The Elevation of Denim

denimelevationIt is the Go-To for Going Out

Denim has seen its share of evolution in the 140-plus years since Levi Strauss started selling blue jean overalls. In its modern iteration, it may be the item of choice for the smart, stylish dresser. With the rise of “athleisure” in casual apparel, the denim category is becoming elevated, with designers showing it on their runways, and brands offering it in custom fits, new finishes, and looks that are geared for the club as well as the office.

The Rise of Denim in Workwear

Eric Goldstein, owner of Jean Shop, a bespoke denim store in Manhattan, says a big part of his business is for men who want denim for “going out” or for work. “We do a tremendous amount of raw denim, and you can wear that with a leather shirt or jacket on top,” Goldstein says. “Our typical customer is the more articulate man, like the banker who wants to look casual, but cool and clean. Denim is being worn to work everywhere — New York, London, and the financial world. It’s not just for casual Friday anymore. Part of the staple work wardrobe is dark, crisp jeans. Our customers come into our store specifically looking for it.”

Goldstein’s customers reflect data that show denim remains consumers’ top apparel choice for a variety of occasions, from work to going out to dinner to running errands. More than a third of all consumers (36 percent) prefer denim jeans for work, followed by casual and dress pants (27 percent each), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey. Men are significantly more likely than women to prefer denim for work (41 percent versus 32 percent).

WGSN’s junior’s editor, Sarah Owens, says denim has become an acceptable look in the workplace, especially given the premium options now available both in fit, finish, and feel. She says, “It’s quite common now for women to wear a pair of relaxed, boyfriend jeans with a tailored black blazer — creating a high/low aesthetic that has been circulating among Fashion Week street style trends for the past few years.”

Lorna Buford, editor of DenimBlog, says jeans are such a wardrobe staple that consumers will wear denim as a standard work item, unless they have to wear a uniform. “Plus, with the added comfort that jeans now have, it’s a bonus,” she says. Women have the option of pairing them with heels and a dressy jacket or smart sweater, while men just need to think “dark and neat.” AskMen advises male readers to leave their club denim with intricately stitched pockets at home.

The premium denim company DL1961 even has a category named “Office Denim” on its web store to help consumers make the right style choice for their particular job situation. The brand has also added to denim’s comfort factor by introducing lines like “hybrid” “intelligent,” and “DLX” denim that increases movement, retains shape, and even protects from odor-causing bacteria.

“The other direction we see denim headed is a workwear story with raw constructions in rich indigo reworking classic silhouettes in more elongated fits,” Owens says. “This has also been executed in black to give a more contemporary touch to workwear themes.”

On the Streets to on the Go

As favored as denim is for work, it’s preferred even more for shopping or running errands (61 percent), according to Monitor statistics. That’s distantly followed by casual pants (15 percent), athletic pants/shorts (10 percent), shorts (7 percent), and leggings (5 percent).

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Of course, the idea of looking fashion forward when shopping or running around town with the kids was made popular by celebrities. Whether it’s Jessica Alba pushing her baby carriage or Justin Timberlake grabbing a coffee, the look is about the right jeans paired with the right shoes and accessories. That may be why more than four in 10 consumers (41 percent) say they prefer to wear denim jeans when they want to look and feel good in an outfit, followed by casual bottoms (20 percent) and dress pants (17 percent), according to the Monitor data.

Of course, looking good is important when going out to dinner, and denim is also the top apparel choice among both men and women combined (37 percent), the Monitor survey shows. That’s followed by casual pants (26 percent), dress pants (17 percent), dresses (11 percent) and skirts (4 percent) for women, and athletic pants/shorts (2 percent).

“The demand for denim in a more formal or ‘going out’ setting has been increasingly apparent, even before the athleisure trend started to gain momentum,” Owens says.

Buford says she sees both men and women wearing denim in a dressier setting. “I still see people wearing their favorite black or indigo blue skinny jeans with heels and blazers — those are popular for going out.”

Denim Hits the Runways

More denim is also being shown in current designer collections. “The designers really promoted denim on the runways for pre-fall and pre-spring,” says the Doneger Group’s fashion director, Roseanne Morrison. “There’s been a ’70s vibe with the flare leg, the one-piece denim coverall, denim dresses. There’s also been some ’80s styles with the high waist and baggier fit. So it’s a new collection of denim looks that are coming out. We’re also seeing some lighter washes and original indigo without stretch,” she adds.

Owens says the runway has had an influence on the denim category, giving it a wider, dressier appeal. Men and women will continue to see it as more of a “going out” item, she says, “as we enter into the more premium aesthetic that is currently being influenced by current catwalk and trade show trends. From the catwalks, we have been seeing denim take on a more premium aesthetic, with elevated and glossy constructions on more sophisticated pieces such as the tailored denim set at Rag & Bone, Bottega Veneta, and Michael Kors.” Owens continues, “This new renaissance for the denim market gives it a polished identity originally established back in spring/summer 2011 by designers such as Celine and Derek Lam.”

501 Ascending

Levi’s is the originator of denim jeans. At the last National Retail Federation show in New York, James Curleigh, Levi’s global president, said the company is focusing on its core, but “going for more.” “There’s this notion of should you just do what is expected or should you do more?” he said. “Well, guess what? We’re going to do both.”

Levi’s is still the worldwide leader in denim. In fact, it tops the list of favorite brands of denim jeans among Monitor survey respondents at 32 percent. Levi’s is continuing its traditional 501 jean, and last month introduced the 501 CT (Customized & Tapered) line. The 501 CT is offered in a range of authentic denim washes inspired by San Francisco and California style, the home of Levi’s and the original 501 jean.

The brand is also expanding both high and wide. At the high end, it’s offering its $750 Lot 1 custom, made-to-measure jeans. At the same time, its Commuter Series, featuring reflective seaming and U-lock storage on the waistband, is one of its fastest-growing denim platforms. “Icons don’t remain icons forever unless you continue to innovate around them,” Curleigh said in his presentation.

Trend Tracking

At the recent PROJECT menswear show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, many denim brands were on display, including Anonymous Jeans of Los Angeles. This maker featured innovative styles such as a 100 percent cotton skinny fit jean with a sarouel drop -— à la the harem pant. Among the many vendors, buyers could also find denim with waxed and leather-look finishes, as well as jeans in a range of colors.

The evolution toward better finishes and different fits is important, especially as denim is the top apparel item among consumers (28 percent), for times when they want to “be stylish or fashionable,” according to the Monitor data. That’s followed by dress pants (25 percent) and casual pants (17 percent).

Those looks are right on time for today’s customer. “Denim is here to stay,” says Jean Shop’s Goldstein. “And in men’s, the classic 100 percent cotton denim is favored. It’s a product you wear your whole life. You can wear clean and crisp with a jacket and tie, and then three years later use it to paint the house or do some other DIY project. We collect jeans in the store. So people can wear their jeans for years, then trade them in when they buy a new pair. They become vintage. And they all tell a story. And with the new pair, the next story begins.”

Catherine Schetting Salfino
Fashion Retail Reporter

Catherine Schetting Salfino covers fashion and retail. Her work has appeared in the menswear
publications Daily News Record, Women’s Wear Daily, Saks POV, and the Sourcing Journal.

Retail Awakening

Entire store chains are declaring bankruptcy and liquidating; department stores are transitioning to specialty stores; the leadership carousel at the top of organizational charts is spinning faster than ever; and online retailing titans are … opening brick-and-mortar stores?

There may never have been such a tumultuous time in the retail industry, one both rich in opportunity and rife in peril — both simultaneously.

So, I ask you, as a retailer, how are you sleeping at night?

New Retail Reality

Retail is not “evolving.” The pace and scope of change makes it so much more than an evolution, and the term “revolution” has morphed into a rather tired, trite cliché. Label it as you wish, but retail’s new reality includes:

  1. A disruptive convergence of channels;
  2. A newly empowered consumer who is clearly in charge; and
  3. A deep understanding that what worked in years past won’t work going forward.

[Read more…]

Tracking and Winning the Revolution

revolutionHey, are we having fun yet? Let’s think about where we are today. Is it somewhere in the early exciting phase of the retail transformation that we know is possible? Or are we held back by the fear of failing to make this shift and ultimately be snuffed out?

Here is where we really are: At the intersection of the art and science of retailing, converging on technological steroids, serving an omnipotent consumer who expects and demands the satisfaction of their dreams wherever they may be, whenever, how and how often — and instantaneously.

Daunting, complex, disruptive — these are just a few of the ideas describing the awesome challenges facing us in this profoundly transformational era.

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers across all channels are in the process of seamlessly integrating technology, the Internet and m-commerce into the omnichannel model, while at the same time mining big data, configuring apps, and selecting from the endless stream of experience enhancing gizmos, gadgets and augmented reality for the delight of their shoppers. [Read more…]

Happy Accidents

happy_accidentsOffering a wider assortment at every store helps increase sales while keeping complexity in check.

Less is more: This is the prevailing wisdom of today’s retail assortment strategies; assortments should be localized, limited, and carefully curated.

But, more often than not, bigger is better. Carrying a wider assortment in each store can boost sales without increasing cost, space needs or inventory. In fact, it’s possible to offer complete assortments while decreasing inventory. This sounds counterintuitive, but there’s logic to the strategy.

Why is the industry so fixated on slashing assortments? The “choice is a trap” and “paradox of choice” arguments — that consumers actually prefer only a few options instead of being confronted with a wall of choices — is gaining traction in popular culture and especially at retail. And, while it may be accurate in certain limited settings, it doesn’t hold true when applied to the industry at large. In fact, as assortment size goes up, sales always increase. [Read more…]

Checking the Pulse of the American Shopper

pulseFrom a retail perspective, it’s hard to find numbers or analysis of the past year without also finding the word “cautious” in close proximity. Holiday spending for 2014: Cautious. Consumer attitude from recent gasoline price drops: Cautious. Outlook for 2015…. You get the picture.

Given the depth of the financial crisis in 2008 and the habits of the post-crisis consumer, this attitude can hardly be blamed. For retailers, however, the state of the American consumer might better be described as “tempered.”

It describes a cohort that has been tried, toughened and come through stronger. That’s what MasterCard Global Insights research shows. Our most recent work on the attitude toward credit and debit spending — arguably a leading indicator for retailers — captures a more nuanced portrait of how Americans are feeling about the economy and their own pocket five years into the recovery. In short: The post-crisis consumer has learned some tough lessons and come through with a tempered but tactical attitude toward credit and debit usage, disposable income, and saving for the future. [Read more…]

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoTA Connected Life

If you think the tsunami of new technologies, more spectacular one day after another, are now within your grasp of understanding, and soon to be mastered in implementation, do not pat yourself on the back and take a breather. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is a far bigger and faster tech train than the many you are just beginning to feel comfortable with. And it’s coming right at you. Yes, your business will soon ratchet up to another level of innovative opportunities and complex challenges.

We are hearing or reading the words IoT or the “Internet of Things” more frequently. It is the next technology mega-trend. And there are some early manifestations of it, from fitness bracelets to watches, connected refrigerators and automobiles, to thermostats and industrial equipment. But it’s still in the nibbling-around-the-edges phase. However, as breakthroughs in reducing the cost of sensors, processing power and increasing bandwidth continue, it will accelerate the ability to connect with more things, faster and cheaper. [Read more…]

The Secret Sauce to Jumpstart Retail Sales

SECRET_SAUCEThe Census Department has started to release data from its five-year Economic Census that does a deep dive into all aspects of the US economy, including 12 sectors of retail. What’s important about the latest Economic Census is that it gives us the ability to study and learn from the pre- (2007) and post-recession (2012) retail market. While more data will be rolling out between now and 2016, here is the real story in the retail data.

Retail Hasn’t Begun to Recover From the Great Recession

Retail remains stuck in recession mode. In the 10-year period leading up to the Great Recession, retail was posting a compound annual growth rate of 4.76%; since then, retail has limped along with CAGR of 1.54% for the five-year period from 2007-2012.

Retail did a little better from 2012–2013, up some 4.2% based upon comparables from the Monthly Retail Trade Survey, but 2014 has been a complete drag, with September’s YTD report showing the GAFO (General merchandise, Apparel, Furniture & Other) retail sector up a mere 1.4%. For retailers that fill the nation’s malls, shopping centers and main streets, the GAFO number is the one to watch. From 2007-2012, the GAFO stores posted only 5.4% growth, well below retail as a whole, and from 2012-2013, they inched up only 1.5%. [Read more…]

The Case of the Missing $32 Billion

Missin-32billionMultilevel/Pyramid Marketing Schemes Lure Unsuspecting Consumers through FTC Loophole

Don’t look now, but dozens of companies, starting with Amway back in 1979, and more recently Herbalife, the supplements company being challenged as operating a pyramid scheme by activist investor Bill Ackman, have been diverting billions in sales every year away from traditional retailers across the health, beauty and general merchandise industries.

Multilevel marketing, or MLM, is a simple model that enriches those who start it at the expense of those who join later. The premise is simple, and there are few barriers to entry. A multilevel marketer pulls together a line of products, puts a brand name on it, and develops an enticing sales spiel which has, as its primary attraction, the ability, for those who make a bulk investment in these products, to profit from commissions earned when friends, neighbors, and family members become distributors, make a similar bulk investment, and recruit other friends or family members to do the same. They all will get a commission on those and all subsequent purchases that those friends and their recruits make. Everyone back up the line to the original seller gets part of the commission as well. The process creates an exponential geometric growth pattern which, in theory, would eventually encompass all potential prospects and leave later entrants no one to recruit. [Read more…]

Macy’s – The Distribution of Things

macys_distributionAgain, in Front of the Trend

I recently wrote about Macy’s distribution brilliance. And even though the ink is hardly dry, here I am again. Actually, I am not going to focus on lauding what most people might view as a great Macy’s marketing program with Plenti (a cross-brand and industry point-generating redemption deal), which I’ll explain in a minute. This new collaboration is really a tactic, albeit very innovative, to support what I view as Macy’s larger distribution strategy and vision.

My recent article was about Macy’s understanding of the broader and more accurate definition of omnichannel. Too many retailers interpret omnichannel to mean simply two channels: online and brick-and-mortar stores.  So let’s get it straight once and for all.  The old term multi-channel meant more than one channel of distribution.  The new concept omnichannel means “all” distribution channels. Under the multi-channel definition, company strategists would align operations, distribution, marketing and all other functions with the needs of each channel as if they were “silos.” For example, the store, catalogs, marketing strategies, etc., would all be tailored to the needs of the specific channel, assuming different customer behaviors for each.  Omnichannel, as Macy’s and other enlightened retailers are employing the model, is the seamless integration of consumers’ experiences in a matrix of all distribution channels, wherever and whenever the consumer wants it: stores, the Internet and mobile devices, TV, direct mail, catalogs, and now, even operating on other brands’ or retailers’ distribution platforms.

“Plenti” of New Distribution Platforms

Rite Aid, AT&T, ExxonMobil, Nationwide, Hulu, and Direct Energy

So, the Plenti deal basically adds many other distribution platforms to Macy’s omnichannel strategy.
It’s pretty simple.  All the aforementioned companies, including Macy’s, are interconnected with each other through Plenti’s program.  Each time a consumer spends a buck at any one of those companies, they receive a point (equivalent to a penny), which then can be applied to discounts at any one of the companies.

As so aptly described in WWD: “Consider pulling into a gas station, filling up your tank and earning a point per dollar, then applying those points to get discounts on shoes at a department store, or cough drops at a drugstore.  Or imagine getting points for discounts at Macy’s or Exxon just by paying for your auto or homeowner’s insurance.”

And while one could argue that these are not, by definition, used for distributing goods, it is, in fact, an indirect strategy of distributing the brand on non-related, but compatible industry and product categories. It all ultimately leads to expanded distribution, acquiring new customers as well as maintaining current customers who will be delighted to build up a bunch of points for new deals.

In fact, Macy’s strategy might more appropriately be called the “distribution of things.”  Borrowing from the term, the “Internet of things,” which describes the interconnectedness of everything, Macy’s is interconnecting and integrating all possible distribution platforms that engage their consumers wherever they may be.

Think about this, Macy’s.  In the future, when you perfect the use of your “big data” and are able to profile each and every loyal customer and what they personally dream for in their lives, you will be permitted into their homes, to be downloaded into their “global communications center” from which they get important and timely information from you and other permitted brands. You will give them information about new styles that you know, from your database, they will love.  A fashion show invitation or Stella cocktail party can be hyped for their attendance.  And you might even be able to deliver products to them that they can keep or be placed in a Macy’s return box to be  picked up by Instacart or some such service that will inevitably spring up over the next couple of years.

The big shift is that the home will be the final distribution platform. The “distribution of things,” indeed.

What is “Disruptive Innovation” Supposed to Mean?

hockingThe IGD’s recent London conference focused on “disruptive innovation.” The organizers brought together industry heavyweights from both retail and brands; several spoke, and all claimed the new reality of business was a universe of shoppers who expected low prices. Let’s call their view “the problem.”

These speakers were then followed by others, mainly suppliers, who presented various forms of technology ranging from Google Glass to 3D food printers, with much of the application of this so-called disruption really centred on being “new” rather than being beneficial to shoppers. Let’s call their tech toys “the solution.”

The whole thing felt to me like an endorsement of that classic phrase, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Here was a case where the problem was underestimated and the solution overestimated.

Shoppers seek low-price in the absence of additional drivers of value in what they are purchasing. The UK grocery industry isn’t suffering because of a lack of technology; it’s suffering due to a lack of disruptive innovation in the area of “stuff that matters to shoppers that’s different than from what our competitors offer.”

The tradition of much of retail, grocery in particular, is to create stores that are more like warehouses, with very little to inspire shoppers who consistently state their desire to find inspiration when they visit a grocery store. And these are people whose average repertoire includes just four recipes, yet they need to put 21 meals a week on the table. They find even less inspiration online. Grocery retail’s common solution is to streamline operations, strip out value, and claim to pass the savings onto shoppers.

But there’s a greater need that’s being overlooked.

There’s an old saying, “Low prices only rent you customers, not build loyalty.” If I were the CEO of a UK grocery retailer, I’d be asking my team to figure out what it will take beyond price (with its accompanying lousy margins) to earn the hearts and minds of their customers what some refer to as “loyalty beyond reason.”

My plea is to put away the big data, the technology, and the built-in biases that say “But that’s the way we do it” and get back to the basics by asking ourselves if what we offer matters enough to the people we count on to pay our salaries. Knowing what matters to people – truly, deeply matters – isn’t something you find on a spreadsheet and it can’t be spied through a Google Glass. It’s found by thinking like people about real human needs.

Making Athletes Better, Socially

under_armour_newOn the heels of a strong close to 2014 and annual sales and profits growth of 32% and 28% respectively, Under Armour hosted a meeting with the investment community, addressing its recent acquisitions that, when combined, create the world’s largest digital health and fitness community. Aptly named Connected Fitness, CEO Kevin Plank, along with the leaders of the newly assembled Under Armour digital team and CFO Brad Dickerson, spoke to rationale, strategy, and opportunities.

In true entrepreneurial fashion, Plank started Under Armour as a football player who couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a T-shirt on the market that was light and wicked sweat, which would improve his (and athletes generally) performance. The rest, as they say, is history. The guiding principle from his inspiration 19 years ago, to the more than $3 billion in annual sales just reported, is the goal to make the athlete perform better. This remains the goal with the MapMyFitness acquisition (in 2013), Endomondo (acquired January 2015), and the MyFitnessPal purchase (closing in the current quarter). In the digital world, Under Armour now has more than 120 million unique registered users in its online community. [Read more…]

Wallet Wars

iStock_000000409904Consumer behaviorists are mulling a new question: Will they swipe, tap, Tweet or text?

Whichever they choose, consumers, particularly the much sought after Millennials, are looking for new ways to pay. We’re approaching a tipping point where mobile payment systems, or mobile wallets, will move into the mainstream with cash, credit and debit cards becoming as archaic as stone tools.

An article in a recent issue of BCG Perspectives by The Boston Consulting Group put it this way: “Never in the history of the payments industry has there been a time of such disruption and opportunity across regions. Digital technologies will upset the competitive order and the role that payments play both in the operations of businesses and in the daily lives of consumers.” [Read more…]