Dispatch from London: The United Kingdom of Fashion

by Bryan Parra (GSB ’14)

In cities around the world, unique styles and fashion trends convey a sense of originality, class and reputation. This season, central London brings forward an entirely new look through combinations of elbow-patched sweaters, custom-fit trousers, water-friendly shoes and sophisticated yet elegant hairstyles.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to escape the latest season around here, with free fashion magazines and billboard-size advertisements displaying images from U.K. companies such as SuperDry, TopShop and River Island — brands that are rapidly gaining ground in the United States. As a New York fashionista temporarily transplanted into the London High Streets of Kensington and Covent Garden, I am captivated by the mixed-pattern, edgy “throw-on” look I see, and I can’t help but notice how it differs from the casual, relaxed, colorful ensembles I see at home on Fifth Avenue. I am reminded of how the fashion business strives to satisfy tastes, invoke trends and meet the stylistic preferences of people from different areas of the globe.

Given that London held its 28th “High Street” Fashion Week last month, Londoners and tourists were primed to explore the city’s popular shopping areas. Oxford Circus, the most famous and iconic commercial district, welcomed more than 8 million visitors with full days of activities, including street stunts and “fashion catwalk” competitions. This area emerged in the late 1780s as a retail zone where independent business owners sold a variety of goods, from clothing to food, in streetside stalls. Today, it is crammed with flagship and department stores from top brands, acting as a hub from which companies are expanding throughout central London.

From a business and marketing perspective, some may question how companies in a segmented industry such as fashion can sustain a competitive advantage or market leadership. Key strategies for SuperDry, a Japanese-inspired clothing company, and TopShop, the urban yet high-fashion clothing retailer, include offering quality products, creating appealing store layouts and running promotions on a weekly basis. Exploring these stores in my spare time, I was drawn in by their uplifting energy and affordable style, placing my wallet in a pretty dangerous situation.

Though the fashion world is widely diversified in styles, designs and preferences, its core business strategies remain universal. As foreign students, our experience outside the classroom, out and about in London, has provided us with a better understanding of international business and, for me, a new sense of British fashion.

 

Photograph courtesy of the author.

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