By  on August 8, 2006

NEW YORK — Purchasing of women’s apparel by Hispanic consumers has abruptly slowed down.

The decline comes at a time when the country’s Hispanic population of approximately 43 million is surging — and reaching critical mass in secondary markets from Arizona to Georgia — and as the group’s buying power is drawing even with that of the nation’s 38 million African-Americans.

Spending on women’s apparel by people who identified themselves as Hispanic — those whose heritage lies in a Spanish-speaking culture — rose by just 2.1 percent in the 12 months ended May 31, to $13.4 billion, according to NPD Group. The increase was less than a third of the overall growth in women’s apparel purchases, which grew by 7.25 percent to $105.1 billion in the period.

The downtrend marked a reversal from the strong growth in outlays for women’s apparel by Hispanics in the 12 months ended May 2005, when the group’s expenditures rose by 9.4 percent to $13.1 billion, up from $12 billion in the prior-year period, and easily outpaced a gain of 2.3 percent in overall spending on apparel.

However, the realization that an in-culture approach to marketing is as important as a savvy use of language, plus a flurry of new targeted media, could compel apparel brands to boost their outreach to the Hispanic community and recoup some of the lost spending. Twentieth Television’s English-language “Cristina’s Court,” hosted by Cristina Perez; ABC’s “Ugly Betty,” a fashion world ‘dramedy’ produced by Salma Hayek, and MTV Tr3 (tres), will all air starting this fall. Targeted media making their debut recently include Nashville’s WNVL-AM, a former satellite-fed Spanish hits station which in April was reformatted as a personality and music driven Spanish-language station, and Entravision’s WHTX, channel 43 on the Comcast Cable system in western Massachusetts, reaching roughly 130,000 households with news and entertainment in Spanish.

In the past three months, Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, for one, has observed a falloff in marketing aimed at Latinas (a word often used interchangeably with Hispanics) by various apparel players, after a year or so in which the likes of Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s and Kmart had upped such efforts. “Convincing the Hispanic consumer the brand is for the Hispanic culture is not as simple as the use of Hispanic music and models,” Cohen said. As a result, he added, apparel players have begun “throttling back” such efforts.
For complete coverage, see tomorrow's issue of WWD.

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