Apparel led all categories in growth of overall brand value, with an increase of 29 percent in the BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2014, following a 21 percent improvement a year ago.
Consumers eagerly purchased apparel, but they sought value, investing in brands that offered style with durability plus function. Mid-priced brands informed by high-end fashion prospered.
Less concerned about projecting an image with logos, consumers focused instead on how brands could make them feel more confident and discerning. Brands aimed to be part of the repertoires of affordable options consumers purchased for various occasions.
Post-recession smart consumers matched wits with brands over pricing. Rather than purchase at the beginning of the season, consumers waited to buy on sale. Merchants launched sales earlier and deepened discounts as time passed, adjusting prices rationally, to encourage purchasing while protecting margins.
The slower pace of economic expansion in fast growing markets impacted the apparel category, particularly in China. Slower growth, combined with increasing international competition, rising labor and raw material costs and excess inventory, formed a perfect storm that hurt business results and brand values.
The fast growing markets led the way in the use of ecommerce and social media, however, while in developed markets, sites like Tumblr enabled consumers to share information and feel informed. Indicative of the growing influence of apps in the apparel category, an app called Tapestry provided a virtual bulletin board, similar to Pinterest, along with an option to purchase.
A UK-based app, called ShuffleHub, emphasized the emotional aspect of shopping, enabling online shoppers to browse across stores and brands to replicate the dreaming and exploring aspect of shopping. These other trends also impacted the category:
As ecommerce drove an exponential expansion of choice, brands needed to work harder at cultivating loyalty. But a good brand experience could make the difference.
Technology enabled brands to tailor their communications for diverse audiences and geographic locations.
Technology and apparel continued to converge, and brands met consumer needs for clothes that suited their healthy and active lives. Google announced an operating system called Android Wear to drive innovation in wearables.
Apparel brands with technology rise in value
Nike’s brand value increased 55 percent. With the tagline “Find your greatness,” Nike used social media to inspire a culture of activity and achievement. The brand has succeeded in building communities of consumer and brand advocates around this larger purpose. Nike refined its FuelBand. The bracelet, which measures calories burned, pioneered the intersection of apparel, technology and community.
With a brand value rise of 47 percent, Adidas enjoyed the momentum gained from its sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic Games and introduced products related to its sponsorship of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The brand introduced a new shoe cushioning innovation it calls Boost technology.
Uniqlo also integrated apparel and technology, with fabrics engineered to keep heat in (Heattech) or let air out (AIRism). On the promise of delivering apparel staples that are fashionable, functional and affordable, the Japanese brand has built a global presence, with around 1,300 stores in Asia, North America and Europe. Uniqlo rose 58 percent in brand value.
Heritage and fast fashion
The UK-based brand Next reached its core customers, women in their 30s or 40s seeking accessible fashion, with product range, price, service and reliable and quick delivery. Next operates around 500 stores in the UK and Ireland and is present with over 170 franchises in 35 countries. It also maintains online and catalog businesses. The brand exemplifies how high-end fashion informs High Street. Brand value rose 39 percent.
Along with its basic H&M brand, H&M promoted its & Other Stories and COS (Collection of Style) brands, which provided a three-tiered offering. With the added brands H&M widens its appeal while retaining its base of younger consumers as their tastes and income levels evolve. In August 2013, H&M launched ecommerce in the US, where it operates approximately 300 stores, its second largest market after Germany. Zara, rose 15 percent in brand value based on the success of its fast-fashion formula, with around 1,900 stores in 87 countries.
Making brands accessible
With evolving attitudes about what constitutes masculinity, more men feel comfortable with fashion and color. This trend, and international growth, helped propel brands like Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger, which appears in the BrandZ™ category ranking for the first time. Young families fueled the strength in children’s wear.
Topshop and J. Crew, competitive brands that don’t appear in the BrandZ™ ranking, demonstrated clever ways to make brands accessible. Topshop streamed its London Fashion Week catwalk fashion show and, through a partnership with Google, made it interactive. J. Crew preceded its debut in the UK with a pop-up store in London.
The death of more than 1,100 workers in the collapse of the Rana Plaza apparel factory, in Bangladesh, underscored the challenge for brands attempting to meet a competitive price point while at the same time manage supply chains responsibly. For some brands, like Patagonia, social responsibility is at the core of their appeal. All brands felt pressured, however, to meet growing consumer concern and interest in product provenance.
The experience of Lululemon demonstrated the vulnerability of a brand that fails to meet its promise in the age of social media. Having rapidly developed a brand that stood for fashion and functionality in clothing for exercising, the brand stumbled when the stretch fabric of some of its products performed poorly and the company initially blamed customers for the fault.
People can be cynical and disappointed by brands. Today, with ecommerce and social media, brands need to work harder to gain shopper loyalty. But if brands can deliver consistently good experiences across channels, while offering elements of surprise and delight, people will remain interested and loyalty will be strong.
Online fashion shows invite more consumers
At fashion shows it used to be the elite who were in the front row. Now brands are inviting a much wider audience to watch these events live and online. Many may not be able to afford the brand yet, but they can begin to emotionally invest in it. The brand is saying, you’re invited to this show and please aspire to be part of this world. You’ll see that it’s as wonderful as we profess it to be. Consumers feel that they’re in the know.