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Quality comes first

Drapers and Cotton Council International commissioned a survey to discover what shoppers want to buy.

To download the whole Drapers Cotton Report,click here

To register for the webinar on the 7th April at 14:00, click here

Trading conditions for fashion retailers have not been so tough for many years. A squeeze in consumers’ discretionary spending power at the same time as inflation in clothing prices is creating uncertainty as to how shopping behaviour might change.

With the market in a state of flux, Drapers commissioned research on behalf of Cotton Council International (the body which promotes the use of US cotton) to investigate what’s at the front of consumers’ minds when they are considering fashion and other textile purchase decisions.

We wanted to know how important quality was to them in their purchase decisions, how closely they equated quality with price, and whether they were more or less interested in fashionability and seasonality than they were a year ago. We also wanted an indication of their fashion spending habits.

The results clearly show that while price has a place in consumers’ fashion purchase decisions, value for money is what they really care about. Some 60.5% of the consumers we

asked said value for money is very important, with another 29.5% saying it is quite important.

Cotton Council International executive director Allen Terhaar says these findings mirror trends in consumer opinions he sees elsewhere in the world: “The UK survey is one of the

first conducted since the financial crisis ran its course. But the trend is something that we see around the world. Among the over-45s and particularly the over-55s, there has been a focus on value [for money] and this has strengthened due to the recession.”

At the same time, consumers continue to care about quality despite the gloomy consumer sentiment and contraction in disposable income.

In fact, nearly half of the 2,000 consumers surveyed said quality is a more important factor today than it was two years ago.

Wear and tear

It seems fashion shoppers of all ages are thinking about how much wear they might get out of items they buy, rather than just the price. When we asked the respondents to the survey what quality means to them when it comes to their clothing purchases,

the durability of the fabric and look and feel of the fabric were the most common answers.

The likelihood of a consumer giving these two answers increases according to their age. In contrast, far fewer consumers of any age agree that the cost of a garment relates to whether they feel it is good quality or not. And despite the recent spotlight on retailers’ customer service in the media through Mary Portas’ TV shows, only 7% of those asked feel it relates to how they view the quality of a garment.

This strong preference for durability is perhaps inevitable, says Terhaar: “I’m not entirely surprised given the financial times we are going through. For the youth market there is still the whole fashion focus, with cheap disposable fashion pieces; but there is also an interest from consumers in durability and environmental responsibility.”

Despite the stereotypes, about half of the women interviewed said their opinion on seasonality and fashionability is the same as a year ago. However, men and younger adult consumers have become increasingly interested in fashionability. This is mirrored by the increasing trend focus of high street menswear retailers and the growth of online fashion retailers targeting men, such as Asos and the newly launched Mr Porter site.

Price clearly has a role to play in media and in-store marketing campaigns, but the research is clear that other aspects of a clothing item’s quality are also valued. So retailers must consider also making more of the quality of the fabric used, its ease of care, and any other special properties it has.

Terhaar gives examples of UK and US retailers that are highlighting some of these qualities in their clothing: “Brooks Brothers is a US [retail] brand that’s well-known in the UK. It has worked with the industry to include Supima cotton in everything from denim to knitwear, chinos and even premium shirts. It is about quality and ease of care. And in the UK we do a lot with Marks & Spencer as one of the biggest high street players; it has focused on durability and ease of care.”

Go natural

Having shown that the majority of consumers think value for money is important when making a purchase, we then asked which fabric they feel offers the best value for money. Each respondent was allowed to give one answer only. The results showed that cotton is by far the most popular fabric, at 42%. The second most frequent fabric mentioned was wool, with 13% saying it offers the best value for money.

Terhaar says: “There is a continued strong preference among British consumers for natural fibres. When you buy [a product made from] natural fibres you know it has come from a natural process and when the garment has run its course it will be absorbed by the environment in a natural way.”

This point was also backed up in the research findings. We asked consumers what factors encourage them to buy cotton clothing. The comfort look and feel of the fabric was the top answer, closely followed by the quality of the fabric. The longevity and durability of the fabric was also mentioned by more than half of those polled.

And 40% of the consumers surveyed also asserted that they believe cotton represents good value for money because it is versatile. Terhaar points out that the advances being made in the ease of care of cotton garments make this even more true.

He says much work is going into improving the performance of cotton fibres, for instance for use in sportswear and even performance sportswear. In addition, cotton is being promoted as a versatile fabric for designers to include within their collections.

Synthetic fibres have taken over from cotton in sportswear, particularly in the past decade, thanks to the advances in their properties, but Terhaar believes this trend is already being reversed: “Cotton has made major headway with moisture management for sportswear, and I think we will see a swing back towards cotton with these types of technologies.”

As well as sportswear, cotton is creeping into higher-end and designer fashion collections. “Day to day, cotton performs very well, but I also think it has a lot of applicability for fashion that is very contemporary,” Terhaar explains. “We see a number of brands around the world incorporating more cotton items. If you can merge comfort with the drape and feel of a high-fashion item then the consumer will be happier.”

As another example of how the UK in particular has embraced the versatility of cotton, Terhaar points out how denim is being used within fashion. Designer denim and the double-denim trend of 2010 both show how cotton garments can be extremely contemporary.

“There is a continuation of the British love affair with denim, not just jeans but denim skirts and denim dresses. Denim is getting into fashion garments and high-fashion too. That is very positive and demonstrates its versatility,” Terhaar adds.

It is clear from the findings of the survey that consumers care about more than just the headline price of their clothing purchases. And though they are interested in getting good value for money, they also care about how their clothes will last.

Of the consumers surveyed, 35% said they buy fewer better quality items than they used to. And 40% said they buy clothes that they know are going to last, backing up the strong emphasis on quality and durability seen in the research.

At the same time it is also true that the UK fashion industry is rising to this challenge by using durable and versatile fabrics such as cotton in a variety of innovative ways on the catwalk and the high street.

To download the whole Drapers Cotton Report,click here

To register for the webinar on the 7th April at 14:00, click here

Join the quality debate - Drapers Cotton Webinar

Drapers, in conjunction with Cotton Council International, will be hosting a webinar to discuss the findings of the research on the April 7. The discussion, which will be chaired by Drapers editor Jessica Brown, will feature John Lewis head of womenswear Jo Hooper, Deryane Tadd, founder of indie The Dressing Room, and WGSN senior editor Lorna Hall.

Each will give their views on issues such as whether price or quality is the main driver of post-recession consumer spending, which fabrics are finding favour with shoppers and the trend towards heritage brands and classic wardrobe staples.

The webinar will be broadcast at 2pm on Thursday, April 7.

To view live or watch afterwards, sign up at

To download the whole Drapers Cotton Report,click here

To register for the webinar on the 7th April at 14:00, click here


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