Drapers explores menswear market trends and discovers what retailers need to stand out in this increasingly crowded category
Menswear is no longer the neglected younger sibling of the more established womenswear market. Dynamic and exciting – but not without its own challenges – this is a burgeoning sector that is maturing as more brands and retailers wake up to its potential.
“Growth in the UK menswear market remains robust, but does appear to be slowing, signalling that after a sustained period of success it is becoming a more developed clothing category,” explains Samantha Dover, senior retail analyst at Mintel. “To put this into context, in the last five years, consumer spending on men’s clothing has consistently grown at a faster rate than consumer spending on women’s clothing. However, in 2018, that trend reversed, and womenswear sales are estimated to have risen 4.1% compared with 3.5% growth in the menswear market.”
She adds that although the sector’s ongoing growth makes bolting on a menswear offer a potentially attractive proposition for womenswear retailers, a proper understanding of the market is key for success. The importance of a clear offer is illustrated by the retailers who have dived into the menswear market, only then to quietly withdraw.
Premium player Whistles pulled the plug on its menswear range in February this year amid whispers of limited interest from customers. Just two months later, New Look announced plans to remove menswear from its UK and Irish stores and make the category online only.
Dover points to men’s ongoing preference for branded fashion and desire for convenience as some potential challenges for the high street.
“Although growth in the UK menswear market is slowing, it remains healthy, which will make it an attractive proposition for both existing and new players in the market,” she adds. “In the next five years, Mintel forecasts that sales of menswear will grow 15.4% to £17.9bn. As a result, we expect that there will be continued efforts to grow menswear sales among retailers. However, it is now a highly competitive market and it is not necessarily easy for womenswear-centred brands [who add a menswear offer] to thrive.”
Several key players are broadening their offers and casting a wider net for customers in a reaction to increased competition as the menswear market hots up. One business taking this route is heritage shirt brand TM Lewin, which is jostling to reposition itself as a fully fledged menswear brand. It launched a casualwear offer in 2012, but at the new London flagship that opened in May, the casual range takes centre stage for the first time. Chief executive Sven Gaede told Drapers at the time that TM Lewin was “on a real mission for customers to not just think about us as a shirt retailer, but for them to think about us as a menswear brand”.
Fellow heritage label Hackett took a similar route by launching new entry-level label HKT, which is aimed at a younger consumer, for spring 19.
The opportunities for those with fantastic product and an authentic message are exciting
James Eden, Private White VC
Premium menswear brand Private White VC, best known for its outerwear, has also widened its range by significantly expanding its shirt offer for spring 19. The shirts are created by its new academy programme, which launched 12 months ago and aims to teach employees how to make shirts before moving onto more complex outerwear.
Eden adds that although generally the menswear market remains challenging, he believes brands with the best product and customer proposition are able to shine through the gloom.
“Trade, in general, is very tough. However, the opportunities for those with fantastic product and an authentic message are exciting. The world now is very small, so a brand like ours has a tremendous opportunity to engage with customers overseas. We’re seeing particular interest from the US, as well as Germany and Scandinavia.”
Jake Hardy is the owner of contemporary menswear independent Number Six, which has two stores in London. He says male shoppers are demanding more information about products than ever before and that the trend for utility and workwear-inspired pieces has been particularly strong amongst his customers.
“Our customers, particularly at our Lamb’s Conduit Street store, want to know every detail about the garment – the fabrics, the production, how sustainable the brand is. They want to know that the product is going to last. In terms of product trends, we’ve had excellent sell-through with trousers from [lifestyle brand] Gramicci, and Barbour continues to shine.”
A more casual, streetwear-inspired aesthetic has long held a powerful sway over the menswear market, but the tide has begun to turn towards a more tailored look. Rising stars at the spring 20 edition of London Fashion Week Men’s – including Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Stefan Cooke and Per Götesson – played with print and shapes to give tailoring a fresh update at the directional end of the market.
Streetwear has cooled off at the high fashion brands, which have shifted back to tailoring-based looks
Nick Paget, WGSN
This new sensibility is creating opportunities for retailers seeking to present a new view of the menswear market. Michael Kliger, chief executive of German women’s and children’s wear retailer Mytheresa, which will launch menswear at the start of next year, recently told Drapers that this new aesthetic makes now the perfect time to move into the category.
“The menswear market has become somewhat saturated with streetwear collaborations – the autumn 17 collection between Louis Vuitton and Supreme represents the pinnacle of the trend and remains the one to beat,” explains Nick Paget, senior menswear editor at trend forecaster WGSN. “Since then, streetwear has cooled off at the high fashion brands, which have shifted back to tailoring-based looks. Younger designers are also featuring tailoring as part of their ranges, but are playing with the look.”
Paget adds that he has noticed a move towards menswear designers taking an experimental approach to more classic shapes and wardrobe staples, creating wearable products that still have the power to excite customers.
“What was really clear at the [spring 20 editions of] men’s fashion weeks is that designers are playing with a small set of key items, but in a really interesting way – so adding statement pockets, embellishments or ornamentation and using print and pattern. They know that what makes money is pieces such as suits, tailoring and structured coats, and are focusing on how to build their ranges.”
Mark Williams, creative director of menswear brand Ben Sherman, is also excited about how the menswear market can successfully blend elements of streetwear and more traditional tailoring for a fresh look that gives customers something new: “There is a still a lot of streetwear in the market, but we’re looking towards the future and a sharper menswear sensibility and casualwear worn in a smarter way – sweatshirts paired with more tailored trousers, for example, or a deconstructed blazer. Tailoring is becoming more accessible and there’s a preppiness coming through. Sports and streetwear are still relevant, but the interesting thing is that, for customers, it is about how you mix those pieces in without looking like you’re going skateboarding.”
He notes that rising demand for design-led product is driving sales of Ben Sherman’s higher-priced items. The brand’s pricing architecture tops out at around £200 for heavy wool coats.
“One thing we noticed during the autumn 19 selling season is that sales of investment pieces really started to pick up. That’s the feedback we got from key retailers and agents and we were pleasantly surprised when we sat down to analyse the bestsellers. You take it for granted that pieces like a classic Harrington jacket will perform well but is refreshing to see more investment and statement pieces – like more expensive outerwear – appearing in the bestseller list. Customers are looking for a higher level of design.”
As male shoppers become ever more interested and sophisticated in their approach to the clothes they buy, a deep understanding of the target consumer is becoming increasingly integral for success in the menswear market. Widening your offer to appeal to a more diverse group of consumers may make good business sense, but brands and retailers also need to maintain a clear handwriting and stay on top of trends as male shopper become more engaged. Those looking to lead the way in the market will also need to find a creative way to blend the two powerful but contrasting influences of streetwear and tailoring.