Historically in men’s wear, the highs are never as high and the lows are never as low as the more-volatile women’s market. That’s been the case this year as well even as men’s manufacturers and retailers struggle to navigate through the same rocky roads affecting the entire fashion world.
As department and large specialty stores battle the big online players, close stores and revamp their mixes, men’s wear isn’t immune to the downturn. But thanks to some must-have fashion pieces coupled with innovative in-store strategies, the second half looks promising for the men’s market.
Tailored Brands, the largest public men’s wear-only retailer with more than 1,500 stores, reported that business stabilized in the first quarter when net earnings increased. Last year, the company, which is still digesting the Jos. A. Bank acquisition from three years ago, closed more than 200 stores as it adjusted its portfolio to better address consumer demand. So while sales were down at its divisions, which include Men’s Wearhouse in the U.S. and Moores in Canada, the company did point to its growing custom business as an area of strength. “Custom is a big growth opportunity for us,” chief executive officer Doug Ewert said in June.
Custom and made-to-measure has also been a bright spot for other players in the market, both those that specialize in the category such as omnichannel firms Knot Standard and Indochino and more-conventional companies such as the British bespoke tailor Huntsman, which recently expanded its permanent brick-and-mortar space in New York.
On the other end of the spectrum, the continued popularity of ath-leisure and the explosion of streetwear are helping boost sales in men’s wear.
For the past few years, ath-leisure, or the blending of activewear silhouettes such as joggers and bombers with more-tailored pieces, has been at the forefront of the business. And it’s expected to continue to drive demand in the second half.
Even though this dressing-down trend is impacting tailored clothing and furnishings, manufacturers in the traditional men’s arena are answering the call by infusing their collections with elements such as stretch, moisture-management and anti-odor properties.
Then there’s streetwear, the current darling of men’s wear. Originally a category that high-brow men’s brands punished or copied rather than embraced, luxury labels such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry teamed with the stars of streetwear — Supreme, Gosha Rubchinskiy and others — to collaborate on collections that became and continue to be wildly popular.
Also leading the charge was the emergence of Nineties mania. Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, which has embraced the trend, are seeing their fortunes rise.
Also benefiting are the sellers of true vintage merchandise as the Millennials seek out authenticity in their lives and wardrobes.
Another category with exploding sales is sneakers. Once the purview of a subcategory of primarily young men or active-inclined shoppers, Adidas’ collaboration with Kanye West on the Yeezy sneakers and Nike’s upcoming collection created by Virgil Abloh, which will drop during New York Fashion Week, are creating excitement at retail and reaching a wide range of consumers.
But it’s more than just fashion that will decide the winners and losers this fall. Retailers of all kinds have come to the realization that the game has changed and they need to change along with it. Today’s customer is seeking unique experiences and merchandise with an authentic story that will allow them to create their own unique style — and make a statement. Check out the popularity of Shinola with its Made in Detroit ethos or the venerable reemergence of Levi’s, Carhartt and Woolrich.
So retailers are installing pop-ups and giving their stores a facelift, both physically and in terms of the offering, to inject a much-needed dose of excitement and lure shoppers.
Specialty stores in particular — always a strong part of the market in men’s wear — are embracing their ability to get up-close-and-personal with their shoppers and are reaping the rewards.
As Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans, put it: “Retail is completely changed. If you play by the same old rules, it’s a recipe for [disaster]. Independent stores now have more opportunities to determine the rules of the game.”