Something we always aimed to do at MIMMO Studios was to share what we are learning along our path to reinventing retail. As we are coming up to our second year in business, we wanted to begin documenting the process. This is the first of many pieces of writing which discuss the intricacies and complications of running a business where the objective is to break lots of rules.
The first topic we’ll be covering is ‘seasonless’ retail alongside the theory of ‘degrowth’ - both topics which have been discussed in the land of academia but with few real world examples. We’ve been chewing away at both these ideas for some time now and have begun to integrate them into our operations.
Now with some experience under our belts, we’ve collated our thoughts so far. As far as we know, no one is doing things the same way we are and we’re excited to begin sharing what we’re up to.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘DEGROWTH’ AND ‘SEASONLESS RETAIL’?
The theory of Degrowth is growing in popularity and calls for redefining success beyond economic indicators like profit and GDP. It also emphasises the importance of societal reorganisation to meet these objectives, with a focus on fairness and equity.
We have applied the theory of degrowth to our business model at MIMMO Studios; creating a model where growth is not the main objective and which prioritises community and craft. This really lends itself to the notion of becoming a seasonless business.
Seasonless retail focuses on items which are relevant and available year-round, rather than being tied exclusively to specific seasons or trends. It aims to provide customers with a consistent and timeless offering that can be used and enjoyed regardless of the time of year or fashion at the time.
We also really like to highlight the distinction between ‘fashion’ (which is based on trends and comes in cycles) and ‘style’ which is more personal and tends to have more longevity.
OK, BUT WHY?
Traditionally, a retail business might have two seasons per year (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter). Over the course of the past twenty years or so, this has now increased to the point where hyper-fast fashion brands like Shein are launching new products daily.
We’d like this piece to celebrate solutions rather than focusing too much on the issue which by now many of us are familiar with. However, to touch briefly on the negative impacts of the fashion industry - the major issues arise from criminal treatment of garment workers, improper disposal of waste, lack of accountability, excess demand on resources and overconsumption.
At the crux of it, a seasonless retail business promotes a slower pace which can have many, many benefits throughout the supply chain. It allows manufacturers to plan production more efficiently as they are not bound by seasonal demands, opening the opportunity for longer production cycles, where manufacturers can focus on quality and craftsmanship rather than rushing to meet seasonal deadlines inflicted on them by retailers.
Garment workers are likely to benefit as production schedules are steadier and less volatile. For retailers, the benefit is twofold; it not only improves profitability but also reduces waste. Shops can maintain a more consistent inventory and avoid the risk of excessive unsold seasonal merchandise or ‘deadstock’, in turn reducing the need for frequent markdowns and clearance sales.
Customers have access to items which are better value for money. Seasonless styles reduce the pressure to constantly update their wardrobe based on seasonal trends, and are better quality items which can be used in more situations.
HOW DOES MIMMO STUDIOS ACTUALLY IMPLEMENT A SEASONLESS MODEL?
Before we spent a single pound or sent a single email, we set out business values for MIMMO Studios to make sure everything we do aligns with our objectives. The two key criteria we never compromise on are ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Timeless Design’.
The further down the road we get, the more we’ve come to realise how well those two go hand in hand. When it comes to approaching brands to work with and to sell in store, we have a pretty rigorous checklist which covers things like production techniques, country of origin and certifications - but we also try to dig a little deeper into each brand - the motivations behind them, their principles and manifestos and the non-quantifiable things which tell us lots about a business, too.
In the end, the brands which satisfy our scrupulous assessment tend to be the ones which fall into the ‘seasonless’ bracket anyway. They are often brands which focus on materials and craft, and are often limited in their capacity and production scale. They celebrate the process of making, and in turn create pieces which will last longer than a lifetime.
We buy very, very carefully - and not only because we are entirely self-funded (although we’ve found pinching pennies can really refine the eye of a Buyer), but we never want to be left with ‘deadstock’. This is a horrible industry term which refers to items which can’t be sold because nobody wants them, usually due to overproduction and market saturation, the trend cycle has moved on - or even that nobody wanted the item in the first place!
At MIMMO Studios we cherry-pick each item in store, and by working closely alongside our brands, we do our best to actively avoid trends. Instead we go for styles and materials which we know will never fall out of favour. Natural materials are the best - and there’s such a wide variety of items which continue to stand the test of time, and which as consumers we come back to again and again - like a simple hand knitted crew neck jumper.
From a business perspective, no deadstock means no waste, and no discounting. By never entering into sale, we never give any margin away. Our business operates at full margin, all the time.
An extra benefit is that we don’t undercut our brands by slashing prices, and they aren’t forced into price competition with their own stockists. We think keeping products at full price shows respect for the products themselves, and the time and craft that has been poured into them. We don’t agree with the principle that an item has any less value just because it has existed for a period of time.
Although it may not be what customers are used to, operating a no discount retailer really helps start the conversation around longevity and versatility. We do our best to encourage personal style over ‘fashion’, and give suggestions about how to wear items in multiple ways to get the most wear possible out of each piece.
For those who have the ability and financial freedom to do so, this shift in consumption can contribute to more thoughtful consumption patterns, where customers buy fewer but higher quality items and look after the things they already own. It’s always important to address privilege when discussing fashion - and accessibility is something which deserves its own discussion.
WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE BECOME SEASONLESS, THEN?
One of the main challenges of running a seasonless retail business is finding a balance between consistency and seasonal demand. Seasonal and trend-driven products absolutely drive sales, and convincing customers they need something new each week is a guaranteed money maker.
With the ‘growth at any cost’ mentality ingrained in us all, it doesn’t make sense at first glance to deliberately try to sell fewer items. Seasonal products require careful management, and stocking up on them can tie up cash, plus the pace of business we have become accustomed to in the retail world is too fast to support a seasonless model which requires patience, careful planning and thoughtful buying.
In the UK, there is such a variance between seasons and what is required of our wardrobe - it’s quite tricky to find a whole wardrobe full of pieces that can do everything. This is exacerbated by the fact that weather is becoming more and more volatile due to the climate crisis.
SO DOES SEASONLESS RETAIL HAVE LEGS?
Watching the margin of retail products become squeezed tighter and tighter by price competition begs the question - is it even worth it? Aside from the environmental carnage the industry wreaks, it’s also not making sense financially anymore.
There’s benefits to everyone in the supply chain to slowing down from manufacturers, garment workers, businesses, employees and consumers - not to mention the external benefits which aren’t accounted for in finance such as water and air quality, biodiversity and mental health.
At MIMMO Studios we are part of a movement - businesses and customers are coming together to imagine a different way of doing things which is better for everyone - and proving that it works. For businesses to have longevity, we’re seeing that a slower pace is really paying off.