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Menswear on the move: how the market is evolving

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In a swiftly evolving market, Drapers looks into the movements and changes in the menswear sector, as retailers and brands adapt to shifting shopper demands. 

The fashion industry faces an array of challenges. But although business rate worries, low consumer confidence and a slew of high street company voluntary arrangements are dogging big-name retailers, the fortunes of the menswear market hold more than a glimmer of positivity. Although the sector is still affected by industry headwinds, it is growing strongly as the menswear shopper evolves.

Research from Mintel indicates the men’s UK clothing market grew by 3.5% in 2017, and is now worth £15bn. A further 11% growth is expected by 2022, taking the market’s value to £17.1bn. Notably, UK menswear sales growth continues to outperform that of womenswear, which grew by 3.2% in 2017.

The boom in sportswear and street styling kick-started the explosion of menswear but, as the market matures, Drapers explores where the next areas of growth will come from.

The market is now a focal point for innovation and excitement, explains Michael Taylor, senior buyer for menswear and accessories at Urban Outfitters.

“Much of the fashion industry’s excitement and newness is coming from menswear,” he says. “That may be at Louis Vuitton with the appointment and era-defining first show of Virgil Abloh, the continued hype around skate brands, a more futuristic technical perspective from brands like A Cold Wall and Alyx, or the youthful approach from the likes of Martine Rose and Aries. It’s an incredibly exciting time for menswear, and the thread that draws all of this together is streetwear culture.”

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Urban Outfitters autumn 18

Taylor highlights the increasing demand from menswear shoppers for innovation: “Our customers are looking for newness and exclusive products that they can style in a unique way.”

In part, this demand for freshness is fuelled by the growth in streetwear. Brands such as Supreme and Palace Skateboards have developed huge followings with their limited edition product drops.

“Sportswear is becoming a wardrobe staple,” says Nick Paget, menswear editor for trend forecasting agency WGSN. He reports a 20% increase in the number of tracksuit tops in retailers’ product mix last season – a rise that is matched in sell-through rates.

However, the ongoing dominance of brands that stem from the streetwear world can be a both a blessing and a curse for menswear retailers.

“People want the statement brands. They want the big brand names,” says Martin Schneider, owner of Drapers Independents Award-winning menswear store Accent, in Leeds. “It’s making it a challenging time to be in menswear, when sales are brand led and we all have the same product in, then you’re open to who is doing it the cheapest. There’s always someone that’s discounting, no matter what time of season it is.”

While logo-mania and sports styles still garner huge sales, consumers are shifting their approach away from purely brand-led streetwear.

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Martine Rose spring 19

“We’re seeing the youth market pair casual sports pieces with smarter items in their wardrobes, which is something of a trademark for [British designer] Martine Rose,” explains Paget. “It is about that ‘dad’ look – chunky trainers, pinstripe trousers and sporty bomber.”

Taylor agrees: “Men are enjoying a ‘high-low’ dressing approach and embracing a mash-up of traditions, mixing performance and tailoring, luxury and skate and authentic with one of a kind, reworked piece. More often than not, this involves pattern and graphics, bold colour choices, new silhouettes and standout footwear and accessories.”

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Debenhams J by Jasper Conran spring 18

The rising popularity of smarter styles can be observed across the menswear market. Department store Debenhams is targeting this appetite for fresh, smarter styles with the introductions of focused ranges within its menswear mix.

“Newness is important to the menswear customer,” explains Andrew Lepp, trading director for the menswear division. “For autumn 18, we are introducing a capsule collection of reinterpreted British classics from Daniel Rynne, a former winner of the menswear prize at Graduate Fashion Week”

“We will also be looking to benefit from increased demand for distinctive formal wear through the introduction of three new suit brands – Viggo, JW and Shelby & Sons – for autumn.”

Lisa Aynsley, owner of Drapers Independents Award-winning premium independent Hotspur 1364 in Alnwick, Northumberland, agrees: “Tailoring has gone through the roof. People are buying the tailored collections to complement their casual gear.”

Aynsley attributes this to a shift in the tailoring market: “The tailoring world has changed tune a little bit. The price points are more accessible for everyone, you can pick up a three-piece suit for £150, so it’s a bit more of a ’throwaway’ purchase.

“You’ve got new brands coming in that are moving things away from your standard navy, black and grey. There are tweeds and ‘Rupert the Bear’ styles – lots of different colourways.”

She highlights brands such as Mark Darcy as tapping into a demand for mix-and-match suiting, as customers work the elements into their day-to-day wardrobe: “Men are buying their suits for a formal occasion but then are using them again, wearing the jackets with jeans or polo shirts.”

Schneider agrees that the tide is turning to smart styles: “We’ve seen an upturn in casual suits and blazers. For a few years the trend was tracksuits and ripped jeans, but people get fed up, and trends go the opposite way.

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Les Deux autumn 18

“For spring 18 we had some trousers in-store from the Danish brand Les Deux. We haven’t sold trousers in years because at heart we are a jeans shop, but they did a smart trouser to wear with trainers and we sold out of it, it was really good.”

Mithun Ramanandi, buying manager for luxury department store Fenwick of Bond Street notes that this shift works both ways, as formal, workwear clothing becomes more casual.

“Right now, ‘sports luxe’ is the hero,” he says. “With work attire becoming more relaxed, men are able to experiment by mixing looks such as high-quality track pants with relaxed blazers, and washed chinos with a shirt and trainers.”

Ramanandi, Schneider and Aynsley all highlight that menswear shoppers in the premium and luxury markets are increasingly daring with styles, and note that bold suiting, prints and statement footwear are performing well.

“Collections are getting stronger as men gain confidence and venture into different brands and looks,” explains Ramanandi. “A new generation of shopper is being encouraged and inspired to look and feel good about themselves. The Fenwick customer trusts our selection and is eager to buy into the new brands we present. We find that, as long as the shapes are easy, they will explore colour, texture and print.”

This trend can equally be seen across other pricing levels of the market, and Liam Green, co-founder and creative director of young fashion and accessories brand Hype, adds that this shows the development of the menswear shopper.

“The menswear customer has evolved,” he says. “The customer went from being really safe and just wanting tracksuits, to demanding a really wide spectrum of product. They are looking at styles that may have typically been thought of as more feminine – florals, loud colours and prints.”

Taylor confirms this: “Men are evolving to take more of an interest than ever before in how they look and what they wear, and they want to have options to signify and express some of who they are through their clothes. The internet and social media have given men new ways to shop and share, which they have embraced willingly”

As the shopper continues to develop, menswear looks set to continue as a dynamic and innovative sector. Streetwear’s influence has changed the shape of the market, and retailers must keep pace with a continually evolving consumer, with increasingly demanding and sophisticated needs. The market is by no means simple, but while the womenswear market has reached saturation, menswear presents a wealth of opportunity.


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