numerous other brands to the company Aurora, which include Oasis, Karen Millan, Warehouse and Coast.The situation is not much better for the stores that are still in business, as they are seeing large decreases in their profits. Next’s profit’s have fallen by 14 per cent this year while FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom) have incurred a troubling £17.4 million loss, a stark contrast to the profit sum of £3.1 million which they made last year. A clear indication of the severity of the economic crisis is witnessed in the closing of seven retailers in Dublin’s Grafton Street during the last few months, an area renowned for its array of designer high street stores.
“It is clear that consumers are no longer willing to spend the same amount of money on fashion as they were in the thriving era of the Celtic Tiger”
Among those affected are Warehouse, Jack and Jones, and Korky’s shoe stores. If such reputable successful businesses as these are buckling under financial pressure, just how will small fashion designers boutiques ensure their survival? From the closing of these numerous stores, it is clear that consumers are no longer willing to spend the same amount of money on fashion as they were in the thriving era of the Celtic Tiger.A staff member from Havana Boutique in Donnybrook states they are still selling reasonably well despite the economic downturn, but admits there has been a change in the demographic of their customers. They are now attracting the majority of their customers “from the more recession-proof professions”, who are now opting for classic fabrics and well cut pieces that have longevity, to ensure value for money.An increase in the sale of accessories reflects how customers are adding to pieces they already own. These trends highlight how members of the public have become more conscientious of their spending with regards to fashion.However, for those setting out in the fashion and retail industry, they may not be so fortunate. While the high street is being emptied of customers, online fashion sites are capitalising on this as their profits have soared. More affordable clothes are often to be found on such websites as e-bay and Asos. Irish customers are also taking advantage of the value of the euro against the sterling, by buying from UK sites, thus saving significantly.Indeed, the online fashion retailer Asos has reported a staggering 108 per cent sales rise in the past nine months, with 1.2 million customers logging on in the past six months to purchase from them. Sites such as these are putting tremendous pressure on those retailers who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. The realm of online fashion is now the fastest growing on the web and is predicted to be worth 6.6 billion by next year.Other retailers, such as Tescos are catching on to this lucrative market, and they are to introduce an online fashion store to promote their own clothing brand. There is no doubt that Irish designers are on a par with their international counterparts regarding talent and originality.Designers such as Louise Kennedy, Paul Costello, and Philip Treacy have represented Irish fashion extremely successfully, many of them having their wares modelled by celebrity clientele.Emerging designers are now having to contend with the many celebrities who are turning their hand to fashion lines, such as Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss. With such fierce competition as this, coupled with the economic problems, making a mark in the fashion world is very much a daunting task.As talented as Ireland’s aspiring fashion designers are, the next five years will give them little opportunity to prosper, as even the fashion bigwigs will be struggling to survive.