Changing cultural values
inspire newest fashions
Brands embrace inclusivity, wellness, sustainability
The apparel brands most aligned with how people live today, dressing casually and trying to be healthier and more environmentally responsible, increased most in value. Athleisure brands especially benefited from these trends, and fast fashion brands introduced initiatives to strengthen their sustainability credentials. Covid-19 store closings impacted category value, which remained flat year-on-year.
To meet changing consumer expectations, apparel brands launched more products made from recycled materials and introduced the idea of brand as service, including repair and re-wear programs that emphasized sustainability over disposability and enhanced the in-store experience. Some chains added subscription and rental models.
A consortium of environmental organizations ranked Adidas AG, H&M Group, Levi Strauss & Co., and Nike Inc. leaders in their use of sustainable cotton. H&M, Zara corporate parent, Inditex, Adidas, and Nike were among the apparel makers that signed the G7 Fashion Pact to make major changes that address the climate crisis. Inditex, for example, said that all its products would be made with 100 percent recyclable materials by 2025.
Apparel brands also stretched the notion of inclusivity. In partnership with singer Beyoncé, Adidas introduced a line of non-gendered clothing. H&M and Zara also introduced non-gendered clothing. Converse designed a new collection called Converse Shapes to fit people of different body shapes, regardless of gender.
Sustainability and inclusivity
H&M introduced its “Take Care” repair stations in some stores to educate customers about how proper care can extend the life of their garments. The boutique brand Hiut Jeans offered lifetime repair as did Nudie Jeans, an upstart brand from Sweden.
Adidas offered a sneaker cleaning service where customers pay a fee for having their shoes cleaned or customized. Adidas also introduced a voucher program, incentivizing people to trade in their used Adidas merchandise for reuse or recycling. Some apparel brands that retain their value, like Lululemon, were available on resale sites. Patagonia continued operating its own recycling program, called Worn Wear.
Apparel retailers, such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, offered rental programs, originally the province of luxury sites like The Real Real. Some businesses, like Rent The Runway and Stich Fix, were subscription based. MM.Lafleur had a subscription model for women’s office attire called MM. Lafleur Bento Box.
Zara and UK-based online retailer Asos were among the brands using a technology called Fit Analytics to achieve more accurate sizing, an accomplishment that potentially could reduce return shipping and the related environmental impact. The Asos version, called See My Fit, enables shoppers to view dresses from Asos on different sized models.
Conscious consumption existed in tension with conspicuous consumption as athleisure brands partnered with luxury brands: Nike with Dior, Adidas with Prada, and Puma with Balman. A limited-edition Nike Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior was expected to retail for over $2,000. The Adidas-Prada shoe matched with a Prada bag was priced at around $3,000. The collaborations helped apparel brands reinforce their craftsmanship message and luxury brands expand their audiences.
Experience and expansion
Lululemon opened its first experiential store, in Chicago, which includes the brand’s first café.
Lululemon continued to hit a lot of the right notes, producing quality, fashionable clothing, and creating a community around the brand with yoga sessions and other in-store and online events.
The brand community, along with quality and distribution controls, were among the reasons Lululemon was able to command a premium. Lululemon also promoted its men’s clothing range at a time of relaxed gender distinctions in apparel.
Uniqlo, well-positioned as a brand that makes casual clothing for the way people actually live, introduced a program to encourage trial of its clothing and use of its app. It rewarded people who downloaded the app with an item of Heattech, the brand’s inner layer insulating clothing for cold weather. Uniqlo also continued its partnerships with other brands, this time with Marimekko.
Focused on improving and expanding their online presence, H&M and Zara shut poorly performing stores and slowed the pace of new store openings. And both brands expanded into the home category. H&M also improved its technology, benefited from online growth, and reconfigured certain stores with a more engaging experience.
Having increased dramatically in value because of its on-fashion, hi-tech performance apparel, Under Armour cooled in part because of brand perception changes that followed a distribution channel shift to mass retail.
Covid-19 | Impact
Shut stores, lower demand hurt sales
The Covid-19 pandemic accentuated the ongoing category trend—the popularity of casual clothing, particularly athleisure, designed for the way people live today. While quarantined and working from home people dressed for comfort, and purchasing more apparel was not a high priority. In addition, the shutdown of non-essential retail pressured brands that relied on vast networks of physical stores. Lululemon, which grew the most in value, 40 percent, benefited from the strength of its online business and its community of followers, which it served with an extensive menu of online yoga classes. The value of the apparel category remained unchanged from a year ago, when it rose 6 percent.
Brand Building Action Points
- Think beyond product
In parts of the world where people feel they already have enough stuff, and purchasing becomes more considered, the future of brand growth will include the provision of brand-relevant services. In apparel, brands may continue their basic function of meeting a basic human need for clothing. But that clothing may be new, repaired, or rented.
- Enhance experience
Adding new services like rental or repair align with the consumer concern about sustainability and also create an opportunity to enhance the experience in the store, which can become not only a place to purchase products but also a place with relevant services that add touchpoints and reasons for the customer to return.
- Create community
Brand communities form when customers feel connected to a brand beyond products, to the brand’s values and to the life the brand represents. Not every brand can create a community. Not every person has the time or need to be linked with communities of people who also use the same brands as they. But when community building is possible, it can be powerful.
- Fill emotional needs
Clothing is a basic need. With basic needs satisfied, people may buy less clothing to reduce their impact on the environment. In that context, each additional item of apparel may become important not only for its functionality but also because it fulfills another important need for an emotional lift or self-expression.