Luxury and Budget Outwear Brands Hold Steady

As retirement funds shrink and unemployment figures rise, most people would not see this as a good time to spend thousands of dollars on an exotic fur coat.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD MAGIC issue 02/17/2009

As retirement funds shrink in value and unemployment figures rise by the day, most people probably would not see this as the best time to spend several thousand
dollars on an exotic fur coat.

This story first appeared in the February 17, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But based on early projections from outerwear vendors, there are a couple of categories that are continuing to grow — the very high-end merchandise, and that of the more budget- friendly variety.

“Our business is growing, and we are getting a few new accounts each week,” said Julie Schroeder, sales and marketing manager for Denver-based outerwear line 3B West.

While price point is key — many of the label’s jackets sit around the $60 wholesale mark — Schroeder said it was more important than ever to continue creating new things.

“We have to make sure that the consumer is never bored with what’s out there,” she said. “Even in this economy, we are seeing growth this year because there is still demand for something that is affordable and makes people feel good.”

Those at the luxury end of the market, selling coats with $600 to $1,400 wholesale price tags, are surprisingly also seeing some buoyancy.

Karl Matar, vice president of sales at Toronto-based Gimpex, a maker of outerwear under the Hide Society and Aquilo Amiq labels, said not all high-end makers have survived the tumult in the market, allowing him to pick up a few new customers. The key to success in these troubling times, he said, was the fact that his company is fully integrated and able to keep a lid on rising costs.

“Despite the current market conditions, we are on track to be, at the minimum, consistent with last year,” he said.

Another Canadian maker of fur coats, Musi Furs, whose average wholesale price is around $2,000, said that the reality was that the very wealthy were not too affected by the economy.

“We sell luxury, and the very rich still have money,” said company vice president George Musi. Still, because of lower demand, the price of mink has dropped about 20 percent and fuel prices have stabilized, allowing him to keep prices level.

“Things were horrible until the [presidential] election,” he said. “There was a lot of negative advertising and everyone was scared. But in the past couple of months, business has been good. We’ve been surprised.”

For consumers unable to spend thousands of dollars on fur coats, some vendors are offering options. Amanda Van Rooyen, director of sales at Donna Salyers’ Fabulous Furs in Covington, Ky., said that this is a fine moment for fake fur.

“There are customers out there that aren’t buying the real $20,000 coat, and are coming to us so they can still look glamorous,” she said. “In these times, it’s important to know who your audience is, and to stick with that.”

It’s also critical, said vendors, to keep operating costs low and trim wherever possible — even if business is up.

“We believe that managing your expenses should not only be done in tough times, but also during good times — this ensures that you stay lean, competitive and are able to pass these savings on to your customers,” said Gimpex’s Matar.

Still, it’s not just about the price. Mitch Fazekas, owner of Mitchie’s Matchings in Montreal, said that retailers are looking at great fashion buys, and that anything at the $30 to $50 wholesale price point would work well.

“Thank goodness for accessories,” said Fazekas, who said business was up by about 6 to 10 percent. “A woman might not necessarily buy a new coat, but she’ll pick up a scarf to change her look. Creativity is key; if people want to support their local mom-and-pop store, they need to find something different from what’s in their big-box retailer.”