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Branded fashion’s North/South split narrows 

Figures reveal that spending on branded product in southern England is gaining ground on the North as consumers look to invest in quality during downturn.

It is a truism that there has always been a distinct North/South divide across all areas of English life. In the fashion world, this has historically been evidenced by the North’s penchant for branded clothing and footwear.

However, as customers across the UK seek out quality product during the downturn, the gap between the two halves of the country has narrowed, with the South’s appetite for brands growing significantly in the past year.

Traditionally England’s branded heartland, the North still spends the most of England’s three regions, with branded product making up 17.6% of its total fashion spend in the year to June 10.

However, while the North still dominates in this area it is London and the surrounding areas that have seen the biggest increase in branded fashion purchasing over the last 12 months.

Shoppers in the South have increased their spend in this area by 5% in the last year from 15.8% to 16.7%. This increase appears more significant when compared with the rise in the North over the same period – just 0.5%.

Branded buying in the Midlands also saw a greater increase than the North, up 2.7% to 17.3% in the period.

Retailers in the South would do well to encourage this behaviour, as their northern counterparts are used to extreme loyalty to particular brands, which keeps shoppers coming back again and again – but only for what they want.

“Customers wouldn’t buy an item if it wasn’t a brand they know,” says Darren Comerford, director of Scunthorpe young fashion indie Fallen Hero. “They won’t even let the staff show it to them.”

Branded buying in the Midlands also saw a greater increase than in the North – up 2.7% to 17.3%.

According to Charlotte Snelgrove, consumer research analyst at Kantar Worldpanel, the increase in spending on branded fashion in the South is being driven both by an increase in younger shoppers and a shift in the sort of brands that are driving growth.

“Younger buyers – those aged between 20 and 34 – now account for around one third of total spend in the market,” she says, an increase of 15% on last year.

“Another reason branded may be performing much better in the South is that the type of brands driving growth are less well distributed in the North. Higher-end and designer brands are becoming important in the South and the Midlands and these are not as easily found in the North.”

New Look’s head of multichannel buying Sally Heath agrees, saying customers from the South of the country shopping on the retailer’s website spend more on brands than those in any other area of the country.

“London is our biggest market for brands,” she explains. “We’ve definitely seen growth in brand loyalty from the South.”

Sarah Dye, manager of Manchester-based sales agency Bluestocking, says offering familiar brands is the key to successful sales as shoppers tighten their belts: “We have an in-house label, and a year or two ago it sold really well but it has slowed massively now, even though it’s cheaper, because it isn’t a well-known label.”

This is a view shared by retailers throughout the country. Jo Webber, co-owner of contemporary womenswear indie Jo Amor in Tiverton, Devon, says: “We have great loyalty with our main brands such as Noa Noa, Great Plains and White Stuff because they’re really well priced and they’re a good fit.”

Story in numbers

And it isn’t just the extent of branded purchases versus own label where there is a difference between the regions when it comes to their fashion buying habits. Categories of product sold also differ depending on where in the country shoppers are.

Sales of women’s outerwear grew in both the North and the Midlands by 0.5% and 2.4% respectively in the year to June 10, 2012, while in the South sales of the same category declined by 3.9%.

The Midlands meanwhile saw the biggest increase in sales of women’s scarves and gloves, which rose by a significant 16.4% over the past year. And in the South, sales of underwired bras declined by 4.6% but increased in the North and Midlands.

Those in the industry agree that they see regional differences in product categories. “I don’t know why but accessories tend to do really well in the South, so stockists there always buy Lipsy jewellery and bags,” says Dye.

Lucy West, PR manager for branded footwear chain Schuh, says different styles of footwear also sell better in certain parts of the country.

“Heels and partywear tend to do well in northern cities like Liverpool and Newcastle where people get a bit more dressed up for nights out,” she says. “Skater and casual-type product does better in the Southeast.”

However, not everyone agrees that there are regional differences in product categories. “We are known for our dresses,” says Charlotte Cooper, spokeswoman for young fashion etailer Missguided. “So dresses are definitely our best-selling category all over the country, regardless of region.”

Despite the various regional nuances that can be gleaned from the data, what’s clear is that in the current tough trading climate, consumers are looking for a quality product. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the cheapest item but it has to represent good value for money, regardless of where in the country the customer is based.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about perceived value,” says Graeme Nichol, sales director at footwear distributor

33 Joints. “If people believe they are getting the best possible product at a fair price for that product, then that will drive sales.”

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