Optimizing wholesale for the future


Over the past 40 years, Coterie New York, the Coterie New York event for advanced contemporary womenswear, accessories and footwear, has established itself as a key player in market growth, helping launch brands from Helmut Lang to Alice and Olivia, new to start and scale.

Before the pandemic, the rise of direct-to-consumer eased the prioritization of wholesale, but now retailers and brands alike are bolstering its comeback. Following the e-commerce boom during Covid-19, major luxury department stores across the US have seen an increase in walk-in and brick-and-mortar sales.

The wholesale industry is an ever-evolving landscape characterized by supply chain disruptions, pioneering technologies and calls for greater sustainability. As a result, fashion brands and retailers must adapt quickly to meet shareholder and stakeholder expectations. In the BoF & McKinsey State of Fashion 2022 report, for example, 43 percent of fashion executives said they plan to shorten product development lead times to avoid overstocking — even though inventories at major publicly traded apparel retailers were, on average, 27 percent higher in June were 2021 than a year earlier.

Wholesale continues to be a crucial channel for brand strategy, increasing market awareness and diversifying revenue streams for emerging and established brands. This season, womenswear label Silk Laundry, denim brand HNST and activewear line Magnlens were among the exhibitors incorporating wholesale into their retail strategies

To find out how executives are optimizing their wholesale strategies for success, BoF invited Reece Rackley, CEO of Silk Laundry, Kate Linstrom, Design Director of Magnlens, and Lander Desmedt, Co-Founder and CEO of HNST, on stage at Coterie New York in September 2022 an edition to learn how they tackle nuanced and complex challenges to fuel growth.

Below, BoF shares the key results of the event.

Diversify operations to protect revenue streams

RR: We must embrace flexibility. When our shops are closed [due to Covid], Wholesale really dropped off. It is [about] not having a single focus, but spreading risks, looking at the opportunities that arise – being aware of the risks and making pragmatic decisions. Just be flexible – we have the best plans, but in the end you can’t always predict it.

We started as a small online direct selling business but then transitioned into wholesale […]. For us it means getting to know new markets. We’ve been in Australia for the last seven years building a business and we’re starting to get more of a presence in America, we’re also a bit in Canada. We look forward to taking what we do to these other markets and seeing where this wholesale goes.

Guide wholesale strategy with D2C insights

CL: It’s great to see how things are selling in our store. One of the best pieces was a modular jumpsuit that […] We thought it might be too avant-garde, but it ended up selling out. This is exciting as we can better sell them to our wholesale accounts because somehow we can tell them that we have evidence that things are going well.

It’s about how our consumers react to certain messages and what translates into sales.

Our consumers, online and in-store, ask many questions. They really care about where their products come from, they really care about sustainability and that helps us on the design team to know that we have to be able to produce for them and really make it a great product that is sustainable and is able to provide answers to these questions.

LD: We see directly which colors work well, which fit works well, but it’s also about how [our consumers] responding to specific messages and what translates into sales, which is the most important thing. […] Sometimes we reach out to our community and ask what [they think] missing in action – what we should do to convince you to wear circular denim.

We also try to use technology to see what kind of messages resonate best with consumers. […] For example, explaining that the amount of water used to make one pair of jeans is the same as 19 hours of showering. We use this to explain the topic to retailers in our onboarding.

Extend ethical, sustainable practices to wholesale

CL: The main thing we do is produce less and keep our orders very tight and we can oversee the whole process from start to finish [as a vertically integrated company].

I think we don’t need as much in our personal closets as we have […] and then also within the design process, quality over quantity again. Don’t make tons of samples – throw them against the wall and see what sticks. Be very mindful of what you do and then also in the production, be very mindful of how much you earn.

as a community, [Coterie] brings us together to really try to find the best way to advance in fashion.

RR: Few things are truly sustainable. There’s always an impact – no matter what production you use, energy is consumed, and solving each piece of the puzzle is a huge, monumental task. So I think it’s important for us to be aware of what we’re doing and always look for ways to improve across the business.

My wife Katie [Kolodinski]who is the designer [of Silk Laundry]She is very committed to animal welfare. She designs prints depicting endangered species, but that’s not something we send out into the world. We build it into who we are.

LD: I would always start with the design. When you make your products recyclable, you automatically see where your circular design program benefits. Then it’s a step-by-step process to overcome any circular design flaws.

A piece of advice when implementing more sustainable fabrics and patterns – don’t start combining natural fabrics like cotton and polyester like today, we can’t recycle them. In the future we will, and as long as it is possible [seem to] in the end we don’t have the tools or materials to be a more sustainable product [to recycle it yet].

Optimize a wholesale strategy through co-opetition

CL: For this community, I think the most important thing for all of us is to only share the information that we find. I learn every day. Here as a community [Coterie] brings us together to really try to find the best way to advance in fashion while doing the least harm to the environment. I look forward to working with other like-minded people.

LD: We force ourselves to be transparent with every step you take in the process. […] We share everything that is good, but we also force ourselves to share where we fail, what we call our “Hall of Fail” – where we share our failures, to be honest. These too must be shared. So if you, as a company, force yourself to be transparent and the things you do, you will always deliver on that mission that has been there from the start – you keep that promise.


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