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In the urban apparel market, the axiom is: “You can’t compete, if you don’t know the street.”
With intense competition for a customer base that’s measured as much by its growth as for its influence on other markets, streetwear brands such as Baby Phat, Rocawear, Lady Enyce and Fubu Ladies must keep acutely attuned to its customers’ needs and desires.
A thorough knowledge of where she shops, where she eats and what she wants to wear creates the simpatico for customer royalty.
While many of the brands offer similar apparel — there are plenty of velour sweatsuits and treated jeans to go around — as they begin to address a wide range of apparel categories and expand their licensed products, urban brands have become more about lifestyle than a hot item.
Even though most women’s urban lines are an offshoot from a men’s collection, executives said the sector is growing at a faster pace and has more potential, since there is more ability to tap into a range of products for women than there is for men. The urban market generates sales of $5 billion at retail, according to industry estimates.
“For big growth in the urban market as a whole, it’s definitely going to be for ladies,” said Mia Dell’Osso, vice president of design for Avirex Ladies, the junior counterpart to the men’s line of the same name. “Up until even a year ago, women were buying men’s clothes. The girlfriends were buying the men’s sweatshirts, jackets and sweaters. That’s what gave us the idea.”
While Dell’Osso said there is a connection between the men’s and the women’s collections, since they both relate to activewear, the element of sex appeal is a growing force in the junior urban market.
“The girl that’s in my head, she wants to be cute and sexy at the same time. She wants to be seen,” said Dell’Osso. “But it’s more of a street feeling rather than a preppy or dressy feeling. I start with denim and then build up. It’s very denim-friendly.”
Fubu Ladies originated almost six years ago, according to Leslie Short, president of marketing and public relations at Fubu The Collection, the junior line’s parent company. The Ladies line is now licensed to Jordache.
Like Avirex, after the success of the men’s line, Short said the need for a women’s version stemmed from the girlfriends of Fubu’s male customer base. As the men’s line grew and its popularity widened, Short said women started to request a women’s counterpart.
“The girls said, ‘Why do the guys get all the good stuff?’” said Short. “Now it’s taken on its own personality to encompass dresses, faux-fur vests, skirts, blouses and sweatsuits. I think it has grown and evolved as any collection does. It started out with a sports influence and we’ve evolved into adding so many things along with that.”
Now, Short said the junior line has the potential to outperform men’s because women shop more, though she wouldn’t disclose sales figures. Despite Fubu Ladies’ wide selection, Short said the line is still based on denim. Even though the line is sexy, the demand for sexier styles was part of the reason for starting Fatty Girl last year.
Fatty Girl is an example of how many urban brands are linked directly to the music industry — brands like JLo by Jennifer Lopez, Baby Phat and Rocawear are just a few vendors that have significant ties to record labels or flaunt a relationship with a hip-hop recording artist.
When Fubu Records produced a single with L.L. Cool J, Ludacris and Keith Murray about a hot “Fatty Girl,” the label also produced a small collection of clothes as a marketing tool to hype the release. But the success of the song, according to Short, made the line take on a new persona, which has continued into its third season. Fubu Records is a division of FB Entertainment, which shares the same parent company as Fubu Ladies and Fatty Girl.
While many urban brands use their ties to the music scene to lend a sense of glamour, which in turn drives up demand and sales, executives at Lady Enyce said they come from a different background. Their perspective is that while plenty of celebrities are seen wearing the brand, it’s because they went out and chose the line, not because they have a financial or personal stake in the company.
“We want to be true to ourselves,” said Tiziana Indelicato, marketing director at Lady Enyce. “Sure we want to make the clothes sexy, but not too sexy.”
China Flowers, fashion stylist at Lady Enyce, said the brand doesn’t always want to be associated with the conduct of a rapper, especially when they do something negative. When the brand does product placement, there is an attempt to not look desperate, like they’re trying hard to sell something, said Flowers.
“Most of the time we have people calling us and asking for the clothes,” said Flowers. “That is good for a brand, especially in a tough economy.”
To avoid saturating the market, Flowers and Indelicato said they are picky with distribution and want to grow the brand to be better, not necessarily bigger. The women’s business is expected to bring in sales of about $20 million next year, which represents about one-sixth of total business.
Next year, Lady Enyce is looking to advertise in more mainstream magazines, but will most likely continue to place pages in Jane, The Fader and Honey, as well as some outdoor ads in New York.
While firm in its position as an urban junior brand, Baby Phat advertises in a variety of publications that market to a bevy of groups. Though Baby Phat is currently putting the finishing touches on its spring ad campaign and deciding in which magazines the images will go, Michelle Perez, vice president of marketing, said it will be similar to last season. That included Vibe, Honey, Flaunt, V, The Fader, Blackbook, some outdoor billboards and OneWorld, the magazine owned by Russell Simmons, who started Baby Phat along with his wife, Kimora Lee Simmons.
Similar to Fubu, Mecca and Lady Enyce, the inspiration for Baby Phat started from a men’s line and has since grown into a $70 million business incorporating faux furs, costume jewelry, accessories, handbags, belts and leather. Perez said she thinks the urban market is growing dramatically and is crossing over between suburban and urban markets more than ever before.
“More people are wearing Baby Phat than just street-savvy kids,” said Perez. “Women of all realms want to wear Baby Phat, from Madonna to a socialite to a chick in Harlem.”
Perez said Simmons targets all women who like the brand and not just the urban junior, even though that audience generates a significant part of Baby Phat’s sales.
“[Kimora Lee Simmons] wouldn’t put something out there that she wouldn’t wear,” said Perez. “If you keep your integrity, then you won’t go wrong.”
While Baby Phat is an urban brand known for its sexy side, Rocawear is known for its roots in the activewear category. Rocawear, which also evolved from a men’s line of the same name, leans more toward the casual spectrum of the market, according to Dana Hill, marketing director.
However, the company is now adding stretch denim to its mix of terry, velour and cotton apparel. But for Hill, lumping all brands into one market under the urban moniker isn’t always the best approach.
“There are different personalities in the urban market,” Hill said. “You have Rocawear, which is predominantly activewear, but there are different lines appealing to different types of girls and their moods.”
But Hill said a priority in the company is to complement the men’s line with similar styling.
Like Baby Phat, Rocawear is using advertising to get its message out and is currently aiming for a diverse group of magazines, both internationally and domestically. For its spring campaign, Rocawear shot Naomi Campbell and the company plans to beef up its presence in mainstream and urban magazines, as well as major outdoor campaigns in New York and Los Angeles.Rocawear covers the casual side of the market; Fubu Ladies has the potential to out-perform the men’s line.