Reading the comments on Kathleen’s post on ABC Retailing (other links at close) really got me thinking. Time and time again, there have been complaints and criticisms (by the same posters) of the premium denim market and how boring it is. As a retailer, I am continually fascinated by the market for premium denim and with that, premium casual clothing. I watch the market closely. Having said all that, I have a few things to say.
First things first, we all pretty much know that luxury casual is a west coast trend pioneered by Southern Californian companies. While some find the plain-jane styles “boring” and repetitive, it really came from an interesting market perspective: that not all people who wear casual clothes are broke. I don’t know any other way to say it. There is a large market of fashion conscious consumers with money to spend, who needed a middle ground between expensive business and evening wear and cheap grungy sweats and tees. They wanted to go about their daily business without looking grungy, but without dressing all the way up.
Oh and did I mention they have money to spend?
From that came a string of start ups making their mark by doing one thing really, really well. C&C and tees, Juicy Couture and the velour tracksuit, Seven and jeans, and so on. High end casual wear versatile enough to wear by day and evening. Now, if you talk to a consumer of these items, they can usually tell you what they love -the lighweight sheerness of a C&C tee that washes well and doesn’t lose it’s shape (and the rainbow of colors), the perfect fit of the Juicy tracksuit (and the rainbow of colors), the just-right rise of Seven Jeans and the delectable washes. The things that others find boring are really because the minutiae of these details is pointless to the non-consumer. Now, it must be said that each company has grown and expanded from where they started and have developed well-rounded brands from a simple start.
For example, you often hear people bemoan “not another premium denim company.” While there is definitely a large influx as people try to cash in on a cash cow, each line usually has it’s own unique spin on a common concept- unique proprietary washes and finishing effects, vintage, Japanese or selvedge denim, a different fit and shape, embellishments and artistic detail, etcetera. What seems boring is only so because there are so many people who have no appreciation for another niche’s business model. Or another way of saying it, if you wear basic jeans, I can understand why premium denim seems boring to you, as a non-consumer, the details don’t matter. I can say the same for tees, as my experiences with attempting to source high quality cotton knits showed me just how much work it is to find a high quality knit that can launder well, retain it’s shape, and is light enough for layering. These companies are working with mills to create new knits. And if you’re a Hane’s person, the details don’t matter to you.
Every industry has it’s segment of basics. In the contemporary apparel market it’s jeans, tees and lounge/sportswear. In the career apparel market, it’s white dress shirts (wink and nod to Kathleen), in the evening wear market it’s the basic black dress. I think that in our efforts to become innovative artists, we often overlook the essential market because it’s not good enough for us, it doesn’t showcase our skills. But it’s selling and it’s selling well, and if you’re not paying attention, you’re missing out. If that’s not your line of business, so be it, but don’t knock it.