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From Gen Alpha to high heels for men: The trends in the luxury segment at Zalando

By Ole Spötter

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Fashion |Interview

Lena-Sophie Röper. Photo: Zalando

As an online retailer for fashion, Zalando wants to propose the entire range; from affordable fashion to the luxury segment. The Berlin-based company is constantly expanding the latter in particular and currently has 400 brands and almost 90,000 products in its range in the premium contemporary, advanced contemporary and luxury segments. In February 2020 there were just 30,000 articles.

That is why Zalando and its purchasing teams are always on the lookout for new trends and brands. And labels in the high-price segment are also opening up more, alongside becoming more accessible to topics such as sustainability, diversity and streetwear. Areas which are also becoming more interesting for Lena-Sophie Röper, director of Designer & Luxury at Zalando.

In an interview with FashionUnited, she explained what trends herself and her purchasing team are focusing on for the coming year, what influences macroeconomic circumstances are having on their market and how Zalando wants to make the marketplace’s premium segment more gender-fluid.

You want to further expand Zalando's premium segment. Do you rely more on established or younger brands?

We go in both directions - more classic, established luxury brands like Aspesi, but also street luxury and emerging brands like Adererror or Ahluwalia, which will start with us in the next season. We're also launching Rodebjer in a few months.

We also look at which local brands exist in our strategically important markets that are relevant to our customers in the designer segment. That includes brands like Norma Kamali, Rodebjer and Cold Laundry, which we also have in our portfolio.

Does the increasing interest of a younger target group in luxury fashion and the orientation of the brands towards this target group also play a role?

The brands are opening up to younger segments and the younger segments to luxury brands. This opens up exciting opportunities for us to further expand our business because we are one of the largest digital hubs for Gen Z and Millennials in Europe. We are seeing relatively strong and stable demand for the higher-priced segment, not only in the street luxury segment, but also among emerging designers. It is important to us to support younger newcomers and give them the opportunity to be 'visible' on our platform.

How do you reach the younger target group?

Not Just a Label is a collaboration, thanks to which relatively new brands with diverse ethnic backgrounds are also represented on Zalando. This resonates incredibly well, primarily with our younger Gen Z customers, who have a keen interest in learning more about the people behind the brand and their history and cultural background - it's not just about whether that design is pretty. This is an exciting opportunity for us - now with Highsnobiety on board, but also in general - because we not only pick up our customers through product presentations, but through inspiration and storytelling.

Gen Z are no longer the youngest either. Are you also paying attention to the upcoming Generation Alpha?

We see two tendencies. Gen Z and Gen Alpha represent the fastest growing customer segments for us, also in the designer area. At the same time, we're seeing Millennials shopping with us for their Alpha Gen kids who don't already have their own accounts. Based on the sizes and items, we can see that we are sometimes addressing a very young clientele here.

What trends play a role for these target groups?

Especially with Gen Alpha and Gen Z, we are seeing that the younger generations, i.e. those who did not experience the 2000s themselves, are now re-experiencing it with the Y2K trend. The demand for Y2K styles is really high and will continue into 2023.

What other trends will stay in 2023?

Against the backdrop of the somewhat gloomier macroeconomic and world political situation, it's dopamine dressing - very colourful, loud and cheerful clothes with strong colours and strong silhouettes. Also, gender fluid is a big trend for all genders.

Zalando's marketing campaign "The Way We Move"

And which brands are popular with you at the moment?

We are currently seeing very strong demand for French labels, contemporary street luxury brands and Nordic wardrobe staple brands, for which cashmere, shearling and outerwear also play a central role.

In the current macroeconomic circumstances, do you see any generational differences in purchasing behaviour?

For us, it doesn't necessarily depend on age. The macroeconomic circumstances cannot be ignored. There are two developments: Customers who are becoming more price-sensitive due to inflation and other circumstances, who potentially think twice about what they are buying or shopping for cheaper.

At the same time, there is relatively stable demand in the high-price segment. The designer segment is one of the most stable categories for us when it comes to demand and growth. The area is also developing positively in terms of customer acquisition, despite the current macroeconomic situation.

What factors do you see for the stable demand in the high-price segment?

There are two or three factors that encourage this. Firstly, the customer segment with high purchasing power, who can and would like to treat themselves to something even in darker times - this idea of "treat yourself" plays a major role in the luxury segment, as these are iconic and special items.

The second aspect is that people are increasingly travelling again, celebrating parties and being invited to weddings. Travel and occasion, i.e. occasion-related clothing, are therefore in greater demand again. Compared to the covid years, in 2022 ‘occasion’ was by far the strongest growing category in our designer segment, especially in terms of occasion dresses.

The last aspect is that we are seeing a strong increase in business wear as people slowly but surely come back to the office. The motto here is: Going back to the office – but make it fashionable. When it comes to fashion for the office, our customers are not only looking for dark blue suits or grey jackets but are interested in topics such as oversized, gender fluid and colourful. Everything is much bolder and more fashionable than we are used to from traditional office wear: oversized pinstripes, a suit in pink, orange or Bottega green.

Zalando's marketing campaign "The Way We Move"

What about menswear?

Very similar. For us, the strongest categories are those related to business wear. We had two years in which we all preferred rather comfortable leisure wear and mostly bought them. But you can now clearly see that the desire to get out of the house, “dress up” and make a statement with your clothes is back. This is actually no different for men than for women.

Are you experimenting more and playing with gender norms?

We see this relatively strongly among men. We also have a pretty strong genderless assortment and we're pushing for more representation here. The demand for genderless and gender fluid clothing is huge, but is still too often ignored in the industry. Demand in this category currently exceeds supply.

We stand behind it 100 percent with our diversity and inclusion strategy. We also work with a large number of brand partners for this purpose. The last collaboration was one with several Scandinavian brands, for which we also developed our own products. We also have some exciting projects in the pipeline for next year.

Do larger sizes play a role in such collaborations? For example, are high heels for men also available in larger sizes?

We're thinking in exactly this direction... Especially in footwear, less so in textiles. This is a huge topic, there is a big gap here. For customers who want to wear fashionable shoes, the offer is extremely limited - we are currently working on something to change here.

Is this genderless idea also reflected in the balance of the women's and men's range?

We are approaching a uniform distribution. We're still bigger in women's clothing in terms of sales. But men's clothing is catching up quite quickly.

Your partnerships are also about discovering new brands, and it's not just about diversity...

We are relatively diversified. We work together with Not Just A Label’s team, who are in monthly contact, and see who is new in the pipeline, who is a good fit for a partnership. Do we want to work with the brand? Does the brand want to work with us?

At the same time, we have just started a mentorship and collaboration with the social enterprise The Outsiders Perspective. We have a cooperation with Copenhagen Fashion Week, where we look for and support designer newcomers with a special focus on sustainability. In addition, our purchasing team is always on the go in the big fashion cities and at the fashion weeks to keep an eye out for new exciting brands and partners. In the meantime, however, we are so big that many brands come to us directly.

Do you also get support from Highsnobiety for the area of street luxury?

Both purchasing teams and both companies work completely autonomously and are set up that way. No integration is planned. The idea is that Highsnobiety will use their fantastic expertise to advise us on the development of our range, but above all on curation and content development. We definitely exchange views on what we see on the market and what we find exciting. But what is bought for Zalando at the end of the day is decided independently by our teams.

What about a private label in the premium area?

In the Designer:innen segment, it's not a focus. We have a dedicated team that takes care of our private labels and has a strong focus on sustainability, albeit in the lower to mid-price segment.

Is it also about investing in high-quality pieces?

We are seeing investment in high quality, iconic wardrobe staples. So items like a trench coat or a bag that I can wear now but also in ten or 20 years because they are timeless, because they are of high quality, because they will still be in fashion or an indispensable classic in my wardrobe.

Finally, what are you concentrating on in order to further expand the luxury segment at Zalando?

On the one hand, we focus on up-and-coming brands and new talent, because they often get neglected in the industry. Another focus is on brands that are particularly relevant locally, because through our local teams we know what our customers want in our 25 markets across Europe. The third point is global hero luxury brands that we want to win as long-term partners. In the categories where we already have them in our portfolio - for example sunglasses or accessories - we see very successful developments and high customer demand.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.DE. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.
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