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May 29, 2012 5:40 PM

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Destiny or Design?

I always thought Forrest Gump cheated. After three movie hours of chancing upon history and heartache he steers the ultimate middle ground and decides maybe there is a grand design to the universe and maybe we are also like feathers...

I always thought Forrest Gump cheated. After three movie hours of chancing upon history and heartache he steers the ultimate middle ground and decides maybe there is a grand design to the universe and maybe we are also like feathers drifting randomly on the breeze -- that both are happening together at the same time. I usually try not to mix the debate over destiny or chance with market research, but some recent projections from Euromonitor brought all this together for me.

The research firm projected annual U.S. spending on apparel and footwear would decline by $7 billion this decade to $344 billion.

That's while spending on almost everything else from booze and communications to travel and health care is expected to go up.

A.T. Kearney's Hana Ben-Shabat, who pored over the data for a recent report, more or less chalked up the decline to the aging of the Baby Boomers and new, more digital priorties for younger people. She didn't say it, but ringing in the back of my head was one of the classic business guru buzz phrases: "Demography is Destiny."

There's a compelling case to be made for this point of view and lots of examples to back it up. Think of all the misses' departments and chains that have floundered as their Baby Boomer customers move toward retirement. Without semi-radical reinvention they're fighting a slow and losing battle of attrition.

With the Baby Boomers stepping off the scene, there's little hope in the much smaller cohort of Generation X. And Gen Y today can get their fashion kicks with fewer bucks.

They also have a whole new world of electronic goodies to spend their money on.

Maybe the industry is set for an overall contraction, maybe there's no way around a fashion recession.

Demography is not destiny on a smaller scale, though.

Even bigger brands like J. Crew have proven they can thrive if they stay on their toes and produce styles that people want to wear and present them in an appealing way. There doesn't have to be a demographic destiny for smart players.

And so, yes Forrest, maybe both are happening together. The industry at large could face one fate, but each of the brands has their own choices to make.
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