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Brand market report: Product is king

Competition is rife on the high street, so fashion brands need to make sure their product stands out.

As consumers feel the pinch, it’s vital that fashion brands turn heads with a well-defined and differentiated product offer. They need to deliver newness via expanded collections with multiple in-season drops, in order to win share of wallet on an oversaturated high street.

Drapers’ survey found that street style was the main source of design inspiration for brands, while quality and design were the leading factors driving product design.

Jo Hooper, head of buying, womenswear at John Lewis, echoes this and says innovation and exclusivity are essential for the department store’s branded buy: “When making brand or product decisions, point of difference is always a key factor.”

Bernshaw director Alex Bernstein says while quality remains the occasionwear brand’s number one priority, he aims to differentiate its offer through fabrication. “We’re looking at broadening the range of our fabric offer. Not just on jersey, but really good quality silk, and lace is key at the moment too. People will pay the prices when the quality is good. We are also going to change the pricing architecture, so the entry level will be a little bit lower and the exit price will be a little bit higher.”

For women’s footwear brand French Sole, which specialises in flat shoes, differentiation comes from provenance - its footwear is made in Spain, Portugal and France - and fabrication. “You can buy flat shoes anywhere, from M&S or Primark,” says French Sole sales and marketing director Russell Downing. “I have to spend a lot of time differentiating my product from the competition in terms of what makes it so special and why you are paying £100 [ for a pair of shoes], in order to win people’s wallets. So we’ve spent some time looking at how we can shout about the fact our product is European-made. We’ve done some online videos
to highlight that it takes 23 people to make one pair of shoes, and because we do this single product I have to really push the boundaries with my fabrics, what I can do with my construction, and what I can do with my breadth of range.”

Menswear brand Lyle & Scott refocused its own product for autumn 13 by unifying its Vintage and Heritage
ranges under the Vintage banner to give it a stronger brand message. “Plans for spring 13 went back to the brand’s product heartland, the product that people expected us to produce and supply, and so far the sell-through has been very good, particularly online,” says Lyle & Scott creative director Richard Martin.

“For autumn 13, we’ve tried to give our sales teams talking points as to why a certain product or piece is sitting in a Lyle & Scott collection. There has to be a reason why it’s there, because brands need to give retailers stories to talk about,” he says.

When we asked brands how they are offering greater differentiation in a crowded market, more drops per season was the top answer at 42.8% of those polled across sectors - with as many as 48% of womenswear brands and 58.3% of menswear brands giving that answer. This was further supported when we asked how relevant the traditional two-season model is - only 20% of brands polled said it was very relevant, with 10.9% saying it was relevant.

Premium German womenswear brand Basler offers spring, autumn and cruise collections with up to 24 drops throughout the year. “I think the two-season model is now gone, in that I think people are looking at their buying calendars differently,” says Basler UK managing director Paul Lorraine.

Premium brand Hugo Boss has also increased its drop frequency, and today it offers four collections with 10 drops a year. “The customer is definitely looking for innovation and we want to be one of the leading companies, therefore we’ve increased the number of drops in the last three years,” says Bernd Hake, the brand’s UK managing director. “We see in our own retail stores that conversion and footfall are up and that more customers are coming regularly to our stores to experience new product.”

Hooper agrees that a brand’s ability to offer buyers newness is becoming increasingly integral to its success.

“It feels like the industry, in part, has moved that way and short-order brands will always have their place. In general, brands that have regular drops and flexibility always fare better for us.”

Looking ahead, the majority of the brands (60.4%) believe the traditional spring and autumn buying season structure will remain. However, it’s hard to ignore the 22.6% of brands that predict the clearly defined seasonal structure will disappear altogether.

More from the Brand Market report

Industry View

‘There’s no hiding place for mediocre product’

Miles Gray

Miles Gray

Today’s consumer is better informed and more demanding than ever. There’s no hiding place for mediocre product that’s not good quality, well designed and value for money.

Increased seasonal drops and flash collections are evidenced by many respondents together with exclusive collaborations. However, the traditional system of two main collections per year remains important, especially for wholesale brands that need to balance the risk of offering short-order collections against the security of having solid forward-order books for their main seasons.

One of the encouraging things I’m noticing is the number of exciting new brands emerging, particularly in the streetwear sector. Brands such as Money Clothing, Abuze and Criminal Damage are bringing great innovative product to market.

From the survey, it is clear that when asked where their inspiration comes from, street style was a clear winner over catwalks, trade shows and media. Home-grown design talent at all levels of our industry is
one of our greatest assets, which in my view will ensure the future of the UK fashion business worldwide.

  • Miles Gray, Owner of Miles Gray Associates and former chief executive of Ben Sherman


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