Retailers are ‘hibernating’ their unsold stock for next summer

Emilee Geist

Next's autumn 2020 fashion campaign
Next’s autumn 2020 fashion campaign

Mountains of clothes which could not be sold due to the initial coronavirus lockdown in spring are to be ‘hibernated’ this winter, retailers have confirmed.

Next, Marks & Spencer and more British brands plan to house the collections which never made it onto the shop floor when stores were shuttered from 23rd March until 15th June – a period that would traditionally have seen key merchandise arrivals for the season ahead including swimwear, holiday clothing and occasionwear. 

Next’s latest statement revealed it will ‘hibernate’ 2020 stock at a cost price of £50 million, carrying it over to be sold instead in spring 2021. A spokesperson described a balancing act of ‘cancelling orders that had not yet gone into production (but paying for unused fabric), hibernating stock for the following year and reducing future orders’ as the methods being used to futureproof the business following the lockdown period.

“A drop in consumer spending and drastically lower footfall has left many businesses struggling with what to do with the huge amounts of unsold inventory,” explains Flora Davidson, co-founder of SupplyCompass, a network for fashion manufacturing and supply chain managers. “These collections were designed and ordered well ahead of the sudden arrival of the pandemic. Hibernation is a positive approach from an environmental perspective. It’s preventing [or perhaps in some cases, delaying] products from entering landfill or getting sold off for rock bottom prices that devalues the real cost of making those garments.”

Next's autumn 2020 fashion campaign
Next’s autumn 2020 fashion campaign

But what does hibernation mean for fashion on the shop floor? These will be items that never made it as far as stores in the first place, so you will probably not be able to tell whether something that you’re looking at in a shop in 2021 was originally intended to be sold in 2020. 

The types of items being hibernated, Davidson notes, will most likely be “evergreen or ‘core’ styles, those which remain unchanged season after season, such as jersey basics, jeans, shirts, or socks.” Other perennial product categories, such as swimwear and spring occasionwear, might also be fine to reheat next year. Floral dresses are in fashion every spring, and a basket bag for the beach is considered a holiday essential each year.

A possible negative impact of stock hibernation (aside from the costs associated with storing a large quantity of product) may be that jobs are lost throughout the manufacturing process as a result. From designers who are no longer needed to create a new spring 2021 collection, to factories which will no longer receive the orders, implications would arise from ‘skipping’ a season – problems which are simply a delayed result of the initial store closures. 

“Cash tied up in this stock will have cash flow implications, likely leading to some cutting down of full-time roles,” says Davidson. “On the flip side, design teams are often working at 100 miles an hour, under pressure to fill the rails with an inordinate amount of new designs season after season. Perhaps this will encourage a much-needed slow down and shift towards designing better, with greater focus on designing for sustainability.”

Davidson says that if done well, retailers can make a virtue of selling off old stock.  “It’s about thinking outside the box,” she says. “Is there some clever marketing activity these retailers can do next spring around this ‘hibernated’ stock? I loved how [Danish brand] Ganni managed to create a buzz around old stock, they had an archive sale in the middle of the pandemic and drummed up an enormous ‘virtual queue’ to get into their online store. They successfully created desire and excitement around old stock.”

Whatever happens, Davidson suggests that the move to hibernate is indicative of a wider change in people’s attitudes towards fashion trends. “Items going out of fashion after just one season are a significant contributor to the throwaway nature of the fashion industry and mounting piles of post-consumer waste,” she says. “If styles can be sold next summer, this suggests a slowdown in pace. This could be a significant turning point that marks the start of the move to a more season-less, less trend led fashion calendar.”

For more news, analysis and advice from The Telegraph’s fashion desk, click here to sign up to get our weekly newsletter, straight to your inbox every Friday. Follow our Instagram @Telegraphfashion

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