Look to the East
One of the best acknowledged and least challenged fashion truths of recent times is that women are the chief focus and men the afterthought. The colossal developed market for womenswear has dwarfed the relatively irrelevant space for menswear to the extent that a few designers and some retailers have considered dropping male lines altogether. In Europe and North America, despite rough equality in numbers, men and women have been leagues apart when it comes to fashion spending with over 50% of total clothing spend being in womenswear and under a quarter in menswear.
It is easy to detect this difference in focus whilst wandering through one of the branches of a retailing behemoth like Zara, H&M or GAP. Women have two or three floor spaces, men a maximum of one. The womenswear department buzzes with custom, the tills ring constantly; menswear, while not exactly ‘dead’, is a small area of comparative stillness and calm. Men in this part of the world, though the highest earners, are not the most prolific spenders, at least not when it comes to their own costume. Commentators, including myself, have reasoned this as a representation of the differences between the sexes in our cultures; men crave quality, not variety; women crave both, but err on the side of variety. Variety means quantity, volume and consequently greater profit margin potential, ergo the focus from cheaper retailers on womenswear.
However, this trend is based on a limited populous in a limited geographical area that, while fully developed, does not represent the future space for the clothing retail market. A report at the end of last year highlighted the trend towards men in the luxury goods market. In Greater China, 75% of this market is male driven. No surprise then that a simple linking of China’s position as the growth engine of the world with its growth in its highest spenders has provoked luxury giants such as LVMH and PPR to focus on the region. PPR’s purchase of Brioni and its ambition of the brand’s growth in the lucrative Asian market are responses to expectations of 14% growth in luxury menswear, almost double the growth of luxury womenswear at 8%. And its ambition is well-founded; almost half of Ermenegildo Zegna’s $1bn annual sales revenue comes from this region.
Despite the fact that much of the hullaballoo is focused on luxury retail, there is a strong correlation between luxury growth and resultant mid- and lower-tier growth. The simple fact of the matter is that menswear is more dominant in Asia than it is in Europe and North America. In both China and India, two enormous growth economies, menswear is the largest constituent part of the clothing market, contradicting the accepted fashion truths about the sexes. For budding menswear designers, stylists, tailors, retailers and marketers, this will come as good news. For those who already have a mammoth presence in menswear but a comparatively small presence in Asia, it is even better; established names matter in these markets and titans such as Ralph Lauren, long considered to be a menswear brand in a womenswear world, will be laughing themselves silly that their business model has been proven to be the one of the future.