Fast fashion is taking out traditional retailers, now one CEO is bringing the model upscale

By promising low prices and constantly changing styles, fast-fashion retailers like Zara and H&M have unseated traditional apparel chains as the go-to destination for many shoppers.

Now, one company is trying to bring their concept to more upscale products.

Xcel Brands, a Manhattan-based company that owns labels like Isaac Mizrahi, C. Wonder and Judith Ripka, has developed a manufacturing model that slashes the amount of time it takes an item to go from the sketch pad to the selling floor.

Whereas outgoing Ralph Lauren CEO Stefan Larsson aimed to cut the company’s lead times from 15 months to nine months, Xcel CEO Bob D’Loren has whittled his team’s process down to six weeks. He’s done so by using what he calls a “quick-time response” model, which positions Xcel’s in-house teams under the same roof as members of its wholesale and factory partners.

A look from Xcel’s C. Wonder brand.This setup minimizes the time that would otherwise be wasted coordinating with external U.S. or overseas offices, enabling Xcel to respond more quickly to trends that bubble up on search engines or social media. The process also allows its brands to bring fresh products into its partners’ stores every week, and place smaller bets on styles that might not resonate with customers. Then, if it finds a hit, it can quickly order more.

By using this model, Xcel’s goals are to bring shoppers into its partner stores more frequently and minimize widespread markdowns that have sucked out the industry’s profits.

Having first launched this strategy in partnership with Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor last year, Xcel recently signed a similar deal with Dillard’s. But while expanding Xcel’s distribution is one of D’Loren’s key priorities — both by entering new retailers and acquiring new brands — the CEO’s No. 1 goal for 2017 is improving his existing labels’ quality.

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