FIRMS FIGHT FOR IDENTITY

Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — How can a fashion firm be different when everything’s the same?
It’s a riddle that’s puzzling moderate and better fashion firms seeking to stand out among fall’s ubiquitous fashion trends.
From python and plaid to fur trim and fringe — and don’t forget suits and Seventies’ prints — a handful of dominant trends is saturating the market and threatening to blur the line between vendors’ brand identities.
But manufacturers are responding with innovative and individualistic strategies to make sure consumers see their labels as well as their styles.
“Standing out in a sea of sameness is a big challenge,” said Linda Parker, women’s wear advertising manager at Pendleton, the venerable fashion and home furnishings company that ironically is best known for its discreet signature plaids.
“If you don’t differentiate your product, consumers perusing a clothing rack can lose sight of when they’ve crossed the line from one vendor to the next.”
Pendleton’s logic? Stay true to your roots.
“We’re interpreting trends within our classic framework,” Parker noted. “Our styles have to be very relevant to our consumer target, the 35-to-55-year-old who wants current styles that aren’t too edgy. They’re trusting us to make fashion trends palatable.”
For fall, the approach includes quilted navy jackets with tartan plaid linings and matching silk plaid blouses, fringed wrap skirts, houndstooth suitings, subtly embellished sweaters, retro-inspired knits and jackets with leather collars and elbows.
“We’re committed to leveraging the Pendleton brand,” said Parker. “At retail, including within our own 50 stores, we’re doing point-of-sale lifestyle photography that draws shoppers to the Pendleton brand. This includes 8-1/2-by-11-inch posters displayed above our racks. We want to get consumers’ attention and pull them away from the multitude of other vendors.”
For fall, Pendleton also is rolling out fashion and lifestyle-driven national media campaigns in magazines such as Martha Stewart, Gourmet, Southern Living and the New York Times Magazine, among others, with the tag line “Pendleton. Fit for Life.”
“Consumers often envision themselves in lifestyle advertisements,” she affirmed. “The [emotional element] of fashion is extremely important.”
Sam Klapholz, vice president at Jerell Inc., a moderate fashion firm here that’s a division of Haggar Clothing Co., observed: “Every manufacturer wrestles with how to forge brand identity among highly prevalent fashion trends. It’s a tough question.”
Jerell’s solution revolves around getting to the selling floor first with a garment that fits well and is interpreted for middle America.
“We skew trends to our consumers’ needs,” explained Klapholz. “We look at trends from the runways and ask ourselves how we can make them wearable and salable. That includes silhouettes as well as colors. Knowing your customer is important. Details are another way to stand out to shoppers. Not everyone is going to have the same unusual buttons, novelty trims or custom stitching.”
For fall, Jerell is a big believer in animal prints, including python, as well as subtle embellishment and soft structure, among other trends.
Like Jerell, Leslie Fay believes speed is a key ingredient to increasing market share.
“Find out what is new in fashion and stand for it faster and better than the competition and with greater clarity than the competition,” said Bob Salem, director of marketing for Leslie Fay. “Then identify the key fastest-turning items from these trends and own them better and deeper than the competition by size and color. It involves a constant and never-ending dialog with store buyers, as well, to see what’s moving and what’s not.”
Salem also emphasized in-store visuals and marketing collateral to draw traffic.
“Clarity and depth of presentation tells consumers that you are the headquarters for a given trend,” he added. “You have to take a stand.”
Salem said Leslie Fay, which markets under the labels Haberdashery by Leslie Fay and Leslie Fay Dresses, continues to roll out in-store fixtures at its key accounts that includes prominent brand signage.
“We’re putting most of our marketing investment in fixtures,” he said. “It’s the best advertising and best bang for the buck.”
Fall trends at Leslie Fay include fur trim, soft construction, python, animal prints and novelty prints.
Jack Weinstock, chief executive officer and chairman at August Silk, said maintaining brand identity among homogenous market trends involves creativity, speed and wearability.
“It’s a question of how you interpret the trends. You have to appeal to the target consumer because she’s the ultimate judge,” he added. “If you have a busy pattern, then pair it with a classic blouse or top. If plaid is important, then offer styles such as V-neck or crewneck sweaters.”
Weinstock believes in proactively forecasting which trends will be hot at retail.
“Focus on a trend and put it into production in test quantities. You can’t sit and wait to get orders,” he said. “We pick trends with conviction. Waiting for the orders would cut our delivery and response time. We want to be first to the store with the trends.”

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