2013 off to a cautious start for US Fashion Industry

Posted by pbc_admin
on January 14, 2013

I don’t want to tell you that I told you so but …

I ended my review of the final 2012 Los Angeles Fashion Market Week in November with a “I’ll believe when I see it” about the optimism heading into the holiday retail season.  With so many people still out of work and so much uncertainty about where the economy is headed, I think consumers did the prudent thing in pocketing their cash.  It didn’t help that all we heard about during November and December was that the debt ceiling is falling in, that we were about to jump off a fiscal cliff, and that heavily armed demented sociopaths lurked around every corner.  Add a Hurricane Sandy to this melancholic mix, and it is hardly surprising that holiday sales could be best described as tepid.  I’ll have more to say on this in a post later this week.

So after a limp holiday sales season, it was energizing to bowl up to the first domestic trade show of 2013, Agenda.  Agenda is a streetwear, surf, skate and fashion show mostly for men that was held on Friday and Saturday, January 4–5 at my adopted hometown Long Beach Convention Center in lovely downtown Long Beach, California. The 10-year-old show was the biggest I have seen.  There were more than 550 brands, up from 450 brands this time last year.  I was there Friday afternoon and it was humming.


Registration at Agenda

It is obvious that the show is growing beyond it’s original target audience of young contemporary stores and surf and skate retailers.  The offering of product is broad.  From the expected logo tees and caps, surf and skate apparel and accessories through contemporary denim collections, quality eyewear like Raen and Mosley Tribes, premium footwear fashion lines (Onitsuka Tiger, Puma), contemporary menswear (e.g. Astronomy), watches (G-Shock), headwear, headphones, and on and on.  A full list of exhibitors is available on the Agenda website.

I caught up with Adam Redhead, the LA Showroom Manager at The Park Showroom.  The Park is a highly regarded young contemporary/contemporary men’s agency with showrooms in NY and LA.  The Park were showing 3 of their collections – Athletic Recon, Australia’s Zanerobe and the hip accessories of M. Cohen.  Adam was having a busy show.  I cruised past the booth a couple of times to speak with him but kept going because he was with buyers.  Adam thought the show was “big and busy” and “was very happy with the quality of the accounts and buyers they were working with”.

Adam echoed some of the feedback I received from the vendors regarding the new Friday and Saturday scheduling.  Many thought that moving to a Saturday didn’t work.  I’m told that a lot of vendors have requested a return to the Thursday and Friday format.  Adam also thought the 8AM was way too early.  I agree.  I doubt buyers need the early start. Plus it makes it an awfully long day for vendors in the booths.

The Australian-owned fashion wholesaling and marketplace technology innovators, NuORDER were exhibiting.  It is definitely worth your while to take an extensive look at the website, and take advantage of free demonstration if there is a fit.  The technology facilitates easy and efficient product ordering and follow-up, and smooth communications between buyers and manufacturers and agents.  NuORDER is pointing the way to the future of technology within the fashion industry.  The scope of automation within the industry is vast.  It may scare some of the players in the market who see these technological advances as pushing them to the margins, and on to obsolescence but as with other sectors, it is unstoppable.

NuORDER booth at Agenda

NuORDER booth at Agenda

The fashion industry has been slow to embrace technology and thereby innovate within the industry.  The entrenched way of doing business has been in-person and hands-on which is understandable on some levels, such as the need to see and feel a garment before ordering.  However, the technology available to, say, view and order product remotely is making the need to travel to trade shows or spend your store open hours on the phone to vendors and agents less crucial.  There are many other examples.

And these changes are picking up steam.  Heath Wells, one of the owners of NuORDER, told me, “In just over 12 months over 1 million styles have been ordered and independent research has shown an average increase in sales of 17.6% per order. We have 45,000 registered retailers and some amazing brands including, Helmut Lang, Citizens of Humanity, Elizabeth & James, Ted Baker, Parker, Alternative Apparel, Hurley, Adidas, Supra/Krew, Hudson Jeans & LEVIS.”

It would seem Agenda’s status as a required show is growing.  If you are looking to sell into the men’s young contemporary streetwear or activewear demographic, you should seriously consider doing the show.  I’m not sure I would do the show if I was a true contemporary collection but that may change as the mix of contemporary labels continues to grow.

This week is Los Angeles Fashion Market Week in the downtown fashion district.  The showrooms I spoke with last week aren’t expecting much.  If a label has short turnaround on production, you’ll see some new styles for Summer delivery starting at the end of April. Otherwise, buyers will be filling in with immediate goods.  For a lot of buyers, the focus will shift to the Fall collections debuting in Las Vegas next month.  I’ll be downtown tomorrow and Wednesday speaking with as many people as possible.  I’ll get you a full report by the end of the week.

By all accounts, 2013 fashion retail has gotten off to a cautious start all around.  It will be interesting to see how the coming months unfold.

Paul Brindley

paul brindley consults