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The Possibilities for Clothing Innovation in Central and Eastern Europe
The shipping fee for the non-EU Balkan countries is usually quite high, and with that also come high taxes and pretty vague border control regulations that are often taken advantage of.
They say that clothes can make or break you, and that looks represent a very important aspect of how people perceive you. Many people in business, entertainment, and especially fashion-related industries will agree that the outfit is one of the deciding factors for first impressions. Some may find it superficial or vain, but the fact that fashion is a statement-making social force cannot be denied.
But how much power do clothes hold in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe? Are the price tag and the label all that matters, or do people generally aim for a timeless style that doesn’t bow down to trends? If you’re a future entrepreneur exploring the idea of a fashion-related business in this part of Europe, you’ll want to stick to the end of this guide.
The Near-Absence of Luxurious Experience
The financial reality of Central and Eastern Europe is no secret, and with the massive post-COVID inflation - the word luxury is almost frowned upon. However, this isn’t true for everyone, as there are people whose personal style, profession, and principles will never allow them to neglect their shopping addiction.
That being said, frequent consumers of high-end retail therapy in this part of Europe will usually go on their shopping sprees elsewhere, usually during their trips to Western Europe and the United States. It is mainly about the experience: the glitz, glamour, personal shopper, and champagne of, say, Bloomingdales and The Trafford Centre.
This kind of shopping experience simply isn’t as prominent in Central and Eastern European countries. Yes, you can treat yourself to Dior, Burberry, and Levi Strauss, but mostly in stores that combine numerous luxurious brands into one. The focus isn’t on the presentation and luxurious feel, which many shoppers crave.
While luxury shopping isn’t completely neglected, it is my observation that it hasn’t been as explored and exploited as it could be. The Central-Eastern European market certainly has room for luxurious malls, independent brand stores, and luxury boutiques that offer more than just clothes on the rack and focus on the art of presentation.
The Rise of Social Media Shopping Experience
On the other end of the spectrum, opposing the luxury-craving crowd, there is a shopping-loathing bunch (myself included) who find in-store shopping dreadful. Something about the bright mall lights, the crowds, and the body-dysmorphia-inducing fitting room mirrors makes the experience almost unbearable for many people.
For years, online shopping was heavily rejected in this region, and it took some time for people to adjust to the process. Luckily, people are less and less hesitant about the idea of shopping online, and it has now become a common practice. While online shops are no longer considered innovative and revolutionary, there is a way you can capitalize off the popularity of social media in Central and Eastern Europe.
If your Instagram feed and TikTok For You Page are packed with shopping, try-on hauls, and Get Ready With Me videos, you’ve probably noticed that these influencers often receive generous packages from independent businesses. Their end of the bargain is to wear these clothes on camera and tag the online store, either for a small fee or simply - free clothes. Hundreds or even thousands of their followers will then rush to the Instagram page, and often, entire collections will be sold out within hours.
The advantage of starting this kind of clothing business in smaller countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia is that the list of truly influential names in the social media world isn’t as extensive - while their list of followers is. Many people run an online store from the comfort of their own homes. Instead of opening showrooms and stores, they’re focusing their resources on social media marketing strategies - and it’s paying off!
The Opportunity for “Personal Shopper” Businesses
After the whole Brexit drama, it became more than apparent that a European Union membership comes with its own set of obligations that may often be perceived as setbacks and obstacles. While it may be true, living in a country that has never had the opportunity to explore its benefits can make even the simplest processes rather complicated.
Let me paint a picture for you: as a Serbian girl in her late twenties, I am no stranger to the online shopping craze. However, when it comes to ordering from popular websites outside of my country, including Victoria’s Secret VSCO 0.00%↑, Lululemon LULU 0.00%↑, and American Eagle Outfitters AEO 0.00%↑, I have to be prepared for some substantial additional costs. The shipping fee for the non-EU Balkan countries is usually quite high, and with that also come high taxes and pretty vague border control regulations that are often taken advantage of.
In summary, a package will usually end up costing me double the amount. So, even if I catch a Black Friday deal or use a discount code, it won’t make much of a difference. Now I’ve told you the secret behind that unbreakable bond between Eastern European girls and their friends and family in EU countries!
All jokes aside, the online shopping limitations of the non-EU Balkan market may be a problem for shoppers, but they do represent an opening for foreign business professionals. Personal shopper businesses offering clothing brands that aren’t available/as present on the market are undoubtedly on the rise. For a reasonable fee (sometimes even 50% lower than all the shipping/customs fees combined), these shoppers usually take monthly orders and make numerous brands more accessible to customers without investing in an actual shop.
Capitalizing on the lack of brand diversity, luxury brand assortment, and non-EU restrictions is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a clothing business in these countries. Whether you aspire to start a trend of luxurious shopping, build a solid social media presence for imported clothing, or open a “personal shopper” business, I believe that these opportunities are excellent methods for starting or joining the path of clothing innovation in Central and Eastern Europe.
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