Fashion retail has given us new definitions for many words: ‘season’, ‘merchandising’, ‘anchor’, ‘private’ - as in ‘label’ - and ‘dead’, as in ‘stock’. To this growing lexicon, we can now add ‘drop’: the controlled availability of a product for sale. If once upon a time, a new clothing or accessory collection arrived in store at much the same time as every other collection, now, brands are increasingly delivering to retailers in fits and starts – or, in ‘drops.
This can help with cash-flow and the organisation of manufacturing, of course. But it’s more about piquing the interest of a consumer whose attention span is ever-diminishing – and this in part is a result of the philosophy behind the high street’s fast fashion. It’s about brands building a relationship with their fans that’s based around products, rather than simply image. And, if the truth be told, it’s even more about generating hype, which is any brand’s currency of visibility when trying to keep pace with the Instagram age.
A little apprehension, it seems, is worth countless billboard ads and magazine spreads, even if it only lasts a few days. That’s enough to get (mostly) younger people queuing around the block - or paying someone to queue for them, or perhaps using bots to buy automatically online – so they can be among the first to snap up a product and then talk about it on social media.
The ‘drop’ has long been a tactic of streetwear labels in particular - brands that tend to have cultish followings and to flourish on the release of limited-edition items. Supreme is a fan of the drop, as are the likes of Nike and Adidas. But increasingly, the drop is an idea being co-opted by more sophisticated brands too, somewhat in contrast to their historic reputation for providing consumers with longevity and depth of experience. Louis Vuitton and Burberry, for example, have used it.
The latter - a company that similarly appealed to impatient consumers by offering them the chance to ‘buy directly from the catwalk’ - has even ramped up the tension further by announcing new products via its Instagram account and then granting enthusiastic shoppers just 24 hours to make their purchase.
Desperation, it seems, is now considered a suitable motivation for consumption, and perhaps it’s an apt one. After all, this is an era in which not only does the internet increasingly democratise fashion, making all products available to all people (or at least those who can afford them), but one in which we’re being programmed - via same- or next-day deliveries, streaming services and social media - to expect a constant churn of stimulation, and for products to be available right here, right now.
The drop not only reinstates some of the excitement of anticipation – reminiscent of the days when you had to wait for something you wanted, days which most drop-hunters most likely won’t recall – but it also gives fashion back a little of the one-upmanship and ‘insider-advantage’ that it once thrived on. Indeed, in many ways the drop, given its implicit message of ‘buy now or miss out’, is an idea as old as retail, which has always sought to nudge consumers into action with the threat of scarcity, even if that notion is typically entirely artificial. This is just a fresh way of presenting it.
Does this mean that the drop will, as it were, eventually take a fall? It is a case of diminishing returns. There are only so many drops a brand or retailer can engineer before the marketing ploy starts to get repetitive. It becomes more of a new norm for distribution than a buzz-worthy way of getting special products to the people who really, really want them. But, in the meantime, it’s keeping shoppers on their toes once more, ready to slip them into the next pair of super-exclusive trainers. If they’re fast enough.
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