By targeting younger customers and moving beyond basic fabrics, outerwear makers are transcending the seasons and growing sales no matter the temperature outside.
And signs show that these tactics are working, as sales in the women’s outerwear market reached nearly $4.6 billion in 2005, up 7.3 percent compared with 2004, according to market research firm The NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. About 99 million units are projected to be sold in 2005, compared with about 85 million units in 2004, a 16.1 percent increase.
“Women especially are now being offered coats that have more distinct functions and applications for each segment of their wardrobe,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group. “You have weekend coats, dress coats, coats for work, coats for foul weather and coats for active lifestyles. Coats have become more specialized and more affordable, so it stands to reason that more women are buying more coats in one season rather than one a year.”
As younger women embrace outerwear as a fashion accessory, designers are expanding collections to include much more than utilitarian styles. New collections include fashionable brights and retro Seventies shades of turquoise, brown and orange; trendier shapes, including shorter swing coats and boleros; embellishments such as beading and embroidery, and furs such as shearling, mink and rabbit.
“We’re basically trying to get the attention of younger people,” said Percy Wieland, showroom manager at SA Mode Inc. in Los Angeles. “We’re attracting younger women with a higher-end fashion approach taken from the runways, [using] embroidery, embellishment, trims and more color.”
Some of the spring styles expected to appeal to women in their 20s include cropped denim and fur jackets with hoods, cotton twill fitted jackets and colorful and embellished wool, polyester, nylon and denim styles in a variety of shapes.
Although SA Mode has been known in the past mostly for its misses’ collection, Wieland said efforts to expand into the junior market at retail have helped business tremendously. “To get the attention of younger women, we’re making a more concerted effort to contact stores with strong junior departments and get them in to see the line. Being affordable gets the attention of stores and also makes younger women want to buy more than one coat. The strategy is working, and we’re winning this customer,” said Wieland, who said he expects to move at least 100,000 junior units this year.
Wholesale prices range from $22 for a wool coat to $75 for a leather trench. Business is expected to jump at least 20 percent in 2006.
Other designers are also moving beyond basics to update lines and attract customers.
“Shearling and lamb and lots of colored furs are what the market is demanding, and we’re absolutely doing it. Whatever the market wants is how we’re growing the line,” said Candan Yurdakul, president at Tanatar America/Tanatar Konfeksiyou San in New York, where sales are forecast to grow 10 percent in 2006. Wholesale prices range from $400 for a short fur coat to $1,200 for a longer fur style.
“Going forward in the outerwear market means offering anything but plain, including fashion-inspired, fresher and younger styles such as short and fun cloth and textile jackets, shorter suede coats with metal trims, combining rabbit with suede or leather, and two-tone color combinations including a working palette of burnt orange, lime, soft pink and sky blue — something with pizzazz is exciting the consumer,” said Jeff Adler, designer at Adler Leathers in Sylmar, Calif., where wholesale prices are $59 for a short cloth jacket to $225 for a fur jacket. Sales are expected to grow in 2006, though Adler declined to cite specific figures.
Young, prosperous and more fashion-conscious women are also inspiring a more urban design focus at Damselle, said Steve Simon, president of the New York-based company. Among the trendier looks are shorter swing coats, fitted bolero styles, leather and suede coats with embellished trim and a trendier color palette of rich earth tones and brights such as orange and turquoise.
To ensure that these new designs — wholesale priced from $70 for a simple jacket to $4,000 for a chinchilla one — reach the intended customers, Damselle is taking them directly to the target audience. “To spread the word among younger consumers, we’re doing a lot of promotions through popular dance clubs, with runway shows and marketing tactics such as mailers and print advertisements in cooperation with stores.” Due in part to these efforts, Simon forecasted double-digit sales gains for 2006.
Damselle is not alone in its marketing efforts. Other outerwear makers are working hard to expand their presence into new wholesale and retail markets, both at home and abroad.
“We’re especially looking for marketing and merchandising opportunities that will appeal to forward-thinking stores and consumers as the outerwear market continues to appeal to a wider demographic, from the trendy club or hip-hop customer to more conservative women,” said Ajay Chopra, owner of Lamith Designs in New York. He added that expanding into new wholesale and retail areas has helped boost Lamith’s sales by at least 20 percent in 2005, with plans for continued growth in 2006. Wholesale prices range from $79 for a simple jacket to $149 for a fur or suede coat.
Maxxsel Apparel Inc. in Baldwin Park, Calif., offers a spectrum of colors and styles, with many of its jackets wholesaling for less than $100. Such a wide range requires a similarly broad target market. “We spend a lot of money on traveling to trade shows and seeking out new wholesale venues to find new stores, and we’re constantly looking for creative and effective ways to market and advertise our coats, including telemarketing, catalogues and direct mailers,” said co-owner Mary Dong. Business in 2006 is expected to grow by around 10 percent.