A small Irish fashion company has suddenly found a surge in demand for its services as a result of the Covid-19 havoc. Skmmp (pronounced "Skimp") is a virtual showroom that offers a solution for luxury fashion giants now having to rethink how they operate without a digital wholesale sales strategy.
Traditionally, international fashion designers would gather twice a year to show their ready-to-wear collections for the forthcoming season at the big fashion weeks in February and September. Aside from the razzmatazz around the events, the reality is that this is where the vital business of trading is done – and orders taken – outside the runway shows.
Most of the buying is done at intimate showroom appointments scheduled months beforehand. The process, involving a series of documents, confirmation invoices, terms and conditions, shipping details and payment information, takes about 16 weeks to complete.
Sixty per cent of orders are still handwritten and sales teams collate orders and send them to the manufacturing division to be processed.
With the spread of the pandemic, many of these showroom appointments – crucial for business and supply chains – were cancelled in Milan and Paris in February. Four in 10 buyers cancelled Paris appointments, leading to a 40 per cent drop in sales.
Vogue Business reported that Covid- 19 could cause a $40 billion decline in luxury sales for 2020, with a loss of up to $10 billion in profits and little chance of a return to normal trading conditions.
Skmmp's virtual showroom centralises wholesale order management and it is now being approached by big Italian brands such as Tod's, Bottega Veneta and others seeking its help to digitise their collections to weather the crisis, allowing them to carry on trading without physical showrooms.
"We never thought something like Covid-19 could bring our solution to a global scale," says Skmmp founder Aileen Carville, who launched the digital showroom at the London and Paris fashion weeks in February 2018. "Many [luxury brands] are normally hard to convince to adopt technology. But they now see that only technology can enable them to get over this crisis. They are listening to us now".
Skmmp’s digital solution works in tandem with the physical showroom, allowing buyers to migrate on to the digital platform and complete orders remotely. An average order takes 20-30 minutes on Skmmp, reducing conventional order administration and processing by 70 per cent, the company says.
The virtual showroom is a digital catalogue of all the products in the collection – lookbooks, catwalk images, line sheets, price lists, including detailed information on composition and place of manufacture. As the buyer inputs the order, all documentation is generated automatically.
The company has recently layered voice artificial intelligence over the digital showroom, creating the first fashion “smart showroom”. The entire order is captured using voice command.
Ms Carville has had a long history in fashion. She was head of sales and PR at John Rocha for more than 12 years, travelling to every season's shows with the collection. She founded Skmmp in 2015.
Last December she was selected out of 1,200 global start-ups to be part of Startupbootcamp at FashionTech Milan, where partners such as Prada and Accenture aligned their own innovative development with the start-ups selected.
“We have worked hard for the past four years and this is great validation,” said Ms Carville. “We are getting a strong reaction from industry investors, which will enable us to develop the technology even further.”
Skmmp will be launching virtual showrooms for several Italian menswear brands for the 2021 sales campaigns in June.