In an effort to celebrate pride week with New Yorkers, we set out to create a scene. The goal was straightforward: engage random New Yorkers, have them embrace their inner divas during a spontaneous fashion runway show in Union square.
Experts are referring to this decade as an ‘increasingly challenging retail environment’, where giants like Michael Kors shut 125 stores and Macy’s close tens of traditional department stores year over year. With the contraction of traditional retailers, more high-end brands are coming to life than ever before. While in the past, design, manufacturing and distribution used to be a laborious resource-consuming practice, now companies like Etsy and Nineteenth Amendment offer resources, connections and virtual distribution channels to budding designers that lower the barriers to entry significantly. That’s what makes entirely online retailers like Bonobos and Mott & Bow achieve profitability without opening a single brick and mortar store.
In this era, when brands struggle to reinvent themselves and connect with consumers in new and innovative ways, that are primarily virtual, there is one offline sector that continues to grow. That is the discount and sample sale sector. There is an average of 15 sample sales in NYC every single week, where brands lay out their excess merchandise for 70% to 90% off retail prices for a few days in an effort to empty out their warehouses before the arrival of the new shipment of inventory.
The lines leading into the sample sales, often wrapped around the corner reveal an emerging trend. More than deals, consumers are looking for a unique experience. After interviewing over 50 people in line to and at different sample sales, a few things became clear. First, people want to feel special: they want to know that they are getting access to something exclusive. Second, they want a good deal: most shoppers know that the original price tag has little to do with the true value of the product, and so they prefer to wait for the opportunity to obtain the goods for less. Finally, and most importantly, shoppers are craving real human interaction and physical experiences. Not the kind where sales people are trying to stuff merchandise into your bag at any cost, but rather, the kind where they get to feel the material, try on the clothes, and talk to other human beings.
For this reason, we set out to create a number of ‘scenes’ around New York this Summer. The first of which was the spontaneous fashion show in Union Square. At noon, on a Tuesday, June 27th, our team, which comprised myself, my co-founder and our four interns headed out to Union Square equipped with blue chalk and a set of Iphone speakers. We drew two lines in the middle of the park and the ShopDrop logo (we just couldn’t help ourselves) and turned up the music. That is when we started approaching people and asking them if they wanted to ‘model’ in our fashion show. Our targets included professionals on lunch break, tourists and policemen.
The first few requests were met with raised eyebrows and ‘I’m busy’ looks, but the fourth person we approached, a young woman in shorts and a t-shirt with her sandwich said she’d be happy to walk and walked down to the applause and stares of people in the park. After that, things began to roll. A middle-aged man with shopping bags asked to model, a rapper rapped down the aisle, a mother walked down with her strollers, and a dog walker decided to turn all of her dogs into exemplary beauties by walking down together with them.
No one reached the end of the aisle without a huge smile spread across their face. Yes, perhaps it’s ‘goofy’, but the truth lies in the words a stranger told us after walking down our runway. ‘Wow. I feel so special.’