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There is a growing gap between the retail world and the apparel consumer. The seasonal selling cycle is off, the emphasis on fashion vs. function is out of balance, and there is an overlooked opportunity when it comes to dressing U.S. consumers for work. In order to get back on track, especially in the wake of recent lackluster retail earnings, the apparel industry needs to realign itself with the consumer.

It’s the end of May, the weather forecast in New York is just now showing signs of warmer temperatures, and retailers have been selling spring clothing for months. But most consumers began spring shopping in April, as these now “old” styles were being discounted. The majority of consumers (83 percent) told NPD that they shop for clothes during or after the changing seasons. Retailers should put a longer selling season in place for key items in order to capitalize on both early and late selling opportunities.

On the scale of very fashionable to very traditional, 82 percent of consumers said their style of dress falls somewhere between the middle and the very traditional end of the spectrum. Consumers tell us they want mainstream product with a touch of trend, but the industry puts most of their focus on flashy, high-end, avant-garde fashions – which the average consumer won’t buy. Manufacturers need to focus on function, before fashion.

Last, but not least, it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of marketing a lifestyle to today’s consumer. The athleisure trend, for example, appeals to consumers who buy into a more casual, healthier way of living. And this casualization has also extended to the workplace.  Half of consumers told NPD that what they wear for work is somewhat the same as what they wear when they are not working. Another 16 percent said that what they wear is completely the same in and outside of work. This means that 65 percent of U.S. consumers have at least some overlap between the clothes they wear to work and the clothes they wear when they are not working.

The lines are blurring everywhere we look, and the apparel industry is faced with the challenge of developing product and marketing approaches that effectively address a new kind of fluidity among today’s consumers. When they shop, what they buy, and how they dress is no longer clearly defined, but each of these things is clearly guided by the consumer. It’s time to realign. Now is the time for retailers and brands to wake up, catch up, and deliver what consumers are asking for. 

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / April 2016 Omnibus

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