Street Smarts – Red Hot Athletic Style

It is survival of the fittest in the urban jungle. Fitness is power. Women are increasingly turning to power workouts such as CrossFit, strength training and boxing. There is also an empowering trend in athletic apparel. It is urban inspired, edgy and sexy. I call it Street Smarts.

The lines are blurred between what was once strictly apparel for the gym and casual sportswear. Men and women are mixing the two in a sporty mélange that goes in and out of the gym. “Athleisure” is the new normal in casual; because it is comfortable, durable and empowering. Lululemon and Under Armour were the birth parents, but now it’s pervasive.

Edgy, urban styling is trending in athletic apparel.

Edgy, urban styling is trending in athletic apparel.

Street Smarts mixes lounging tomboy with hormone-charged bad girl. It is feminine and masculine. Think retro boxing gym.

Body conscious leggings and comfy sweats are the key bottoms. Look for “townie bad boy” outerwear like hoodies and baseball jackets. Important details on tops are radical back interest, sheer and mesh insets. Knit dresses are a key element of Street Smarts worn with leggings. Neoprene, metallics and zipper details add a structured, modern city touch.

Graphics include assertive text and smoky abstract prints. Footwear includes high-top and retro sneakers and combat boots, such as Dr. Marten’s. Backpacks, retro gym bags, baseball caps and headbands complete the look.

The color is grounded by sooty black, heather greys and white, but can be popped with an extroverted color like hot pink or citrine or softened with a pastel like blush or lilac.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

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A Letter To Mickey Drexler – What Happened To J.Crew?

Dear Mickey,

We need to talk. I thought you were “the one”. I consider myself a classic girl, the type you can bring home to mother, with an individualist fashion sensibility. After a very long loving relationship with J. Crew, I feel we’re drifting apart. You showed me the love, always wanted to please and surprise me. I gave you loads of attention and spent a lot of money on you. Lately our relationship has gotten repetitive, lost its color and doesn’t fulfill my needs. I’m not faithful to you anymore. Let me be specific on where our relationship lost its way:

1. You missed the athleisure trend. No, I don’t do downward dogs, but am very active at 2 gyms. I have blurred the lines between gym clothes and ones “formerly known as casual” in my wardrobe. Lately, I’m tired of shapeless cotton tees, that get little holes at the waist. I’m buying more substantial, expensive, inventive and sexy athletic tops for everyday use. You continue pushing twill cropped pants, when I am buying knit pants that look like jeans and sweats. I’ve never seen a comfortable knit dress in J.Crew.

I had a big crush on Lululemon, but find myself stalking a new love named Athleta. I’m loving athletic inspired outerwear, too. Who would have thought 2 years ago, I would buy a $500 leather/French terry moto jacket from my new crush?

Great outerwear is dominating athleisure apparel.

Great outerwear is dominating athleisure apparel.

You are the master of the casual playlist, taking classic pieces and pairing them in a hipper way. Somehow you missed the macro trend of mixing quality sport-inspired items into one’s everyday wardrobe.

2. You used take me on quality dates. Lately, you seem to be cheaping out, taking me to “fast-fashion ” places. I would rather pay more for a good meal. Why did the fabric qualities go down hill? I’d rather pay $98 at Lululemon for a relationship that will last, than $58 for a quick hook-up.

J. Crew stores lost the sharp focus of Madewell and became cluttered with junk food. Are you distracted by the Zara and Forever 21 effect? They aren’t your competition.

3. I thought you loved tall girls? Many of your clothes don’t fit me. I’m on the tall side (5’9″) and physically fit. Many of your specs are either too short or cut really small. Your customers aren’t all 24, 5′ 4″ and a size 0.

4. You don’t give me the attention you used to. I would never “trash” your catalogs, and always took your calls. The catalogs arouse me, causing emotionally driven online behavior. I would always buy more than needed. I get fewer catalogs now, so you  stopped “playing me” with your enticing images.

A look from J Crew for Spring 2015.

A look from J Crew for Spring 2015.

5.  Something changed. I trusted you to color my world. Some of the colors got very repetitive and harshly un-wearable. Dirty ochre anyone?

Mickey, I will never forget the good times. I’m definitely willing to give us another chance. I think about you often and still drive by your house. I need you to be the reliable source for key items like tees, shirts and sweaters, but mixed with more exciting quality pieces. You have a special place in the mall. You just got in with the wrong crowd.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Blue Color Worker Spring/Summer 2015

Looking at 25″ of snow outside, I’m big-time craving the blue skies of spring and summer 2015. One consolation is that we will be seeing a lot of blue in fashion over the next few months. The “Blue Color Worker” is the backbone of America in deepest navy, Air Force blue, royal, periwinkle, tender baby and blue tint.

The perennial favorite color will be front and center in fashion on everything from handbags, tops, sweaters, dresses, jeans, outerwear, active apparel, accessories, swimwear, shoes, etc. There will be a range of denim washes from light to very dark as well as solid dyed twills.

As MVP of the color spectrum, it can morph sharply nautical, softly sensual or boho seventies. Versatile blue is a power player, the king of casual and an intoxicating pastel.

Pair blues tonally or use navy as a neutral foil against bright primaries, such as navy and citrusy yellow. Navy with tinted pastels are chic and sexy. Combine the spectrum of blues with shades of grey, khaki or optic white.

Blue is the hardest working color family for spring/summer 2015.

Blue is the hardest working color family for spring/summer 2015.

For color seasonal color forecasts, see COLORSCOOP.

 Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Sweet Things – Fall Fashion Power Trend

The pleasure of fashion is the ability to transport the wearer and captivate the observer. Fashion is a game, played well, by a scarce few who understand its incredible power.  Fashion choices can help one transcend mere mortal status. Think of the ability of black leather to dominate, a Navy uniform to officiate or all white to glamorize.

Nothing is so sensual, so alluring, so downright sexy as the “Sweet Things” trending in fall fashion. These girly, fitted, ruffly, lacy, pleated, cropped, sheer, sequined and embellished items have the ability to bring men to their knees.  Women get caught in their emotional web and can’t resist the impulse. Think legal nudity.

Power trend: Sweet and sexy blush items for fall.

Power trend: Sweet and sexy blush items for fall.

Most often, these trouble-making tops, dresses, handbags, shoes, sweaters, active wear, bras, panties and skirts are in delicate shades of blush pink.  Look for these delicate colors in beauty lines, as well.

Caution, there can be too much of a good thing. Wear them tonally or in single servings. Pair sweet pieces with edgier ones like jeans or leather jacket. Pair with grey, navy or maroon. Head-to-toe blush pink can lead to a matronly sugar rush.

Look to Herve Lerger, Ted Baker, Tory Burch, Club Monaco, BCBG, Zara, La Perla, Athleta, etc. for some of the best Sweet Things.

 

For color seasonal color forecasts, see COLORSCOOP.

 Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Great New Color Trend Service

Are you a little bored with the same old color trend services year after year? Any design director who has been in the business for while starts to recognize the color service without seeing the label. A bigger problem is that many pricey forecasts come out about 18 months in advance. How can they be right? Fashion designers should strive to work closer to season.

Introducing a new women’s color trend service called COLORSCOOP. What sets it apart, is it comes out closer to the season (about 12 months in advance) and is chock full of beautiful, current images to support the forecast. This exciting service comes as a wired-bound book, with Pantone textile references and understandable commentary. Created by a design director for design directors and an economical $295 per season.

A page from spring 2015 Colorscoop.

A page from spring 2015 Colorscoop.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Fashion Activewear Wins the Gold

Let’s face it, there is too much apparel offered for the North American market to absorb. Strong evidence is that most price points of casual apparel, haven’t risen in decades. Part of the deflation was the elimination of quotas. The main reason is when there is an over-supply of something, it loses pricing power.  40-60% off anyone?Fashion Activewear

Another factor is a lack of excitement in casual fashion. Year after year, we see endless commodity tees, jeans and shorts,  Big yawn.

There is a bright spot. Athletic wear, active wear, performance apparel, whatever you call it, is dominating casual fashion. These industry terms are nothing more than comfortable casual clothes, in unique fabrics that flatter the body, while taking a beating. Appearing active provides an “in” to the hip club of people who care about their bodies and wellness; even if most people will never do yoga or run a marathon.There has been fashion “risk taking” in silhouettes and fabrics in the active category. Lululemon even with their recent pant and PR foibles has dominated by offering compelling fashion in a range of technical fabrics.  They broke all the dreary rules of developing safe, cheap active apparel. Dense and constructed fabrics smooth flaws and support the body.  High prices are part of the status appeal. The offer continuous newness. Rule breakers often find opportunity in the road-less-traveled.

Who cares if clothes are anti-stink, moisture wicking or breathable, if you aren’t wearing them to exercise? They have supernatural powers to make the wearer feel sexier, current and part of the aspirational “it” club. Fashion is about emotion after all. Under Armour, the other dominant brand, born from apparel roots, understands they are selling “power” not poly. (Under Armour’s 2013’s revenue grew 27.1%) Companies with a strong “brand promise” have pricing power.

Smartly, Nike understands the trend and stepped up their apparel game compared to most footwear companies. Nike announced that its branded apparel has grown by 40% in the last 3 years!  This isn’t true for most footwear brands, creating humdrum clothing, as an afterthought. There is a mushrooming market for fashion-driven active brands like Michi, Prism Sport, Koral and Stella MCartney for Adidas. You can see others on the newly launched, active fashion ecommerce site, Carbon 38.  

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel,  footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Will Fashion Still Drive Sports Apparel?

Active apparel has experienced significant growth over the past five years. According to Forbes magazine estimates, the global sports apparel market was worth $135 billion in 2012. It is no secret that Lululemon and Under Armour became the defacto leaders of the sports apparel industry in terms of fashion and overall growth rates. Nike, the largest player in sports apparel, upped their game significantly and their share of the overall activewear market increased from 3.9% in 2007 to 4.9% in 2012, according to Forbes.

Men's is a huge opportunity for Lululemon.

Men’s is a huge opportunity for Lululemon.

The sports apparel market was once controlled by male-dominated footwear companies that dished out low quality, masculine basics emblazoned with their logos. Apparel was a “foot note” in their bureaucratic shoe cultures, driven by industrial designers, on a rigid shoe production schedule with little understanding of fashion. This has been true of other shoe companies that extend into apparel as well. Apparel companies operate and think in a very different way. They tend to be more agile, trend driven, work closer to need and repeat very little season to season.

Under Armour was born from an apparel mentality. With its higher prices and slick styling, they quickly became the company to beat in men’s sports apparel. They added sex appeal and attainable luxury in a sea of dumpy poly/cotton logo tees. Lululemon came along and blew away every preconceived notion about the category. They proved consumers are willing to pay a premium for innovative feminine styling, flattering fits and exciting fashion color. They almost never discount and have trained their customers to buy now, with a  limited inventory on new styles. I see a huge future for this company. Women are introducing Lulu to their men and are a fixture in the dressing area with their female counterparts. They are currently constrained by their store count. I could see men’s growing significantly and a huge opportunity, if they did Lulu kids. Companies like Athleta and Title Nine aren’t real competition for Lululemon. They are riding the sports apparel wave, but their basic styling and “Zen-like” prints are more masculine, formulaic and old-school.

Lululemon and Under Armour brought fashion to a dead zone. The genie is out of the bottle and it is never going back. These companies offer “aspirational luxury” and consumers love wearing these comfy duds on the street, whether they participate in sports or not. Nike was smart to apply the same winning principles to their apparel without knocking off them off. These leaders are in constant forward motion. The future isn’t about commodity black yoga pants.

Flattering and feminine styles drive sales at Lululemon.

Flattering and feminine styles drive sales at Lululemon.

Brands create value with a unique vision that is consistent across their product lines and find the audience to whom it resonates. The challenge for footwear companies in apparel is their industrial design driven culture. Most athletic footwear companies apparel offerings aren’t consistent with their shoe brands. They tend to be less hip and very sports marketing driven. Women don’t care about athlete endorsements and they buy a lot more clothes than men. The market is wide open for another sports apparel brand with original ideas to grab market share.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel,  footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Lululemon Pant Recall – Sheer Madness

Last week Lululemon’s stock took a hit on news of a recall of a batch of their “Wunder Under” black yoga pants. When worn by a consumer the pants appeared too sheer. This represented about 17% of their first quarter bottoms assortment and will have an impact on first quarter sales. Lululemon reacted quickly to recall the pants and in the spirit of “transparency”, notified Wall Street of the flap.

Lululemon spring gym bags.

Lululemon spring gym bags.

This sort of thing happens to all manufacturers and brought to mind an incident in my career when the company I worked for, shipped black pants weakened by overdyeing. The pants were splitting in the field and the unassuming customers were showing a lot more than a shadow of their undies! We survived and thrived. This is a case of sheer madness.

Jealous competitors will be disappointed, this incident will not put a dent in the Lululemon lovefest. The beloved Canadian active maker acted the hero, the protector of quality and the decency of their customer.  The missing inventory only represents a piece of their bottoms assortment.

Lululemon continues to innovate and delight their customers.

Lululemon continues to innovate and delight their customers.

The big winners will be those who buy the stock on the dip!

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Feeding Frenzy – Lululemon

I admit it, I’m a dyed-in-the-Lycra, full-blown fan of Lululemon Athletica. I was one of the sharks in the holiday feeding frenzy for all things Lulu. On a visit last week after Christmas, I could hardly move around the 60 or so people I counted in the little store lusting after Lulu. They were spending gift cards, making exchanges and if they expected markdowns, they were sorely disappointed. This fashionable Canadian purveyor of athletic clothing has risen to cult status at full-price. This is a true fairy-tale ending to a lackluster holiday season for most retailers.

There are always sexy and functional sports bras and tops.

There are always sexy and functional sports bras and tops.

In a highly competitive apparel market Lululemon has proven that there is always still room for fresh design and a compelling brand experience. (I think the stores are bit dark, though). They churn out unique and creative silhouettes that flatter the athletic and not-so-athletic bodies of their adoring masses. They create demand for their feminine and tastefully sexy styles. They tout performance fabrications for real yoga and running aficionados, but the rest of us just love the great quality and are willing to pay for it. They have broken every rule of the old footwear apparel players. They make expensive, feminine, comfortable, durable and sometimes radical styles for women and men. They almost singlehandedly started the trend for yoga wear as everyday wear in and out of the gym.

Certainly upper management from the major athletic companies are sending spy drones in the stores to figure out their secret sauce. They are buying and dissecting garments and creating their own vanilla versions. This is a recipe without all the ingredients. They are missing the point; it is Lululemon’s originality that makes it special. It is getting to the finish line first. Who cares about second place?

The opportunity for growth for Lululemon is still very great, as they are still far from a household name. They could benefit from larger stores and certainly more men’s product. Girls would be a smash hit, too. If I was a Nordstrom or Bloomingdales’s buyer, I would be begging for a wholesale line.

December Lululemon deliveries included signature pink and black jackets and a unique lace print used on tops and bottoms.

December Lululemon deliveries included signature pink and black jackets and a unique lace print used on tops and bottoms.

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies. Follow me to get the latest posts

JCP Report Card – Hope & Change

Visual merchandising is greatly improved.

Visual merchandising is greatly improved.

In my post last February about the transformation of J.C. Penney (JC Penney Ante),  my greatest concern was their ability to turn the product around. I didn’t doubt they could improve the design, housekeeping and experience of the physical stores; or that they could market the new strategy.

Department stores today are far more complex organizations than they were decades ago. They are now multi-channel and in some cases multi-national organizations. They all produce a good percentage of their own private brands and have to have extensive product development teams. Moderate stores such as Penney’s don’t have much of an open market anymore. There are few moderate brands that have the ability to sell these consolidated behemoths. They were squeezed out over time by the retailers consuming selling space with their own products.

A top from JCP's fashion-right Mango line.

A top from JCP’s fashion-right Mango line.

Stores with private brands have to manage traditional merchandising and buying staff and have the ability to run creative design teams. These two functions are polar opposites and have a competitive tension between them. Great design comes from truly gifted and visionary talent. In many companies, it  a considered a common trait. Often unqualified merchants are given creative authority over programs with dreary results. In-house design can become too insular, as well. Unfortunately, for the most part, private label apparel is subject to large committees of leadership, all who put their stamp on the offer. Subsequently, they can water down the soup and create brands with stolen or missing identities.

There is a good assortment of fresh dresses.

There is a good assortment of fresh dresses.

For Penney’s to really transform beyond price selling, they must have the ability to create authentic desirable brands, not generic names with me-too styling. Their true prospects rely on their ability to hire or partner with the best design talent in the industry. This is the Target playbook.

JCP has well represented the active trend.

JCP has well represented the active trend.

On my recent trip to Penney’s, I saw some real green sprouts of change in the environment and merchandising. The stores are less cluttered, brighter and have better housekeeping. In some areas, I felt like I was in Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom, but at Target prices. Kudos to them, the place feels younger, more upscale, and alive! Some of the featured fashion was an exciting value. It is a much more pleasant place to shop.

The store is a tale of two cities now. They still are devoting a large swath of the store to Liz Claiborne and other missy product. The missy area is a dead zone for most companies, as they don’t really understand how to address the multiple lifestyles of an aging population. This is a core customer for Penney’s, so it will require real introspection. I have little faith that the upcoming Liz Claiborne concept shop will move the needle. This brand has been rehashed for years. (Formerly Liz Claiborne, Fifth and Pacific changed their name and sold their ailing namesake.) It will be an enormous challenge to give this line an appealing and authentic personality. They are also banking on Izod, Levi’s, Buffalo and their in-house basics for third quarter apparel introductions. This is hardly an exciting apparel roster, ditto for the upcoming fall Royal Velvet home shop.

Some compelling contemporary separates.

Some compelling contemporary separates.

I am much more intrigued with upcoming home introductions from Jonathan Adler, Terrance Conran, Michael Graves and Bodum in the home area next year. The current home assortment is painfully mainstream.

Sephora is still their ace card. I give them credit for their large department of trending active wear, big selection of dresses and pretty tops. The Mango department is hip and enticing. All important handbags are uninspiring, but shoes hit on most of the trends. The fine jewelry department is very old school. They will be introducing accessories by Betsy Johnson, Vivienne Tam and Lulu Guinness for fall. There are also some very cute kid’s clothes. Young families will be core constituents of the new Penney’s.

Target and Kohl’s should be very worried about Penney’s transformation, especially Kohl’s, if Penney’s get the missy area on track.  The new Penney’s has the potential to be a low-end Nordstrom. So far I see hope and change beyond my expectations. Stay tuned.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix&Pond…creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale, analysts and investors. Contact us for more information on custom research and reporting.

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