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Menswear sector bullish as new season kicks off

Persistent trading volatility and Brexit uncertainty are dampening sentiment in the menswear sector, but bullish retailers hope to find fresh new brands and product to lift sales at the spring 20 trade shows.

“[Spring 19 was] a little downbeat overall because of the weather and Brexit, and ultimately [lower] sales, but the retailers with the right brands are still performing well. The premium sector still feels buoyant,” said Juls Dawson, director of Just A Group agency, which represents Russell Athletic, Religion and Hi-Tec, among others.

Dawson revealed plans to launch a new premium agency Occam Studios for spring 20, selling Nigel Cabourn and Max ’n Chester x MNC Atelier.

“You have to be optimistic in these challenging times,” he added.

Niche brands are expected to do well at shows such as the menswear-focused Pitti Uomo, running on 11-14 June in Florence, as independent retailers seek to differentiate their product offering. 

“Retailers are looking outside of the usual big brands,” said Marc Querol, senior wholesale manager at Double H Agency, who will be taking new client, heritage nautical brand St James, to Pitti alongside Parisian rugby brand Eden Park.

“Independent retailers are finding they need a point of difference. They can’t sell the same brands you find online and in the big department stores. They want to make changes, get footfall and look different to the other shops on the high street, so they are being more open minded.”

This was reflected in the buying strategies of independent retailers Drapers spoke to this week.

Steve Cochrane, owner of Psyche in Middlesbrough, said: “We’ve had a much better first half compared with last year. We have a bigger budget to play with and are excited to see what’s in store for us.”

Darren Hoggett, co-owner of Norwich-based J&B Menswear, typically stocks big “commercial” brands, such as Fred Perry, Fynch-Hatton, Levi’s, Fila and Remus Uomo.

However, he is looking at how to bring more emerging names into the mix: “Business is constantly transitioning and we’re looking for new brands that you can’t buy online or in multiples. If bricks-and-mortar stores are to do well, they need to sell brands that aren’t over-distributed in the UK.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit is continuing to have an impact on the menswear sector.

By the time the autumn 19 collections arrive in store, the UK will have a new prime minister, and a new Brexit plan.

Andy Tompsett, head of UK at mod menswear brand Merc, said there was more confidence in the market [than last season], but added that a larger proportion of its business is coming from outside the European Union as a result of growing business in territories such as Russia, Latin America and Japan. 

“There’s a bit more positivity, but we’ve got to get away from this uncertainty,” he told Drapers.

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