405 Fashion: Fashionable Economics
The closure of the vast majority of freestanding ‘Betsey Johnson’ stores is well underway. Though it may come as a shock to many of us, Betsey’s fate serves to highlight not only the effect the economic downturn has had on many fashion houses but also the future of similar niche market brands.
A long time coming, the company first aired its financial problems in 2010, when Steve Madden bought their outstanding debts in the hope of breathing life into the ailing brand. Filing for bankruptcy in late April 2012, it was initially hoped that new investors may have jumped at the chance to revive the iconic label. When no such buyers came forward, Betsey Johnson LLC (the licensing company overseeing the freestanding stores of the same name) announced the closure of its 63 stores and, subsequently, the loss of over 350 jobs. A household name and revered the world over, Betsey Johnson pieces offer a flamboyant mix of feminine and funky, often brandishing outlandish embellishment, eccentric colour mixes and yards of lace and tulle. Betsey Johnson dresses in particular were regarded as statement pieces in their own right, with celebrities and the fashion forward pairing a dress with simple heels for an elegant yet ‘on trend’ look. And so, the question on everyone’s lips: What went wrong?
Simply put, as a brand with such a niche appeal, Betsey Johnson simply couldn’t maintain its 63 stores for a relatively small slice of the fashion market pie. Hundreds of employees, overheads, ALL. THOSE. BEADS: these things add up. While Betsey Johnson did gain notoriety and a fair amount of success in the years following its opening, the fashion market has adapted to the economic downturn and is a more hostile environment than it was 10 years ago. This has hit higher end fashion lines the hardest, with families having to budget and prioritise their spending. Brands such as Betsey Johnson, who lacked the more commercial and mainstream edge of others, are those who have struggled most.
The fashion savvy are finding new and innovative ways to personalise their look, honing their individual styles using money-conscious methods and trading their expensive Betsey Johnson dresses for a glue gun and sewing machine. Whilst couture labels have remained relatively immune to the economic crisis (their clientele are doing as well as ever, daaarrrling), it is those ‘middle of the road,’ specialist brands that have been hit hardest. In essence: Those who can’t, DIY. Those who can, Chanel.
The future of ‘alternative’ fashion currently has no place within the mass market - and certainly won’t until the global economy begins to steady – and with a quick glance at social media sites such as YouTube and Tumblr, it is not hard to see why. Fashion ‘gurus’ are showing us how to spice up old shorts, rejuvenate thrifted apparel and shop smart. Melissa and Stephanie of The Fashion Citizen, are dab hands at throwing together cutting edge looks for under $10 and routinely echo the eclectic and eccentric style of the Betsey Johnson brand for a fraction of the price. Bunny Meyer (or Grav3yardgirl), on the other hand, shows us how to piece together reasonably priced mainstream garments in new and innovative ways, giving off that ‘high fashion’ look without breaking the piggy bank.
Current fashion trends are also mirroring the economic situation, with the ‘grunge glamour’ trend du jour having cheap and cheerful at its heart and being easy to recreate with a quick root through your Dad’s 80s cast offs. For brands in the same vein as Betsey Johnson, such as punky duo Meadham Kirchhoff, marketing pricey pieces to a niche audience will remain tricky. The key to their success will be reaching the mass market through collaborative lines and inexpensive accessories, such as their current T Shirt and Nail Wrap range being sold in Topshop for a fraction of the price of their more couture pieces. This business savvy move will enable them to hit their target audience and make a tidy profit, whilst also remaining true to their brand with higher end offerings.
The future of Betsey Johnson is not completely obsolete. Betsey will remain creative director of her more affordable sportswear and accessories lines, currently stocked at Macy’s and other department stores, and she is even branching out from fashion with the launch of her own reality series! If nothing else, the fashion world has learned an important lesson. Innovative and savvy marketing will be the key to staying afloat in the current economic climate, with brands needing more than just eye-catching garments to keep their head above water. Apart from Jeffrey Campbell and his Lita boots. They are fine. They will always be fine.