Some three years into one of the most drawn-out downturns in the history of the apparel industry, in which sales of certain luxury collections have dropped substantially, even companies that have managed to hold their collective breaths in the depths of such a recessionary climate are starting to look a little green around the gills.
Brave faces are giving way to those of panic, reviving an old joke amongst the tailors of Seventh Avenue: drastic times call for drastic measurements.
Total women’s sportswear sales dropped 2 percent in 2002 to $38.8 billion, according to STS Market Research, with deflation and price cutting digging into many companies’ bottom lines. The NPD Group research firm reported that total women’s apparel sales dropped more than 6 percent in 2002 to $83.6 billion.
Thus, the industry has discovered itself in the unpleasantly ironic situation where designers are slicing off a good chunk of their workforce to save money, while simultaneously dreaming up schemes to extend their reach — floating new lines, labels and marketing concepts with the assumption that the economy is bound to turn around someday, preferably soon.
As companies look again to acquisitions as a means of survival, the pace of industry consolidation has hastened to the point that new power bases have been established within a matter of weeks and the race to dominate any potentially underbranded corner of apparel retailing has turned into a game of musical chairs set to the chaotic rhythm of Judas Priest.
As for the outlook for fall, there’s only more action to come.
On one front, deep-rooted alliances are being formed, like the broad new relationship between Phillips-Van Heusen and Kellwood Co. to build the Calvin Klein and Izod franchises into blockbuster brands for the lower markets — with sales projections of $500 million over several years for the Calvin Klein better sportswear line in development and $50 million for the first year for Izod women’s — or talks of other similar proposals for Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta. On another, there are divisive splits and the potential for more turf wars, such as the licensing, and now legal, dispute between Jones Apparel Group and Polo Ralph Lauren.