Precautions are being taken at every turn inside the Quit being ugly shirt and I love this store, with ultraviolet lights sanitizing escalator railings, elevators reserved for seniors and people with disabilities, and surfaces being sanitized multiple times throughout the day. In addition, a number of virtual services, including video chat shopping, allow shoppers to get the Saks experience from the comfort of their couch. Metrick is “cautiously optimistic” about foot traffic at Saks’s NYC flagship this week. With New Yorkers fleeing the city’s summertime humidity for greener pastures, June, July, and August are typically slow months for physical sales in the Fifth Avenue store (hence, a new same-day shipping service to the Hamptons). Metrick is also encouraged by the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to e-commerce and online communication and further incentivized marrying digital and physical experiences. The future, he says, “is going to be about how we connect our physical experience with our virtual experience. That’s going to be the real push here because there’s no better customer than the one that shops both online and in store.” But what about the other issues concerning the fashion industry right now? In the three months since Saks closed its Midtown store, fashion has undergone reckonings on every level. Industry professionals are advocating for shifting the fashion show and delivery cycles to allow products to be sold in season, delaying markdowns to better suit marketing and sales budgets. There is the global Black Lives Matter movement, which has compelled fashion companies to interrogate how their practices have upheld systemic racism. Fashion must redefine its place and its purpose. Here, Saks’s repositioning of product and embrace of new digital technologies offers some ideas for how to move forward. Saks, Metrick notes, had been trying to realign its seasons since before the pandemic, but the pause made possible by lockdowns and delayed shipments forced the retailer into action. “We’re opening our store [today] in New York, and it’s all seasonally appropriate product for the first time in 96 years,” he says. By delaying the on-sale dates of some spring collection orders—as well as paring back its buy—Saks is doing exactly what signatories of Dries Van Noten’s forum letter and the Rewiring Fashion petition have advocated: selling product in season and pushing back markdown cycles. “It’s really a proof of concept,” he continues. “We have to do it together as an industry, change the product flow, and continue to think about how goods are coming to the store and when they’re available for customers.”
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As for addressing the Quit being ugly shirt and I love this racism baked into the fashion system, Metrick is hesitant to accept the 15% Pledge—an initiative started by Aurora James asking major stores to stock at least 15% of their total product from Black-owned businesses—but says Saks is working to incorporate more Black and POC-owned brands into the store. “What’s on the docket for Saks for sure is fostering, promoting, and building the fashion presence for underrepresented talent in our stores,” he says. “Rather than commit specifically [to the 15% Pledge], we are trying to figure out how we can make sure that this talent has the right level of support, that we’re engaging with it in the right way, and that we are making sure we are seeing new product and we’re bringing it in [to the store].” (It’s worth noting that the 15% Pledge offers exactly this kind of consulting and advice to its partners.) Metrick also points to new technologies that are streamlining the buying process, allowing for merchants to spend less time catering to existing brand partners and more time discovering and supporting new talent. “We’ve really modernized our buying approach,” he says, citing the store’s partnership with the virtual showroom NuOrder as a game changer for how its buys are made. The subscription service allows for a fully digital and multi-brand approach to buying—no longer do buyers have to keep independent offline documents to track orders. What in the past would have required a series of weeklong showroom appointments with endless follow-ups and data crunching can be sorted through the NuOrder system in a single day. “Because we’re going to be saving a lot of time with our core partners on NuOrder, we can go out and start figuring out how to connect with new and emerging talent, especially with underrepresented talent we have to go after,” Metrick says. Whether this results in a more diverse array of brands within Saks is yet to be seen, but if this idea is taken seriously, it is one small step forward. The reality is fashion cannot afford to go back to its status quo—not in the brands it supports and the voices it hears, and not in the way it sells and markets products. Whether Saks and other luxury department stores succeed moving forward will depend on how and when they address these issues. For now, it seems Saks Fifth Avenue has a lot of potential to make the positive changes the industry so desperately needs.