Trying to differentiate yourself in an oversaturated apparel market is difficult. If you want to stand apart by price you need to beat H&M, Primark, and Uniqlo. If you want to win for trend and lead time to market you need to beat Zara. Those are tall orders.
There are several US retailers still producing quality apparel and winning market share through messages of quality and value. The target markets vary and many offer style with quality. Focusing on comfortable, durable, versatile garments can be a winning formula. Despite what fast fashion would have us believe, not everyone buys a new wardrobe every season. Many people are looking for garments that last. Articles regarding minimalism and living with less are popping up everywhere from Refinery 29 to The Washington Post. Although in some cases, minimalism is being marketed as a look, more than a lifestyle. Even those who follow the latest trends still buy basics to wear along with trendier items.
Designed for End Use
Quality guru, Joseph Juran, defined quality as fitness for use. Does the product work for the end use the consumer intends? This is the primary focus of all imagery and messaging from Wisconsin based Duluth Trading. The focus makes sense for a workwear brand. Customers want to know that clothing won’t interfere with movement while working. Not too many other companies focus on telling customers about shirts that stay tucked in or flexible work pants. Duluth Trading continues to expand stores and sales were up for the third quarter.
A prime example of messaging quality and durability is Colombia Sportwear Company’s tested tough commercials. The commercials show the company’s founders wear testing garments in extreme, but amusing situations. Customers want to know that outerwear garments will stand up to the elements. Other outerwear companies outfit explorers and athletes to create a similar message of reliability under extreme conditions. Record third quarter sales for Colombia Sportswear prove the company has created a message that resonates with their target market.
Chicago based Stock Manufacturing Co markets quality garment features using interior garment photos for many items. This allows the customer to see the actual components and sewing. The other advantage is the customer sees the care that went into selecting trim materials. If the customer perceives the manufacturer put thought into engineering the garment, they will perceive greater value.
Is it possible to capture younger consumers by focusing on quality? Everlane has created a brand image based on supply chain and cost transparency. They focus on offering stylish basics made of beautiful fabrics. While they advertise primarily through social media, they supply enough information for bloggers and others to keep their message consistent. Explaining the cost structure allows consumers to feel they are getting a value and that the retailer is not receiving an unfair portion of the retail price. The margins are usually calculate to 60% to 65%. All indications are that the Everlane is continuing to rapidly grow. While the garments are stylish, they are still versatile, core pieces to a wardrobe. You won’t find anything that will only be worn for one season.
Even an upscale brand can tell a value story. By explaining design decisions and where products are made, consumers can be made to feel like they are investing in clothing. Todd Snyder uses videos and copy to explain why certain design details are put into garments and why he chooses to collaborate with particular manufacturers and brands. The use of video allows the details of the product to be shown. This video also showcases the manufacturing facility, letting the customer feel connected to the whole production process. The brand was recently acquired by American Eagle to take advantage of the success of the more casual Tailgate Clothing brand. The tailored portion of the designer’s business continues to grow both in the US and Japan, as told in this NY Times article.
None, of these companies were overnight superstars or achieved growth because they suddenly started marketing the quality of their products. They built in the quality as part of the brand from the beginning and slowly built a consistent message with products that supported the message. Perceived quality is important to marketing, but the customer cannot be dissapointed when the product is received. Next week I’ll focus on designing quality into the product from the beginning of development.
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