New Reality Sets in for U.S. Apparel Retailers

Kohl's sees promising signs after accelerating its supply chain.


Back in 2009, Kohl's gathered six apparel vendors requesting them to make 12,000 apparel items in less than six weeks from two samples. Similar sized orders at the time took four times longer. 

Fashion designer Jackie Wilson was the only one out of the six that was able to deliver the goods on time, taking five weeks and four days.

The request for big retail chains to offer fast fashion remains a struggle just ten years later. Even though Kohl's showed that stores can adapt, it continues to struggle maintaining consistent growth. Other chains are further behind.

The stakes are high to make fast fashion, especially when competing with the likes of Amazon.

Consumers tend to jump from one trend to the next, now faster than ever. The methods they've adopted vary widely. Gap Inc. uses fabric platforming while American Eagle has sped up delivery times by moving some production to the Western hemisphere. Kohl’s uses both methods and also runs smaller test orders, which can be ramped up quickly if demand is brisk.

Kohl's has a broader target audience and can only go so far in implementing some of the newest production techniques. 

Retailers have spent years cutting costs by moving production to Asia and placing huge orders for merchandise. Currently, they aren't in the best position to make broad changes to their supply chain as food traffic in stores decline. Consumers are spending less of their income on apparel, so Kohl's is being watched closely .

Kohl's as unlocked a secret, however. Last quarter, brand that are part of the company's speed initiative outperformed comparable products by 2.5 percent. 

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