BrainTrust Query: Has a Fashion Apparel Bubble Burst?
Ted Hurlbut, principal
of Hurlbut & Associates
the local mall this past weekend and watching customers react to merchandise,
it was hard to escape the thought that fashion apparel retailing is
in trouble. Customers passing by stores, looking in windows and doorways,
indifferent to what they are seeing. Customers in stores, aimlessly
touching garments without purpose. Customers leaving stores empty handed.
as I shopped for myself, I felt what I was observing in these customers,
men and women, young and old; there’s nothing compelling, there’s no
urgency, it’s just…stuff.
all the major retail segments, perhaps only jewelry is under more duress
than fashion apparel. Shopping
fashion right now feels like witnessing the after affects of a retail
bubble having burst.
the last 20 to 25 years, fashion apparel retailing exploded with new
concepts, segments and retailers. Money was readily available. Consumers
hopped on the fashion train and went along for the ride. Shopping
these stores now is like experiencing a morning-after hangover.
last time we saw profound changes in fashion apparel retailing was
during the ’81-’82 recession. Customers found department store assortments
to be dated and dull, and the stores responded by increasing the number
of promotional events they ran a year from three or four to twelve
or fifteen, on their way to the permanently-on-sale store. Designer
shops-within-a-store emerged as an alternative to category merchandising.
New concepts like The Gap and The Limited came on the scene. Nothing
came between Brooke Shields and her Calvin’s.
this a similar inflection point? Was there a fashion apparel bubble
that gradually built up over the past several decades, and has it now
the past couple of years, consumers have looked in their closets,
and out of necessity have said that what’s there is good enough.
They’ve looked in their closets and seen their own… stuff, and
many have probably wondered if they really needed to buy all of it in
the first place. The unanswered question is whether this is merely
a temporary response to the recession, or whether this reflects a
more profound shift in consumers’ attitudes and shopping patterns.
One way or another, there can be little doubt that the competition
in fashion apparel retailing is likely to be ferocious for the foreseeable
Questions: Is the current weakness in fashion apparel a temporary
response to the recession or a more profound shift in consumers’
attitudes and shopping patterns? What will define the winners going
forward in fashion apparel? Do you see anything on the horizon that
might revive the category?