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Drapers Debate: Can the branded market survive?

The men’s young fashion branded market appears to be in decline as shoppers seek cheaper alternatives, but can the sector survive? Drapers debates…

YES - Victoria Gallagher

Victoria Gallagher

When you think about the fashion industry what comes to mind? For me it’s the likes of Gucci, Prada, Levi’s and Superdry, the iconic brand names that have built this industry into one of superior strength.

It’s these names among countless numbers of others that have drawn people over the threshold of shops to spend their well-earned pennies. With each brand comes a particular image and they encapsulate a look or style that people want to buy into and own.

Yes, own label product is cheaper for the retailer to produce and in some cases these savings are passed onto consumers in the retail price. However price is not the be all and end all for consumers.

Shoppers want to buy into the name and heritage of the label. Retailers may be able to emulate general looks but they will never be able to sew on the logo gives garments that stamp of authority whether it be the Lacoste crocodile, the Ralph Lauren horse or the Paul Smith stripe.

Brands still carry a certain power.

Getting a Harvey Nichols private label trench coat would certainly not be akin to buying a Burberry mac and I cannot see a time in which buying retailer’s own label products would beat the experience of buying a well-known brand, particularly in the luxury market.

Without brands there would be no indies, and department stores would also struggle to pull people through the doors without the promise of big named brands. If it weren’t for brands there would also be no trade shows and the fashion industry would be a former shadow of itself.

Despite some shoppers turning towards the high street for cheaper on trend product the branded market is still going strong and will live to plenty more days.


NO - Catherine Neilan


It’s true that without brands there would be no indies (at least as we know it) but that does not mean the branded market is safe. In fact as footfall shifts towards the bigger shopping destinations that high street multiples are taking shiny new shops in, both could be in trouble if they stick their heads in the sand.

The truth is, while designer labels still have a certain cachet, mid-market shoppers are now spoiled with product from retailers that is high quality and great style. It might not have the individuality of certain brands, but it more than does the trick of following trends, and when money is tight people don’t mind compromising on the added bonus of a brand name.

And, as we have seen in the past year, brands can suffer from reputational damage when times change and their signature style is no longer in fashion. Retailers can offer greater variety, and while that means perhaps less loyalty to a certain attitude, the flip side is that they will be less tainted by association of a fad that is now a faux pas.

The problem is that analysts suggest buying habits are unlikely to change back when the economy eventually resurfaces from the mire. Women’s young fashion brands have already reduced to a minority part of the market, and from what Ian Mitchell of Kantar Worldpanel suggests, it sounds as though that is inevitable on the men’s side too.

Of course some brands will survive – and there will always be demand for evergreen items like branded polo shirts – but people have stopped paying more for something simply because of the name. As our deputy editor Ana Santi points out in her column this week, Topshop and its ilk have become enough of a brand in its own right to challenge the status quo.

What people in the industry need to is accept the change in buying habits and address it – for brands that possibly means going down the own-label route, or refreshing the overall look of the product more regularly than has happened in the past. For indies, it may even involve going down the route that several of our most inspiring businesses have already taken and consider launching their own-brand product.

Readers' comments (1)

  • darren hoggett

    Many brands would say that they want or already have the under 25 market as the marketing departments of these brands are near obsessed with them. The irony in turn is that many, many brands have out priced themselves to the teen consumer by going too up market and naively expected them to follow. They haven't done so.

    Some brands have to weigh up whether the under 25 market is worthwhile. They generally haven't got the money, are less interested in brands and generally accept the more disposable throwaway culture of clothes.

    Marketing departments will squirm, but their money and future is with the older guy. As an indie, we adapted a long time ago - will some of the brands?

    Darren Hoggett
    Co-owner, J&B Menswear Limited/Norwich

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