COATS WAIT FOR THAW

Byline: Dick Silverman

NEW YORK — The women’s outerwear market has had quite a chill the last two years.
Dragged down by heavy declines in the coat business, total women’s outerwear sales fell 1.4 percent over the two-year period ended in March. The decline in the women’s business offset small growth in the men’s business, leaving total outerwear sales for the year ended in March at $11.3 billion, about flat with a year earlier.
It is in part the declines of the past two years that have made this fall’s gains in the coat business — also driven by cool weather across much of the country — look as significant has they have.
In unit terms, women’s garments represented a little less than half of the total outerwear market for the year.
This is according to Fairchild Publications’ Strategic Information Services’ Outerwear report, which said there were few highlights in the sluggish outerwear market over the past two years. The SIS data is based on The NPD American Shoppers Panel, a monthly survey of 16,000 U.S. households conducted by The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y.
Sales of women’s coats were down 9.1 percent and women’s rainwear sales were off 2.6 percent, according to the report. These declines more than offset a 4 percent increase in women’s jacket sales, one of the category’s only bright spots.
The men’s market had limited growth of 2 percent, led by a 12 percent hike in jackets, but hurt by a 19 percent drop in coats and a 9 percent decrease in rainwear.
Despite the slow progress overall, there were some growth areas in the women’s rainwear category, the SIS report noted. Poncho and popover styling in particular helped the category, with trench styles remaining key. SIS added that novelty fabrics and treatments, along with new trims and details, will be important in seasons to come.
Novelties are also important in the coat sector, the report contended, predicting that new styles will help the business to slow its declines in the years ahead.
“Peacoats, trenches and wrap styles were updated in novelty fabrications with tons of trims and features,” the report said. “We can expect this decline to slow as a proliferation of color and pattern continue to permeate this product market.”
The increase in jackets was driven by “wrap styles, ponchos, popovers and an abundance of skins and furs,” SIS reported. “Shirtjackets and motocross styling continue to build momentum and zip fronts are hot. Padded and quilted jackets were key and have been updated in novelty textures. We can expect continued growth from this category.”
Women’s jackets represented 24.7 percent of the whole outerwear market, with coats being 14.5 percent and rainwear coming in at 8.8 percent. The men’s market makes up 52 percent of the total outerwear business.
Despite the category’s recent declines, SIS was optimistic on future prospects for women’s outerwear. It offered a few hot picks for next year, including:
Pencil, sheer nylon, vests, colored rainwear.
Princess, A-line, swing, trench, novelty colors, novelty patterns, pencil and knee-length coats.
Zip-front, cap-sleeve, colored-motocross, bomber and denim jackets, as well as shirtjackets and vests.
SIS projected that women’s rainwear sales would stop their declines and begin to rise over the years ahead, buoyed by novelty fabrics, coatings and color treatments. Women’s jacket sales should also continue to rise, due to new styles, fabrics and trims. Women’s coat sales will decline at a slower rate, helped by new styles and novelty fabrics, SIS projected.
New styling and fabrications will continue to drive sales volume of women’s jackets, SIS reported. Poncho, popover and wrap styles should remain important as padded and quilted looks gain strength. Zip-front silhouettes are expected to remain hot and bomber, motocross and vest styling should be key, according to SIS. Funnel necks and short-fitted jackets were new, with shirtjackets and denim jackets seen gaining momentum.
“As in all other categories of apparel, novelty is the major message and will continue to be for seasons to come,” SIS projected. “Plaids continue to be a major message, with traditional large-scale plaids like Burberry, ancient tartans and English hunting plaids hot.”
Quilted and padded looks remained key in jackets and have been updated in novelty patterns, with traditional glen plaids, Prince of Wales checks, tattersalls and houndstooths being key, SIS reported.
In terms of fiber content of women’s outerwear, polyester continues to dominate sales, holding 30.3 percent of the total market, SIS reported. Nylon was in second with 16 percent of sales, wool held 15 percent, cotton had 12.7 percent, leather and suede held 10 percent and other fabrics represented 16 percent.
The number of young outerwear shoppers represented a larger portion of all shoppers. Shoppers under the age of 24 represented about 28 percent of the total market, compared with about 23 percent two years earlier. Women’s jackets were strong in the under-55 group, while coats enjoyed a surge in the 55-to-64 bracket.
In terms of size, misses’ continued to dominate the retail market, holding 56 percent of sales. Large sizes had 25.5 percent of the entire women’s outerwear market, juniors had 15.1 percent and petites held to 3.8 percent. Petites’ losses came in all product areas, with the greatest decline in rainwear where shorter, less-tailored styles are making petite sizes less necessary, SIS noted. Juniors gained market share in jackets and rainwear, but lost share in coats.
Outerwear sales also were fairly evenly divided by distribution channels. Department stores were the leader, holding almost 17 percent of all men’s and women’s sales, but have been losing share systematically during the past several years.
Specialty chains were in second place, with almost 14 percent of total outerwear sales, with women’s jackets and rainwear sales growing in the category, although coats declined. Specialty chains continue to reposition themselves to consumers as more fashion-oriented sources of outerwear, SIS reported.
In terms of other channels, outerwear sales at discounters and national chains were down. Direct mail enjoyed a high growth rate in women’s outerwear sales.
The channel has gained significant ground, SIS stressed, and transformed into a very significant competitor of traditional retailers.

Editor’s Note: The SIS Report is part of a continuing series addressing strategic issues in the apparel industry. The articles examine SIS proprietary research and analysis of major trends and developments.

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