Flexibility on part of the retailer is required, if they are to ‘weather the storm’ of the crisis...
In this Face2Face with Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Cindrella Thawani, Betty van Arenthals talks about the situation for the European retail sector; difficult times could bring opportunities for retailers, she avers.
European Association of Fashion Retailers (AEDT) particularly deals with the fashion and footwear specific issues. Besides, it carries European and international projects.
Betty van Arenthals-Kramer Freher caters as the President of AEDT.
Her former titles include President of Mitex, the Dutch organisation of textile, shoe and sport retailers in the year 1991-2003. From 1995-2003, she served as the President of the Dutch Retail Council.
How do you see the European retail industry moving ahead with the current economic development?
As in every crisis, some retailers will fare better than others and those that are able to adapt to shifting consumer demands may even come out of the economic slowdown stronger than before it.
By listening carefully to what customers want and being innovative in terms of their business models along with the products they offer, retailers can still potentially grow considerably despite the unfavourable economic conditions.
However, much of this depends on what segment of the sector the retailer represents. Often, the more expensive shops do relatively well compared to the retailers. Equally, the low-budget retailers frequently do well during recession because people have less disposable income.
It is therefore the middle-of-the-range stores that tend to suffer the most. But it is very difficult to make generalisations as what might be true in one country, isn’t necessarily the case in another.
Indeed, the situation varies quite considerable among the EU Member States. Typically though, flexibility on the part of the retailer is required if they are to ‘weather the storm’ of the crisis and entice shoppers to spend their money. This is all the more necessary because, during the downturn, consumers increasingly adopt a ‘make do and mend’ mentality when it comes to their clothes.
What are the challenges in a retail sector of Europe in this current time of economic slowdown?
Many of the retailers that AEDT represents are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and for them it is particularly important that they have adequate and adapted access to finance. Unfortunately, the financial crisis has limited the SMEs finance supply.
As a result, many European smaller fashion retailers are encountering severe difficulties when it comes to gaining access to finance. This is of course a major obstacle to the creation of new companies and also threatens the existence of existing shops.
Retailers also need to be allowed to benefit from the opportunities offered by the globalised economy. Having access to foreign markets is always important for fashion and footwear retailers, and never more so than during periods of economic slowdown.
It is therefore imperative that barriers to trade and the establishment of European retail companies on foreign soil be dismantled through multilateral and bilateral agreements and AEDT actively calls for and supports initiatives along these lines.
Please detail us about the projects where AEDT is associated and working for the EU retail segment?
In collaboration with its members and other stakeholders, AEDT supports and participates in a number of EU projects, notably in the fields of education, training and ICT/innovation.
In particular, the eBIZ project which promotes a single e-language for the supply chains of the European textile, clothing and footwear industries. In recent years, AEDT has also submitted (together with other organisations) two projects under the EU’s Leonardo da Vinci programme to recognise and validate the skills of retail personnel in the fashion sector.
Please enlighten us, how AEDT is helpful in supporting solutions with corporate social responsibility schemes as well as encouraging business relations?
Promoting social accountability in the fashion and footwear retail sector at both the European as well as national levels is a priority for AEDT.
In this vein, AEDT continues to actively recommend SA8000 - an audit-able certification standard based on international workplace norms of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In addition, AEDT actively supports two non-profit organisations whose aim is to improve labour conditions worldwide. This includes the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) (www.fairwear.org) and the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) (www.bsci-eu.org).
In order to keep our members abreast of developments and new initiatives in the realm of CSR, AEDT invites CSR experts to its periodic board meetings and events to boost awareness on the existing social conditions and priorities in developing countries.
Furthermore, we have a special section on the “Members Area” of the Association website where we upload material on best practices when it comes to CSR so as to increase the uptake of CSR initiatives among our membership.
Several fashion brands already adhere to international CSR certification schemes and take initiatives driven by the conviction of the need to be environmentally sustainable and socially responsible in their business dealings.
With regard to European legislators, AEDT calls for the harmonisation of social accountability requirements based on ILO conventions and with audits carried out by international and independent bodies.
Please tell us about objectives and activities of AEDT that promotes the common interests of European fashion retail industry.
AEDT’s vocation is to promote the common interests of the European fashion retail sector and therefore all our activities are undertaken in that vein.
In addition to the horizontal policy issues that affect the whole of the retail sector, for example European policy relating to the environment, consumer rights and corporate social responsibility.
AEDT actively lobbies on fashion and footwear specific issues also on the matters that bring about real as well as quantifiable benefits to fashion retail businesses.
These include EU legislation on textile names and labeling, product safety for clothing and footwear, leather denominations, business relations between suppliers and retailers, the harmonisation of sizes etc.
How does it provide platform to its members?
AEDT provides a platform allowing members to pool their knowledge and resources as well as to share best practices, when it comes to dealing with challenges and maximizing on potential opportunities that fashion retailers in Europe are confronted with.
Amongst these are: reducing unnecessary administrative burdens resulting from EU legislation, tackling unfair commercial practices in the supply chain, adapting to evolutions in distribution patterns in Europe and to changing consumer behavior, confronting new business models such as factory outlet centers and ‘designer’ villages as well as sales over the internet and ‘discount’ websites.
You are a lobbying organization. Please tell us about your principle activities in context to the European fashion retail sector?
AEDT is a non-profit association which represents European retail enterprises specialised in fashion and footwear. AEDT’s objectives are to co-ordinate, promote and defend the interests of European apparel, textile and footwear retailers.
As a lobbying organisation, our main activities consist of representing the members, vis-à-vis the European institutions, other international social, economic or cultural organisations, public authorities, public opinion; exchanging and disseminating information among our members through meetings, conferences and newsletters. Besides, organising, promoting and participating in European projects, studies and events; also fostering business relations with European as well as international partners.
Published on: 23/05/2012
DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.