Menswear is alive!

It’s been said recently that menswear is dead. I have yet to hear the death knell though. Actually, I would venture to say it is in a lifestage more akin to teenage adolescence: full of vigor and wild energy! Sales have been growing consistently in the menswear category by double digit percentages for the last 5 years (source:  Euromonitor). The category is expected to grow to $40 Billion globally by 2019. E-commerce menswear clothing sales are also growing and have been up 10% over the past year through Q1 2016 (source: US Commerce Department), and clothing even became the #1 online sales category in 2015. Considering numbers like this, one finds it hard to visualize the grim reaper bringing the menswear category to an imminent demise. Actually the numbers are more indicative of the birth of new and exciting opportunities that can breathe life into a retailer’s flagging sales.

Suit seen at the LACMA that is a tribute by designer, Kenzo, to the great bespoke tailors of our age
Suit seen at the LACMA that is a tribute by designer, Kenzo, to the great bespoke tailors of our age

For the first quarter of this year, however, sales were grim for many of the big retailers out there. For example, Saks and Nordstrom’s overall sales were down 5.7% and 7.7% during this time period (respectively). Q4 of 2015 wasn’t much better for either of them. This is interesting considering clothing became the #1 online sales category in 2015, and even though these retailers have robust online presences, in addition to their gorgeous brick & mortar locations, they are still under-performing. This begs the question: “Where could they be missing it?”

Display seen in the Men's Sportswear Department at a Nordstrom a few days ago
Men’s Sportswear Department at a Nordstrom

I had a few ideas as to what may be driving this, but I decided to talk to an experienced men’s clothing retailer, Bespoke Apparel, about this. They have been doing business for over 27 years and have served clients such as the late Muhammad Ali and Deion Sanders-just to name a few of their clients. Their sales are up this year, while many of their counterparts are struggling, and one of the owners (Danielle Corbitt) provided me with some insight as to why.

She explained to me that the majority of their customers (men aged 35-65), are no longer confining themselves to rules & restrictions which had prevented them from wearing the clothes they wanted to in the past. Also, men aren’t wearing suits to work as much as they used to, and the trend towards even more casual work environments is something she has only seen continue to increase. Rather than stick their heads in the sand and ignore this, their business made an intentional decision to embrace the consumers’ changing tastes. This meant changing their focus from suits to items such as affordable sport coats and plain front slacks. She found that their customers appreciated being able to pair items they were purchasing with things they already had in their closets and were willing to buy more as a result. Further capitalizing on men’s changing tastes, they began to offer more shirts and suits with patterns and brighter colors to accompany their clients’ more liberal sense of style.

Photo courtesy of Bespoke Apparel
Photo courtesy of Bespoke Apparel

Thankfully, retailers experiencing sales declines still have time to turn things around. One thing is for sure though, if they don’t fully adapt to these new customers in the same way that many smaller retailers have, then the sales declines will most certainly continue.


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