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Deputy Diary: High street’s menswear is the talk of the town

I wouldn’t want to be a menswear indie operating in the young fashion market right now.

The under-25s sector as a whole is the only age group in decline across the fashion business, according to Kantar Worldpanel Fashion, and that decline is being driven predominantly by menswear.

It’s not surprising, then, that this topic is preoccupying our readers and subscribers. A quick look on Drapersonline.com shows that the most commented and read stories often centre around young fashion. Currently, anything on Republic will attract huge traffic. One story in particular led to an interesting debate on the 16 to 25-year-old age group, with one commentor suggesting that, bar a few exceptions, “to be a successful indie in this age group is pretty much impossible now”.

I’m inclined to agree, at least until we see a shift in how menswear brands operate in this sector. The problem for indies is that the branded men’s young fashion market is now being driven by price. And there are enough price-driven operators that also deliver brilliantly on product design, once the heartland of brands. One menswear supplier summed it up perfectly when he said: “Young kids now think Topman is a brand!” Indeed, Topman has been the jewel in parent company Arcadia’s crown for some years now, and this week snapped up Coggles buying director Adam Jagger as buying manager - further indication, with Jagger’s buying experience at Coggles and Asos, that this is a business that very much wants to, and does, behave like a brand. As my source went on to say: “It’s a crowded market now and one that the high street is so bloody good at”.

Then there’s ecommerce. We say how the mature shopper may still be reluctant to buy clothes online, but the under-25s certainly aren’t. Put ecommerce, price and design together and what do you get? Asos.

So what’s the answer? Well, we could take some lessons from the women’s young fashion market. Our news story this week on agency Concept Fashion shows that the business is changing its direction to focus on its own short-order brands and high street private label supply, both of which can deliver better margins. Short order, too, is crucial for reacting to trends and keeping collections fresh. Going back to the Republic story and its numerous commentors, one explained Topman’s success as its ability to work close to season: “Topman is still buying for summer intake and just starting to look at trans into autumn. I suspect most brands are working on spring 14!”.

Kantar’s figures showed that womenswear in this market was only down by 2%, while menswear plummeted 11%. We all know there’s no cookie-cutter approach in the fashion industry, but it’s worth learning from other sectors - and the figures provide a pretty compelling argument.

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