Reaching the Chinese Consumer

China continues to top the AT Kearney Retail Apparel Index, which shows the top 10 emerging countries viable for the retail sector. Strong growths in population and in income make it an increasingly attractive market for western brands looking to expand. Yet reaching the Chinese consumer poses unique challenges.

According to Euromonitor International, Chinese clothing expenditures are projected to nearly double within the next 10 years, from 1.2 trillion in 2012 to 2.2 trillion in 2020. Even in 2011, a year of slower than predicted growth, Chinese real GDP still amounted to 51.1 trillion RMB.

And while the Chinese population is expected to grow 2% by 2020, income growth will continue to outpace population growth — which means more consumers with more buying power. Per capita disposable income is expected to grow 75% between 2012 and 2020, according to projections made by Euromonitor International.

As the population continues to grow, though, it is also shifting towards more urban areas. This stands to benefit western retailers first expanding into larger cities, since urban consumers tend to spend more on discretionary purchases like apparel and textiles. [Read more...]

COTTON LEADS™ Us to the Promised Land

Robin-cotton-article_FINALAll-In for Planet Earth

As my readers know all too well, I usually write about significant strategic events that have noteworthy impact on both our industry and the larger canvas of life, so to speak. We at the Robin Report make it a point to not report “news,” but rather what the news means and why it matters.

That said, however, I came across some news that I felt was really part of a larger, important trend happening to all consumer-facing businesses.

So to get a perspective in this, let’s start at the beginning, and the genesis and driver of all things commercial: we humans. Human beings are by nature consumers. And as consumers, we’re never satisfied. We’re always trying to use our purchasing power to achieve increased levels of satisfaction, perceived or real.

Take apparel, for instance. A hundred years ago, we bought clothing principally for utilitarian reasons to cover our bodies and protect us from the elements. That pair of cotton dungarees may have been a little heavy and scratchy, and not too flattering, but it did the job.

But vanity and self-expression got the better of us. Pretty quickly, we took functionality for granted, and decided that the clothes we wore needed to be made of finer fabrics and look more attractive.

As the history of apparel evolved, the intrinsic properties of the product gradually took a back seat to the name and logo on the label. Calvin. Polo. True Religion. We didn’t buy clothing to cover our bodies anymore. In fact, as I’ve written about ad nauseum, we didn’t even really need another pair of jeans. We bought them for a zillion reasons, not the least of which was to project a certain image and lifestyle that we aspired to. We bought them to impress, “fit in” or “fit out” as outliers. I could write a whole book about why we buy clothes, but I’ll spare you for the moment.

All for One and One for All

So, in this world of abundant choice, immediate gratification, and 24/7 online shopping malls, what’s left? We have to admit that we have been living in the era of “It’s all about me.” We expect shopping experiences that just get better and better. We demand it from our retailers, online and off. We want an incredibly memorable experience co-created by ourselves and the retailer that will forever shape our perception of the store We can get that at a place like 3×1 in Soho and have a pair of bespoke jeans custom-made to fit perfectly. They’ll be made out of one of the hundreds of bolts of soft, shuttle-loom-woven selvedge denim they have in the store, and trimmed with hand-enameled buttons selected by moi. And speaking of bespoke, 3D printing today is just the tip of the iceberg.

Wow, we really have climbed a kind of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Consumption pyramid, haven’t we? We’ve moved from needing protection, to wanting quality, to aspiring to a lifestyle, to demanding an irresistible experience. What’s next, saving the planet?

How’d you guess?

The next frontier for consumers is to use their enormous purchasing power for good. Although various terms have been coined to describe the phenomenon – from conscious capitalism to cause-based shopping — the trend is real and growing. Financial services companies are offering mutual funds invested in socially conscious companies. Accessories makers like Thom’s shoes and Warby Parker eyewear are donating their products to people in developing countries, which is really resonating with consumers, judging from their meteoric sales growth. Large retailers are cutting their carbon footprint by managing energy levels, reducing product packaging, making sure their vendors use safe, responsible hiring practices, and even rewarding customers who bring their own bags. Gap gives a10% discount when you purchase their reusable bag and then use it for every visit. And to Millennials, this trend isn’t even trendy; it’s part of their ethos.

All For One Planet

And now, back to the news. Cotton – the king of raw materials – is taking the growing need for social and environmental consciousness all the way back to the farm.

Last week, our friends at Cotton Incorporated, along with their colleagues at Cotton Australia — two countries at the forefront of responsible cotton production — announced a program that will heighten awareness about responsible cotton growing practices in these two countries. Mark Messura, who leads the Global Supply Chain Marketing at Cotton Incorporated, said the initiative, called Cotton LEADS™, was developed in response to “growing downstream concern for upstream issues.”

Cotton LEADS™ is aimed at textile brands, retailers and manufacturers committed to sourcing cotton that is grown in a responsible and transparent manner. Validating the Cotton LEADS™ program will be the national-level oversight, regulatory enforcement, and transparency of practices currently underway in both countries. It will include both conventionally and organically grown cotton.

The positive change that will result from this system will be found in water and soil conservation, pesticide regulation, child protection, and workplace safety, and be continually measured and improved. It will do things like help farmers optimize irrigation and watering schedules, calculate precise fertilizer needs, detect viruses and other pests that decrease crop yields, and more.

Retailers and brands that want confidence and integrity in their supply chain and want to deliver high quality cotton products to their customers will become partners in Cotton LEADS™. It worked for the architectural and building industry with the USGBC LEED certification, so it should be a slam-dunk for apparel. Because these days, it’s not enough to be better, chicer, cheaper, and an impresario of an irresistible experience, it has to save the world, too. And that’s not cynicism talking, that’s good business practice.

Consumers Are Talking…Are Brands Listening?

The Robin Report

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Consumer Facts from Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™

Once consumers became comfortable purchasing apparel online, brands and retailers sought to enhance the experience through social media sharing options, crowdsourcing — and online customer comments sections. What may have begun as a means of increasing sales via search engine optimization has grown to be a barometer of what’s in and what’s out of favor with the buying public.

Customer Comments
Project Reveals Key Apparel Complaints

Cotton Incorporated set out to quantitatively measure these customer comments, and the result – the Cotton Incorporated Customer Comment Project – reveals what makes apparel consumers rant or rave about their purchases. [Read more...]

The Red, White & Blue – and Green

CottonplanetThe Cotton Incorporated 2013 Environmental Survey reveals that more than 50% of U.S. consumers identify themselves to be “green”. And, although participation in basic household environmentalism has shown only incremental growth, higher income consumers constitute a markedly greater level of engagement. Survey data indicate that personal income and larger economic concerns are changing the ways in which consumers perceive and participate in environmental activities. Several factors, including a significant increase in consumers’ pursuing apparel made in the U.S.A, and apparel made from natural fibers, suggests that these are emerging as new forms of environmental engagement.

“It is clear that consumers are aware and concerned about the environment,” says Kim Kitchings, VP of Corporate Strategies and Program Metrics at Cotton Incorporated, adding that the majority (60%) of survey respondents say that they often think how their actions affect the environment. “What is less clear to them is the cost of making a difference.”

Kitchings points to five years of data showing that participation in relatively low- or no-cost household environmentalism, including recycling, conserving water, and investing in energy-efficient appliances, is consistently greater among consumers with higher incomes. The divide is also seen in the 34% of consumers who say they put effort into finding environmentally-friendly apparel; that figure jumps to 40% among consumers making $75,000 or more per year. [Read more...]

Rules of Engagement

Cotton’s 24-Hour Runway Show and Push-Pull 2.0

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Click to See Chart Full-Sized

The retail universe has long-since expanded beyond the confines of physical floor space and time. Online retail outlets have made shopping a 24-hour option for brands with or without brick-and-mortar complements. Brand marketing, too, is now a brave new digital world in which presence and consumer engagement are essential cogs in the machine. To succeed, there must be a synchronicity of disparate channels that encompass traditional advertising, digital advertising, social media and most importantly, the often-unpredictable consumer.

Hyper-dimensional marketing, or Push-Pull 2.0, plucks multiple messaging strings in the hopes of striking a chord with consumers. In traditional push-and-pull strategy, push referred to offering incentives to the supply chain, and consumer marketing was the pull. Today, Facebook, Twitter and the like, have shifted the strategic emphasis squarely on the consumer; push is now defined as brand outreach to the consumer, and pull is their outreach to the brand. The objective is to enthusiastically engage the co

nsumer in the brand experience; to have them participate, promote, and eventually purchase. [Read more...]

Michael Kors – A Tale of Two Brands

MK_Charm-01I’ve long been a Michael Kors fan, buying gorgeous double-faced wool dresses on sale at Bergdorf Goodman or in the Michael Kors store on Madison Avenue—only at 70% or more off, after Christmas and in the early summer.

These dresses, and some pants, skirts, jackets and wonderful cashmere sweaters, are lined up like so many soldiers in my closet ready for almost any outing. The styles remain basically the same year-in and year-out. Beautiful fabrics such as the double-faced wool, along with heavier wools and tweeds, matte jersey, raw silk, satin, and cotton twill for summer. All styled classically and elegantly. Feminine. Flattering. Simple sleeveless sheaths and separates with some accessories, handbags and shoes to round out the collection. Wearable, luxurious, classic American style.

But now, since Michael Kors has gone public, the positioning of a lower tiered line, Michael by Michael Kors, into a global lifestyle brand seems a distinctly different brand proposition and one that is, perhaps, at odds with the couture line. Of additional concern is the thought that the couture line has suffered as a result of the greater attention to, and investment in, the lifestyle brand.

The lifestyle brand is designed and merchandised for a different and younger customer who likely has never seen, heard of, or cared about the Michael Kors collection or its understated, classic American positioning and style. These customers know Michael Kors from his successful appearance on Project Runway; from Michael Kors advertising; and from Michael Kors licensed watches, handbags and small leather goods featuring a prominently displayed MK logo in shiny brassy, brass. The new Michael Kors brand is described by management as a “global luxury lifestyle brand with a multi-channel strategy, unique design and strong infrastructure…a compelling assortment of luxury merchandise and exceptional service in a Jet Set store environment.”

The term “Jet Set” appears often in company communications. As a child of the 60’s when ‘Jet Set’actually meant something—picture Princess Margaret flying off to Mustique, Bianca Jagger going anywhere. And before international travel became so much more like getting on a bus at the Port Authority than departing in style at the Eero Saarinen designed TWA terminal at Kennedy— “Jet Set” was defined as: “An international social set made up of wealthy people who travel from one fashionable place to another.” [Read more...]

Sleight of Hand

The Touch, the Feel — but Not the Performance — of Cotton

The recent ruling by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to fine four retailers, including and Macy’s, for mislabeling textiles made from bamboo rayon as simply “bamboo,” underscores the seriousness with which the government is enforcing truth and clarity in labeling. Some onus, however, is also on consumers, some of whom are largely unaware of recent fiber substitutions in traditionally cotton-dominant apparel—a shift that can impact the care and thus, perceived value, of their purchases.

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Click to Enlarge

The ubiquity of cotton in apparel and home textiles has made it the fiber to beat, or at least the one to imitate. Manufacturers of synthetic fibers and some wood pulp rayons have become adept at duplicating the tactile softness long associated with cotton. To consumers, cotton is a known quantity, especially where the feel, or hand, and laundering are concerned. Many consumers have discovered, to their dismay, a sleight of hand in the form of fiber substitutions in traditionally cotton-rich apparel. [Read more...]

Well-Wrapped at Retail: Savvy Consumers Meet Smart Retailing This Holiday

Consumers may be wary this holiday season, but there are bright spots ahead. According to the National Retail Federation, overall holiday spending is projected to increase 4.1% this year, from $563 billion in 2011 to $586 billion in 2012. Technological advances have made it easy for consumers to shop from anywhere, at any time, and this year they are taking note; the NRF also projects that online holiday sales will grow 12% from 2011 to 2012, reaching $92 to $96 billion.

On average, holiday shoppers plan to spend approximately $568 on gifts this season, up 14% from $497 in 2011, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey.

Cotton Chart I

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“What consumers give year to year doesn’t necessarily change much – but the way they’re making those purchases has changed tremendously over the last decade,” says Kim Kitchings, Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Program Metrics, Cotton Incorporated. “The rise of e-commerce and its ease of use, and now the increase in smartphone usage as a means to make purchases, have enabled consumers to shop wherever, whenever.” This is certainly a boon to the more than half (52%) of consumers who say they find holiday gift shopping to be stressful, according to Monitor data.

That stress may be due in part to procrastination; only about a third of consumers (32%) start holiday gift shopping in November, while an equal percentage (18%) start shopping in October and December. Just 14% of consumers say they buy holiday gifts throughout the year, Monitor data reveal.

Savvy shoppers plan to rely on a variety of mechanisms to ensure they get the best price; from doing more comparison shopping (45%), looking for deals on days like Black Friday (45%), to shopping around to find the best deals (43%), according to Monitor data. [Read more...]

How Do You Give People What They Want?

The Robin Report

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The Global Recession has left retailers with overstuffed inventories and rapidly declining margins, as cash-strapped consumers pulled back on all but the most necessary of purchases. In response, some retailers have revamped the consumer experience with a variety of strategies, from flashy celebrity endorsements and hefty back-to-school discounts, to new pricing strategies and a more holistic approach to in-store versus online.

But are any of these giving consumers what they really want?

Leveraging the power of celebrity appeal is a popular tactic that shows no signs of slowing. Ann Taylor recently announced that Kate Hudson will continue to be their spokesperson for the third year running, while H&M recently revealed its continuing partnership with David Beckham.

Despite the prevalence of star-powered promotion, 3% of consumers cite celebrities as being most likely to influence them to purchase new apparel, though 22% say clothing worn by celebrities is still influential in their own clothing choices, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey. Most say (53%) friends are the most influential source in their purchasing decisions. [Read more...]

Retailers Revise Their Homework on Back-to-School

Weather, Hesitation Delay Shopping Plans

Consumer Facts from Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™

Despite an early push at retail, it seems the back-to-school shopping season is slow to gain steam, forcing many retailers to revamp their strategies to adapt. Teen Vogue’s Back-to-School Saturday initiative on August 11 may have wooed some consumers with its discounts and retailer participation, but many trend-conscious teens have been anxious to wait until school actually starts before they commit to making purchases. As a result, some retailers like JC Penney have extended their promotions, scheduling merchandise to arrive at the end of September in hopes that more fall-like weather will entice consumers to buy.

The Robin Report - Back to School

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According to the National Retail Federation’s 2012 Back-to-School spending survey, conducted by BIGinsight, the average personwith children in grades K-12 will spend $688.62 on their children, up slightly from $603.63 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $30.3 billion, a 14% increase – the highest since 2003.

Back-to-school is the second largest selling season, trailing only the December holidays, but apparel spending may easily remain flat compared to last year. Apparel tops the list of consumers who have a need to go back-to-school shopping: 9 out of 10 plan to buy clothes, followed by supplies (84%) and shoes (78%), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ survey. [Read more...]

What’s Up With Today’s Active Wear?

Over the past year, the volatility in cotton fiber costs compelled some manufacturers and brands to, at least temporarily, experiment with using alternative fibers. Now that the price of cotton has settled in line with historic averages, there is renewed interest in cotton for performance athletic apparel. And as the line between fashion and active apparel continues to blur, cotton is coming into focus as the common thread.

The Robin Report - Cotton Inc

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Take Charged Cotton®, the performance enhanced cotton-rich line launched in 2011 from sports retailer Under Armour®. Famous for compression clothing and strictly synthetic blends, the company attracted significant attention when it replaced the tagline “Cotton is the Enemy” with “Mother Nature made it. We made it better.” It appears consumers have responded positively; Under Armour’s 2011 Annual Report speaks to the potential that the Charged Cotton® line holds for the company: “We see Charged Cotton® as a path to nearly quadrupling our addressable market in ‘active use’ apparel while blurring the lines of the much larger active wear market over time.” Others agree; Morgan Stanley analysts recently predicted that the line will account for 3 percent sales growth in 2012 and as much as 6 percent total sales growth for the company in 2013. [Read more...]

Why I Am Aglow With UNIQLO

I first heard of Uniqlo several years ago when the company opened a pop-up store in Rockefeller Center. People were raving about the inexpensive cashmere sweaters. Always interested in a bargain, I checked it out. I was underwhelmed. Not enough sizes, a real mish-mash as I recall. It was dark and dreary. A dull basement space that was completely unexciting.

I returned to Uniqlo from a neutral point of view. However, this time around, the energy in the store, the sharp pricing the great overall merchandising and promotion, plus the fiber/product exclusivity, was so pro positive, that I have gone to the cheerleading side.

Over the last two years I received a couple of Uniqlo turtleneck ‘HEATTECH’ tops as gifts. These are made of a proprietary fabric that keeps you warm in winter by generating and retaining heat. The items can be worn as an under-layer or just alone. The fabric is kind of stretchy, “highly resilient and durable,” anti-static, odor resistant and designed to maintain its shape after repeated washings. And it does. [Read more...]