Old is New Again at Clothing Retailers

Discussion
Apr 27, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Retailers such as the Gap have not had much success in recent years getting consumers to buy the latest fashions on display in stores, so now they are launching not so new lines, harkening back to style statements made as long ago as the 1940s.


The Gap has launched a marketing campaign that will include in-store promotions using retro graphics and the bright colors popular back in the 1960s.


Erika Archambault, a spokesperson for the retailer, told Reuters, “What Gap is trying to do is go back to what we’ve been known and loved for. It’s a nod back to our heritage.”


Others going back to what worked before include Dockers and Adidas AG.


The Dockers brand has recreated its K-1 khaki military pants first sold in the 1940s. Adidas AG has reintroduced a white shoe first rolled out in 1983. Consumers can customize the new, old shoe by using colored markers or paint.


While apparel retailers and manufacturers are looking to strike gold with updated versions of yesterday’s fashions, many believe the strategy will not work.


“Customers want something new, something different and the trend to return to the years back is no longer as saleable as it once was,” said Kurt Barnard, president of Retail Forecasting Group.


“The Gap 30 years ago had no competitors and people broke down the door to get into the store,” he said. “But that isn’t the situation today. Every store next to the Gap is an apparel store that carries jeans. The odds are against success.”


Eric Gordon, a marketing professor at Johns Hopkins University, said, “The apparel industry has for years failed in its old role as a fashion leader, so they’ve run up the white flag. They’re saying, ‘Well, at least we’re the leader of the old stuff. Won’t you come back and see us again?”‘ 


Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree with Kurt Barnard’s statement? “Customers want something new, something different and the trend to return to the years
back is no longer as saleable as it once was.”
– George Anderson
– Moderator

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11 Comments on "Old is New Again at Clothing Retailers"


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Stephan Kouzomis
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Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 9 months ago

Not sure, given Gap’s last failure or two.

If Gap did its homework right and researched its main shoppers, then the chances are better.

There may be a parallel, in that the last 3 young generations are digging the 60’s music, and some of the “free spirit” of the 60s. Hmmmmmmmmmm

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
14 years 9 months ago

To 35 year olds, this will be a new look. This is fashion clothing, not technology and most everything has already been done. Re doing with a new twist, and surrounding these items with the proper packaging, merchandising and marketing can work and it can also fail…that is the nature of the fashion business. Gap’s well documented struggles revolve around a lot more than its merchandise…it is about too large and a too indistinct a target audience…too many tired mall locations…losing market share to Old Navy and Banana Republic as well as competitors…and being too basic and thus too vulnerable to Target, Kohl’s and even Wal-Mart.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Not all consumers find the same fashions to be “new,” “exciting,” or “cool.” 25 year olds do not wear the same fashions as 21 year olds and they are different from 18 year olds who are different from 16 year olds and they are all different from “boomers.” Within each age group there are different groups: “Goths,” “trendy,” “preppy,” “metro,” etc. Customer audiences have been fragmented and are becoming more fragmented. This won’t change. A few of the fashion stores that bring out new fashions and styles every few weeks and when the clothes are gone they are gone are doing quite well with the ever-changing interests of their customers. Knowing your consumer is more critical and more challenging than ever.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 9 months ago
Others have referred to this, and I reiterate: find out what the consumer wants or needs, address filling the need in a better or more valuable way, and execute to that. Many steps, so much opportunity. Fashion is to some degree impulsive creativity, unmanageable and the result of talent. However, few retailers are actually in the business of true fashion creation. Most, like The GAP, actually are in the fashion interpretation business. This is because the bulk of consumers are not fashion leaders, high risk profile individuals with inherent fashion sense. Rather, they are consumers with a fuzzy fashion sense, open to influence and interpretation. Because of this, the new product development process CAN be made repeatable, sustainable, and focused. It CAN be a business process, which incorporates intuitive creativity, but in a channeled and focused fashion. Zara and H&M are showing that with the right flexibility in supply chain design, and a merchandising philosophy that can be summarized as “test and react”…a very efficient paradigm can be built, with relatively low risk. The GAP… Read more »
Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 9 months ago
“Consumers want retro styles.” “Consumers want forward styles.” This easily devolves into an argument between “my expert opinion” and “your uninformed opinion.” Many retail (and business) issues are debated in this manner, and I think that very little learning takes place. I have seen many business decisions made in this fashion, some of which turn out to be good decisions, some of which do not. Good decisions match real-world conditions, poor decisions do not. It is easy to think that because one has much knowledge of and experience in the retail world, that one’s view must be true. “I am an expert. I don’t need data. My years of experience is my data.” But I have seen literally hundreds of pronouncements by experts that ended up being incorrect. That is why, in our firm, we insist that all decisions with our clients and all significant debates be based on verifiable data. Without data that we are willing to offer for validation, I think we, as retail advisors, put ourselves in a position of undermining our… Read more »
Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 9 months ago
Though in the mid-70’s my retail analysis was limited to efficiently leveraging my babysitting dollars into the coolest possible wardrobe, I can claim expert status on the merchandise carried at that time at the Gap. When they opened in the mid 70’s everyone (at my junior high, at least) shopped there because they sold Levi’s for less, THE coolest brand of jeans. The first pair of Levi’s I purchased there were $17.99 (light blue cords in the new boot cut style). In the late 70’s, when I was an after school employee in a DC area women’s sportswear chain, customers were squeezing into Calvin and Gloria designer jeans, something new at the time, which were a big hit. In the mid-80’s I worked on fabric development for the Levi’s Dockers program where a stonewashed look was applied to the fabric as opposed to being added after the manufacturing process, resulting in a lower ticket item with a higher perceived value – and a new look. This was a successful new product launch. The best apparel… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Many Abercrombie & Fitch styles are retro. And Abercrombie & Fitch is phenomenally successful. So Gap, after watching this success for several years, is influenced by it. But Gap hasn’t shown great skill making their assortments exciting. Race’s point, repeated many times in the past few months, is that customer data can help drive success. Considering the enormous number of stores, the great buying and sourcing resources, and their reasonably strong financials, Gap could run dozens if not hundreds of market tests. Alternative advertising, signage, fashions, positioning, and even brand names could be tested constantly in isolated markets. Large chain retailers can be learning organizations, listening to appropriate customer data. Or they can risk hiring top management savants who run the company top down. Either way can work. It just seems as though the latter isn’t working right now at Gap.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

I see a lot of young hip types up here in the woods near Dartmouth wearing muted 40s influenced clothing–not bright colors. The old thin stripes on the shirts and all that. The vintage clothing stores up here do a booming business. I hope Gap isn’t counting on boomers wearing our 60s regalia again. I’ve hidden all my old photos, lest the kids find them, and I’m not about to go back to wearing that stuff again. But I agree that research has to rule. But actually, you shouldn’t even be reading this. I’m the ex-hippie in Vermont who thought washable suits was a decent idea. (But did you know that Travelsmith sells washable Navy blazers?)

Rebecca Cruise
Guest
Rebecca Cruise
14 years 9 months ago

Stores like The GAP and Old Navy are missing the boat with the baby boomer market. Everything is geared toward the younger generation , babies, kids, teens , college age.

I would love to see a ” Boomer Gap ” store with jeans and styles for us. We have the money and we would spend it.

Who are the marketers for these companies, recent college graduates?

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

There is an alternative to going whole hog into the deep (and sometimes dark) past and that is SELECTIVELY borrowing from iconic images that evoke a brand’s heyday. What is the first thing that Aerin Lauder did when she was charged with breathing new life into her grandmother’s venerable brand? She combed through the company’s design archives and reworked or resuscitated images from the past (including the famous Lauder “blue”). What did she do next? Wooed a modern style icon over to the brand (Tom Ford) to create a new line. This same process happens any time a smart designer takes over at a design house (Lagerfeld at Chanel, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton). Their art is to honor the past while making it all new again. Any brand that is fortunate enough to have evocative or nostalgic design imagery in their arsenal should use it for all it’s worth, whether the vehicle is an athletic shoe, a perfectly-constructed piece of luggage, or a powder compact.

Santiago Vega
Guest
Santiago Vega
14 years 9 months ago

I think both The Gap and Mr. Barnard are looking at it the wrong way.

It’s not the 40’s look, or any other retro or forward look that will make The Gap or any other specialty retailer thrive. It’s the ability for that retailer to develop its brand into a desirable and relevant brand. A brand with whom its targeted and chosen segment (teens, tweens, boomers, women in their 30’s etc…) identifies with and most importantly wants to be associated with. That is the key.

Consequently, the designs these retailers create (and hopefully they’ll have good creative and innovative talent running the design department, not market analysts), will strike a cord with its customers, as long as those designs are relevant with what the brand professes and stands for.

Who in here knows what The Gap stands for anymore? I don’t and it seems their once loyal customers don’t know either.

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