Is Bankruptcy Looming for J.Crew?

J. Crew’s Financials Aren’t Good

A Reuters article, dated 11/16/16 is speculating that J.Crew is considering a spin-off of their successful Madewell division, in a likely attempt to raise cash. According to the 3rd quarter 2016 results, J.Crew stores had a 7% sales decline and including Madewell, had roughly $1.5 billion in debt and just $38 million in cash. This is not a healthy place to be.

What happened to one of the best specialty retailers in America? It’s easy to blame mall traffic, but those shoppers are shopping elsewhere and online. By the way, J.Crew has had an exceptional e-commerce site for many years.

They got caught in a maelstrom of changing trends and self-inflicted wounds.

The 4 Biggest Reasons J.Crew is Struggling

Millennial shoppers are the most strapped generation in decades. This largest demographic in the history of the US, is now 16-33. They are the most diverse American generation ever, with a wide range of tastes. Their shallow pockets have given rise to fast-fashion, consignment, rental and vintage apparel sales. I don’t think they aren’t interested in fashion, but clothing is discretionary after rent, school debt, healthcare, transportation and food costs. 

J. Crew had been dogged by inconsistent quality and styling.

J. Crew had been dogged by inconsistent quality and styling.

J.Crew seemed to target this growing base with lower quality materials in an attempt to decrease or hold prices. They also dabbled in trendier silhouettes, adding to the brand confusion. In the classic business you walk a fine line, to offer the expected, with a touch of newness to excite the customer.

Seemingly, in an attempt to be all things to all customers, they alienated fans that saw them as the quality, hip “American” lifestyle brand in the mall. They should have embraced their monopoly as a reliable, premium brand and let the rest of the generic tenants duke it out.

J.Crew had what they thought was a winning formula, cotton/spandex Capri pants, cashmere sweaters and cotton tees. They rested on formulaic laurels while customers were discovering more comfortable, durable and flattering fabrics in athletic apparel from the likes of Lululemon and many others. The rapid adoption of athleisure was lost on J.Crew. They didn’t see that customers were embracing a new casual. They should have evolved some of their assortment to address the exodus, in new fabrications or styling with a J.Crew spin. They just launched, in fall 2016, a “brand-right” athletic apparel collaboration with New Balance, maybe too little, too late. The athletic apparel market has much less elbow room at this point.

There are new kids on the block. At one time, J.Crew was the epitome of the modern prepster. They blended an urbane twist with classic American looks, to define an eclectic, cool state of prep. This wearable market position had a wide audience with fashion and traditional customers.

This late summer 2016 product is what they are know for, classic with a twist.

This late summer 2016 product is what they are known for, classic with a twist.

In recent years, they veered off course with poor quality or trendy items, overly eclectic pairings and strange colors, a road too far for their loyal customer.

As J.Crew confused its customer, they created a vacuum for other rapidly growing, consistent brands to fill. Kate Spade has taken away legions of suburban and urban women of all ages with their whimsical, colorful vibe. Vineyard Vines offers the traditional country club and aspiring wanna-bees,  preppy classics, that really resonate with Millennials. J. McLaughlin attracts the hard-core suburban prepster with uber-traditional, quality clothes. Tory Burch skims off the East Side, preppy customer. Club Monaco speaks to the contemporary, classic customer. These five brands are growing and nibbling at J.Crew’s forgotten following. The pie is only so big and their slice is getting smaller.

There continues to be significant markdowns across categories.

There continues to be significant markdowns across categories.

The stores need a facelift. The above brands have bright, organized new store formats. J.Crew’s shops are cluttered, chaotic and dark and the wood paneling feels very Brooks Brother’s 1992. They don’t highlight their best categories in a focused, shoppable layout. The brand experience needs a serious intervention, a difficult task, with mountains of debt.

None of these opinions are probably news to J.Crew. This is a formidable company with tremendous talent. Maybe they became too insular or content?

This product is a bright spot in the Fall 2016 assortment.

This product is a bright spot in the Fall 2016 assortment.

Amidst the clutter this fall, I’ve seen glimpses of the best of J.Crew. Time will tell, if it’s enough to save them from a painful bankruptcy. It’s not looking good based on 3rd quarter results.

Most retailers never achieve the iconic consumer and fashion industry respect of J.Crew. I’m rooting for them to turn this ship around.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

Are Sporting Goods & Outdoor in a Death Spiral?

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

 

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post!

 

 

 

 

 

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Under Armour Looks for Growth in Athletic-Inspired Sportswear Trend

Under Armour Announces New UAS Line

Under Armour launches their newest initiative, UAS or Under Armour Sportswear September 15, at New York Fashion Week for immediate sale at Barney’s, Mr. Porter, their own brick and mortar stores and a dedicated UAS website. This upscale, fashion sportswear product is anything, but performance athletic apparel. The athletic-inspired clothing is targeting “ambitious Millennials” with “modern American sportswear, at home in a professional work place and not on the field.

UAS Under Armour Sportswear

Photo credit Under Armour

Why UAS Makes Sense for Under Armour

Some people may be scratching their heads over this move into sportswear, but it makes perfect sense for a several reasons.

In 1997, Under Armour was a pioneer that introduced expensive, fashion performance apparel to a market used to activewear as thoughtless, cheap basics from footwear companies. They were the first major aspirational athletic brand for men, as Lululemon was for women.

Under Armour created an athletic brand that sold strength, prowess and status in the mind of the wearer and by the way, sold comfortable, performance apparel. Fashion branding is about stirring emotion and they have been squarely in the fashion business, since the beginning. They upped the ante on the whole men’s athletic market.

Under Armour is an epic brand, at a time when it is getting harder to achieve mega-status in a niche-driven, individualist market. The appeal of their brand gives them license to branch out into other categories and price points, upscale, technically-inspired sportswear being one.

Consumers started wearing the higher quality, more stylish and comfortable clothing out of the gym. The use of performance fabrics and athletic details in everyday sportswear has been gaining steam for a while, as a natural extension of this trend.

The market is overflowing with spandex blended fabrics, polyester is no longer considered “low-rent”, performance properties abound and even merino wool has been “recast” as a technical fabric. Apparel startups Kit and Ace (former Lululemon founders) and Ministry (former MIT students) are two examples of this major trend. The new Van Heusen Flex Collection is selling comfort and technical properties to the men’s moderate wear-to-work market.

Sportswear is being inspired by athletic apparel and is experiencing a huge disruptive change to the look, feel and function of these categories.

UAS Under Armour Sportswear for men and women

Photo credit Under Armour

The Athletic Apparel Market Is Extremely Competitive

For more than a decade now athletic apparel has been the big growth story in a lack-luster apparel industry. Athletic startups and existing brand extensions have exploded. There is much less breathing room in the active market right now. Either you innovate, take risks, extend your brand in new categories or stagnate, shrink or die. Puma, Adidas and Nike are all responding to this market shift with collaborations and extensions.

This market explosion has blurred the lines of distribution away from sporting goods to all retail channels, not good news for apparel-dominated sporting goods stores.

Under Armour was born from apparel lineage, so it is an easier transition for them. Many strong athletic footwear or sporting goods brands have yet to even capitalize on the seismic shift that happened in active lifestyle apparel. They are missing a great opportunity and do this at their peril. UAS has now gone beyond athleisure to sportswear.

UAS won’t be Under Armour’s biggest initiative simply because of price points, certainly not the huge opportunity of their new moderate distribution to stores like Kohl’s; but it will allow them to capture the imaginations and wallets of new customers.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

Are Sporting Goods & Outdoor in a Death Spiral?

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Bankruptcies:What’s Next for Sporting Goods Makers?

Sporting Goods And Retail Space Are Shrinking

By now, most major sporting goods suppliers of apparel, footwear and equipment have taken a significant write-off from the Sports Authority bankruptcy and others, like Vestis Group’s Eastern Mountain Sports and Sports Chalet.

Sports Authority represented about 450 big doors for equipment, shoes and apparel. Under Armour has reported a $23 million dollar charge related to the bankruptcy, one of the largest reported losses. Some will be resurrected by buyers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, but most of these distribution points have gone away forever. This is natural pruning of a diseased tree.

The sporting goods channel is challenged by many factors. They have an over abundance of similar apparel, when the athletic apparel market has exploded in terms of styling, new brands and available outlets to buy. Women no longer need to shop in sporting goods stores for clothes. Young people have lower sports participation rates and more single-sport focus. Millennials are increasingly exercising in specialty fitness clubs like SoulCycle, Flywheel, Orange Theory, Pure Barre, Title Boxing and others, versus traditional sports participation.

Health and wellness are mega-trends, but we just don’t need as much square footage in traditional sporting goods doors. A lot of athletic apparel and footwear has migrated away to other retail doors and we are in a seriously over-stored environment for all types of consumer goods.

Sports & Athletic Manufacturers Must Get Creative

What does a traditional manufacturer of athletic apparel, footwear or equipment do when their available floor or virtual distribution space is shrinking? They have to get creative and take share from competitors. That means business focus, seeking alternative distribution points and sharpening their brand and product offerings. Here are six ways to improve athletic related sales in a diluted market:

Focus Your Strategy – Now more than ever companies cannot afford to dabble in duplicative or pet projects that drain precious resources. This means pruning and consolidating your company’s tree, to concentrate on fewer, but clearly promising categories or businesses.

Find New Distribution Channels – This means potentially selling into a channel, location, market or country that you have never considered before.

Under Armour just announced that they are going to sell the moderate channel starting with Kohl’s. This will help them reach more female, suburban customers. They have around 1100 locations, which could more than make up for the Sports Authority loss.

Sometimes creative distribution creates strange bedfellows, but everyone wins. A great example of this is Nordstrom selling J. Crew’s Madewell product, in their full-line stores. Nordstrom is supporting a retail competitor and J. Crew has become a wholesaler. They both have flipped the script and it is working out very well.

Brainstorm for new opportunities by imagining the mirror opposite of your current strategy and point-of-view. Consider complementary partner brands for co-promotion.

Grow Direct to Consumer –Wholesale brands can no longer count on their traditional retail customers for continued future growth. They need to have a strong direct-to-consumer strategy to sell to or introduce their brands to new consumers. This includes considering every possible format…brick and mortar, pop-ups, retail showrooms for e-commerce, e-commerce, brand ambassador selling, direct mail, shopping trucks, event and festival sales, VIP events, home shopping networks, parties, etc. What are the new ways to bring it to the customer, on their terms?

Think Product First – There is no fooling consumers, they know innovation and creativity when they see it. Marginal product always equals marginal results. Frequently companies pour millions into marketing, when their product doesn’t live up to the hype. Creating growth means product first, as they may never see your marketing messages in a splintered media.

Force Fresh Perspectives and Creative Risk Taking – Stella McCartney, Pharrell Williams and Kanye, put Adidas back on the map. Rihanna is growing Puma’s bottom line. These celebrity or designer collaborations can be game-changing and newsworthy (not always successful) to bring new converts into the brand.

The idea is forcing fresh perspectives and taking creative risks. For instance, this can be done by hiring fashion people to do shoes and shoe people to re-imagine apparel. How do you surprise and delight customers? If you are still working like it’s 2006, you’re probably not on an uphill track.

Great Brand Experience is Key – Clearly defined brands that offer a consistent experience to their customers, will fare best in a lukewarm market. Does you product have an identity that it can be identified without labels? Do your products, stores, website, packaging, marketing and service have a compelling and consistent promise for the target consumer?

When was the last time you went in a sporting goods or retail  store and felt excited to buy? Consumers increasingly want experiences from brick and mortar retail, so stores must innovate with decor, services, restaurants, bars, events, fitting clinics and loyalty programs to attract a consumer bombarded with choices. Own The Moment stores by Bauer is an exciting example of a completely reimagined sporting goods experience.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

Are Sporting Goods & Outdoor in a Death Spiral?

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Haters Kill The #Curry2 Chef Sneaker?

Curry 2 Low Chef Sneaker Debut Lambasted

Under Armour debuted NBA, All-Star Steph Curry’s new Curry 2 Low “Chef” athletic sneaker, June 9 to an immediate explosion of haters on social media. They had a field day mocking the all-white, low-top sneaker on Twitter #Curry2 with snarky comparisons to “Dad shoes”, Seinfeld and elderly walkers. Although they were pretty creative and witty in their criticism, I couldn’t help cringe for the battered creative team at Under Armour and the innocently blindsided, two-time Golden State Warrior’s MVP, Stephen Curry. It hurts.

All white sneakers have been trending recently, but they are only “cool” in the context of being worn by cool people. When an urban, badass 18-year-old wears them, they are cutting edge. When clunky, all-white athletic sneakers are worn by anyone over 40, they conjure up images of low-brow, comfortable, nurse and mall-walker shoes. Fashion is always about context; for example, a Millennial can rock a bucket hat, on a man over 40, its touristy, geek-chic.

Curry 2 Low Chef

Curry 2 Low Chef

A Case Study of The Power of Social Media

As a design director, I can easily imagine the path followed to get to this design. White sneakers are trending and they probably thought it was a sure thing to preview this color. It comes in several other colors, that are considerably more radical, like black with team orange details, which was the most sold-down color on their website, as of this post. (White was available in all sizes.) Personally, I would have taken a more risky approach to the overall design and colorways for a such a mega-superstar shoe. Safe can backfire in a crowded market, but it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.

I don’t believe in collective designing but with social media we live in times of instant approval or rejection of people, thoughts, services and products. For a high-profile intro with so much anticipation and hype, I think I would have focus-grouped the design concept mid-stream with sneakerheads, pre-release. This skewering of the #Curry2 can’t help the Under Armour bottom line.

Not sure if the haters will prevail to dent sales, but I think this will go down as a case study for academia on the power of social media and commerce.

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Tough Retail: 7 Ways to Grow Your Consumer Brand

Are Sporting Goods & Outdoor in a Death Spiral?

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

 

Tough Retail: 7 Ways to Grow Your Consumer Brand

Seismic Changes Are Happening to Retail

Under-employment, stagnant wages, historically high school debt, credit card debt, large healthcare deductibles, staggering urban rent, first homes, weddings and new babies, is there any wonder why Millennials seek value in their discretionary purchases like apparel, accessories, footwear and home?

This is the overhang from a deep recession, the Affordable Care Act and lackluster recovery. It has given rise to the Amazon-effect, outlets, successful discounters like TJX, fast-fashion, rental, consignment and intense comparison shopping. Who can afford to pay full-price?

Practically every retailer and brand is chasing the most cash-strapped generation in decades, because the Millennial generation, ages 15-33 is now the largest population in the US, finally surpassing the much wealthier Baby Boomers and Generation X.

A quote in the Wall Street Journal on May 12, really caught my attention. “Non-discretionary spending on health, insurance, education, and housing has taken an extra 4% out of personal consumption expenditures in 2015 compared with 2000, according to Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. That has reduced the discretionary spending available for traditional retailers by $500 billon, more than the combined annual sales of Walmart Stores and Costco Wholesale combined.” No wonder  we are seriously over-stored.

Traffic is down at brick and mortar retailers, everyone is trying to explain it, but the reasons are actually quite obvious. There are huge headwinds on spending, so consumers are chasing good deals or staying home.

Online retail, even though it represents less than 10% of all purchases is the fastest growing retail channel. This reflects the ease of comparison shopping, selection and simplicity for insanely time-strapped consumers. It isn’t the best way to browse or make impulse purchases. Who goes on Amazon, just to see what’s new?

Survival Strategies in Tough Times for Consumer Brands

What should apparel, footwear, home and consumer discretionary companies do to combat intense spending headwinds? Here are seven ways to grow in tough times:

Offer brand value. Brands with a consistent, clear identity and experience will rise above the clutter and command higher prices than weak concepts and me-too products. Think Apple, Nike, Under Armour, Kate Spade, Madewell and West Elm.

Be strategically focused on core strengths. It’s necessary to test new things, but focus on your sweet spots, invest in your strengths and best brands. Don’t get romanced with low-value, expensive projects and extensions.

Value great design. Creativity and innovation create demand and pricing power. Big marketing efforts without great products to back them up, won’t fool consumers, who value authenticity.

Look for untapped markets or niche opportunities. For instance, the  underserved plus-size markets for women and men, trending activities, hot fitness trends, growing sports, hobbies, etc..

Increase DTC efforts. Many stores will close, decreasing available doors for your apparel, footwear and consumer products. Your direct to consumer efforts online, with company-owned stores, pop-up stores, partnerships, direct mail etc., will help you control your brand message and destiny.

Think beyond Millennials. Brands with cross-generational “lifestyle” appeal will weather the competitive storm better than discretionary fashion brands just targeting Millennials. Baby Boomers have the greatest wealth in the history of the US and are due to inherit even more, even though they also took a hit during the Recession.

Take risks. This is counterintuitive in bad times. Hire experienced and visionary people who can execute a well-balanced strategy of taking creative risks while covering established business.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

 

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for sharing with a friend, if you enjoyed the post! 

 

 

Are Sporting Goods & Outdoor in a Death Spiral?

Vestis Retail Group Files for Bankruptcy

Another one bites the dust. The Vestis Retail Group, owner of  Eastern Mountain Sports, Sport Chalet and Bob’s Stores of Meriden, CT is filing for bankruptcy. This follows the high-profile bankruptcy filing of Sports Authority of Englewood, CO and the recent closure of Boston-based City Sports stores. Prediction, the sporting goods graveyard will have more big-name corpses by year-end.

I also believe the outdoor, wood beam and hunter green team, Cabela’s, Bass Pro ShopsL.L. Bean and Dick’s Sporting Goods are seriously challenged these days. Because of the uniformity and proliferation of these outdoor/active mega stores, they are no longer the hot destination stores they once were. They’re surely feeling competitive headwinds from many directions. Dick’s will benefit from Sports Authority closures, but you can’t really say you’re a good student, just because the class average goes down.

In my view, the outdoor and sporting goods channels have reached saturation point and every niche has a ceiling. They will have to get smaller and find serious points of differentiation to thrive.

They also have an aging demographic and won’t have the same appeal to Millennials. 45% of this important demographic belong to a minority group (according to the US Census) unlike the Boomers and Generation X before them. The Millennial generation has more varied taste and less money to spend on apparel and accessories.

Apparel on clearance at EMS.

Apparel on clearance at EMS

What’s Happening in The Sporting Goods Channel?

Why is this happening in the sporting goods channel when sneakers are red-hot and athletic apparel has been biggest bright spot in apparel for almost a decade?

1. Amazon is an elephant in the room. According to a Slice Intelligence survey of 3.5 million consumers Amazon had a 43% share of all online sales last November and December. Their enormous selection, comparative deals, fast speed and free shipping are hard to compete with. According to Cowen & Co They are also on track to become the largest seller of apparel in the US, probably beating Macy’s by next year.

2. Sporting goods stores are no longer a key destination for women to buy athletic apparel. As the “athleisure trend” grew, so did the sources women and men have to buy these looks. Lululemon and Under Armour were the pioneers that challenged the category with fashion, quality and higher prices. Now the competition is fierce with traditional retailers increasing their assortments, specialty retailers like Athleta, brand-owned stores, online specialists and many wholesalers adding active to their assortments. Since women buy 80% of all consumer purchases, there is lot less traffic in sporting goods stores.

3. “Athletic inspired”, lifestyle apparel is far more important than performance apparel. The big expansion of active is wearing these clothes out of the gym. Many sporting goods stores and some apparel brands seem to think it is primarily about functionality and sweat reduction, not fashion and compelling design. Frequently, their lifestyle apparel offering is only the classic “outdoor” brands.

Many sporting goods stores devote enormous square footage to apparel and they generally don’t have the fashion chops to compete in a brutally competitive, rapidly changing apparel sector. Who needs another purple mock half-zip?

4. Sporting goods stores used to be the preferred place to buy sneakers. Performance sneakers,” sport-inspired” vulcanized cousins and fashion variations are the trending casual footwear today. Sporting goods retailers have not kept up with sneaker specialists and have treated the category as important as golf equipment. Women can buy “athletic-inspired” footwear from any of their favorite retailers from Forever 21 to Nordstrom today.

5. Youth participation is down trending for many sports. See this chart from Sports Business Journal in August 2015. There are many things going on here from the cost participation, fear of injuries, lack of interest, over specialization in one sport, etc. The drop in participation naturally creates less demand for equipment and related apparel:Youth sports participation rates.

What Should Brands do to Survive in This Climate?

What is an apparel, footwear brand or store to do in this highly competitive market? It demands creating real brand value, innovation, differentiation, targeting and understanding your competitive advantage in the market.

Competing just on price is a fool’s game. Fashion is emotionally driven by fantasy, hope or self-fulfillment, not just technical features or price. Wearable tech optimists, be warned.

Consumers want simple and exciting shopping experiences from brick and mortar or online stores. It’s time for the sporting goods and outdoor retailers to reimagine their stores for today, with nothing being off-the-table. Well conceived and executed brand experiences will turn this negative outlook positive.

 

You might enjoy these previous posts:

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Sports Authority Teeters on Bankruptcy- See The Reasons

Decoding  Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

 

The Dix & Pond Blog is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting,  a Boston-based, company that consults on trends and creative direction, brand experience, business strategy, product development, merchandising and provides executive coaching for retail, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post! 

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Athletic Apparel Has Been Permanently Disrupted

Remember when athletic apparel was mostly made by footwear and sports equipment companies? It was budget-priced, logo-driven basic tees, sweats and shorts, sold primarily in sporting goods stores, for working out and active sports. It was the ugly step child to the primary businesses.

Market disruption started about 10 years ago when higher-value athletic apparel started to hit the market by fashion and price pioneers, Under Armour and Lululemon. They were innovators with more costly, functional fabrics, fashion-driven styling and unique branding; think of Under Armour’s powerful mannequins and Lululemon’s yoga cult brand experience.

Their flattering and comfortable styles, outperformed and outlasted their cheaper competitors. Customers found emotional value paying for creative, sexy and fashionable looks at a higher price and started wearing them in and out of the gym. They created “aspirational status” athletic brands.

The athleisure trend took off and has been the biggest trend in apparel for more than 5 years. Active and casual apparel blurred into a new category. The genie is out of the bottle and it is never going back.

Athleta pushes urban lifestyle products.
Athleta pushes urban lifestyle products.

Competition in Athletic Apparel Has Gotten Fierce

As athleisure has grown, the competition for market share has gotten fierce. Many non-athletic brands including Tory Burch (Torysport) and Free People (FP Movement) now offer their own active apparel. Footwear companies like Nike really upped their fashion game and companies are doing designer collaborations like Stella McCartney and Kayne West’s Yeezy for Adidas.

High-end, ecommerce specialists like Carbon 38, and Bandier (online and opening stores), have sprouted up, carrying ediger brands, like Michi and Heroine Sport. Designer ecommerce company Net-A-Porter started Net-A-Sporter.

Lululemon is seriously challenged lately by Gap’s Athleta. Athleta fully understands the blurring of the category with their combination of performance and sophisticated street wear looks (they used to only carry bright colors and the cliché “zen-like” NorCal prints). Lululemon has recently vowed to double-down on market-leading innovation and put a greater focus on performance athletes, in a recent article with Bloomberg.

Lululemon is pushing market-leading innovation.

Lululemon is pushing market-leading innovation.

Retailers like Target, Kohl’s and JC Penney greatly improved their active offerings. Macy’s, late to the athleisure party, now has a big selection in 700+ stores and online. Victoria’s Secret has an growing sports bra and athletic business. In fact, the sport bra  business has seriously dented fashion bras. Fast-fashion stores like Primark, have large active assortments at rock bottom prices.

Primark has rock-bottom prices, like $10 pants.

Primark has rock-bottom prices, like $10 pants.

Active Apparel Distribution Has Been Diluted

Distribution has been widely diluted across all retail channels. Sporting goods stores are no longer where most women buy their athletic apparel. Footwear and sports equipment companies have to sell direct to consumer and forge forward-thinking relationships beyond the sporting goods channel to regain market share.

It’s no wonder retailers like Sports Authority and defunct City Sports didn’t capitalize on this mega-trend. Sporting goods stores have to do more than display apparel in cavernous spaces and start competing head-on with real apparel merchants. They must be discerning, take brand risks and edit out the so-so.

Adidas at Urban Outfitters.

Adidas at Urban Outfitters.

2016’s Definition of Active Apparel

Athletic apparel is two-pronged. A smaller percentage is worn for true performance sports, but the lions’ share is used as casual, lifestyle clothing. Shorts designed for running, are a teenager’s summer staple. Sports bras are worn all day. Leggings and sweats are paired with Uggs for school. Hoodies are everywhere.

Design teams must understand the bulk of their products will never be worn for active sports. Personally, I own at least a dozen Lululemon tops and have never even tried yoga. Active designers simply can’t assign cursory importance to the “lifestyle” part of their business.

The definition of athletic apparel in 2016 is predominantly knit-driven, fitness inspired, comfortable casual apparel that is made of functional and innovative fabrics that can be worn for range of casual uses, including sports activities.

Fierce competition in the women’s and men’s apparel and accessories markets requires real innovation in styling and function. I’m not just talking “anti-stink” here, but unique and compelling designs as trend relevant as the underlying brand. The emotional connection to an active lifestyle is more important than the intended use of the clothes.

The world doesn’t need another ordinary half-zip. If the label was removed would anyone recognize your brand? What’s compelling about your products? The innovative brands will have pricing power, the copy-cats will experience significant mark downs and price deflation.

 

The Dix & Pond Blog is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting,  a Boston-based, company that consults on trend and creative direction, brand experience and business strategy, product development, merchandising and provides executive coaching for retail, apparel, footwear & consumer products companies.  CONTACT US TODAY!  or call 617.733.7411

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Flaming Hot – Warm Color Trend in Home & Fashion

Go from the frying pan into the fire. Flaming hot maraschino, tomato, mandarin and pumpkin colors are trending in home décor and fashion accessories for fall 2015. These in-your-face, sizzling shades are creating fashion flare-ups everywhere they go.

This powerful fall color trend is best used in small does for maximum effect. In home furnishings warm, bright colors are on pillows, sheets, towels, lamps, rugs, vases, tabletop, etc. They add a playful pop and seasonal update to neutral rooms and tablescapes. They look especially good when paired with greys. clean white and navy.

Warm colors add serious pop to home décor and fall 2015 fashion.

Warm colors add serious pop to home décor and fall 2015 fashion.

Hot, bright colors say uber-sexy or athletic, like no others, on fashion accessories or apparel. A red-hot handbag, pair of shoes, lingerie, dress, puffer, jean, top or nail color has the power to steal scenes. Again, restraint is key here, overdoing can send you down in fashion flames. Pair best with neutrals, denim, navy and black.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting, Boston-based, product development, creative, branding, business consulting and executive coaching for apparel, footwear, home & consumer products companies and retail analysts. Follow me to get the latest posts

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Fall 2013 Casual Shoe Fashion Trends

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

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