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Editor's Comment: Can menswear rescue the fashion retail sector?

Keely Stocker

There is no doubt the industry is facing tough times. Unseasonable weather, continuous discounting and the possibility of a Brexit are among the mounting challenges for retailers, and many are looking hard for opportunities to overcome these difficulties and any losses they can lead to.

In the two weeks since Next chief executive Lord Wolfson predicted that “the year ahead may well be the toughest we have faced since 2008” and may feel like “walking up the down escalator”, others in the industry have joined him in voicing similar concerns. But in challenging times, retailers that put customers at the heart of everything they do and test, and learn from new approaches truly come to the fore.

One way retailers are evolving is by testing new product lines. Over the past 12 months, several traditional womenswear retailers have moved into menswear, while others have been placing greater emphasis on this sector. The most recent example comes from casual fashion etailer Boohoo, which launched a dedicated menswear site at the end of last week. Last month, Whistles opened its first menswear store and Jigsaw revealed it wants to open 15 menswear stores to build on its current portfolio of five. New Look opened its first standalone menswear store in September last year, and says it is exceeding expectations. It will open 15 to 20 more during the coming financial year.

Retailers are fighting to get a piece of the menswear action

Luxury players are getting in on the action, too. Harvey Nichols has spent the last nine months revamping the 28,000 sq ft menswear department at its Knightsbridge store, which it reopened on April 7 after Drapers went to press (go to drapersonline.com for images). The sector certainly seems to be having a moment, and retailers are fighting to get a piece of the menswear action. 

In The Drapers Interview this week, we speak to Kieran O’Neill, founder of men’s online personal styling service Thread, and its head of business development, Terry Betts, who show how the fusion of technology and fashion expertise is bringing a whole different buying experience to the customer. Like others, Thread sees menswear as an area rife with opportunities.

The challenge can be sourcing new male customers. Some womenswear retailers can build on their existing brands to target men. However, they must be sure that any menswear ranges complement their womenswear offer and do not alienate their existing customer base. It will be interesting to see how this sector further develops over the next 12 months, as more and more high street retailers focus on opening standalone menswear stores. 

It is not just product retailers are redefining to appeal to customers, but also stores. We’re seeing further development in retail theatre, and many stores depend on this to drive footfall. Again, Wolfson tackled this subject, indicating that the opening of more in-store cafes could be part of Next’s future.

The launch of the revamped Dover Street Market last month is an excellent example of how to have fun with and enhance the shopping experience. As long as mainstream retailers ensure there is a clear reason to bring elements of theatre into stores, they could generate a new level of sales growth. Times may be tough, but history has proved this industry is tough enough to fight back. Those retailers willing to experiment and innovate to excite and appeal to customers will no doubt prevail.

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