The Inside Scoop On Top Retail Trends For 2007
by Alf Nucifora
Predicting retail trends is never a task for the faint-hearted. So much risk is tied to the fickleness of consumers, who, as a collective class, are changing their buying preferences and habits with alarming speed and regularity. Yet, clear trends do emerge, based on demographic shift, societal influences and the growing need to take control over increasingly harried lives.
Harvard-trained Patricia Pao, a retail turn-around specialist with 20 years of experience in luxury goods, beauty and the retail sector keeps a focused eye on the retail marketplace as a result of her work for brands such as Natori, Guerlain, Elizabeth Arden and Priscilla of Boston. With key insight and adroit reading of the tea leaves, Pao identifies the following trends that will drive much of the retail marketplace in the foreseeable future.
Green is Good
Green is here to stay as is evidenced by the waiting lists for the Toyota Prius and the success of Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Nike recently announced that it has determined how to remove greenhouse gas from its sneakers, and Levi Strauss will introduce Eco Jeans, its first organic-cotton line. According to Organic Exchange, a non-profit advocacy group, demand for organic cotton on the part of clothing makers is increasing at an annual rate of 93%, and projects that sales of organic cotton apparel will reach $2.6 billion by the close of 2007. Vendors, including American Apparel, Wal-Mart and Zara now offer clothing under the organic cotton banner.
Material Gains -Going Green and Bright
Clothes are also about to get a whole lot greener and brighter. Fibers from wood pulp, bamboo, seaweed, soy and corn blended with luscious organic silks and cashmeres are becoming a fashion staple. With Philips' new Lumalive system, swaths of fabric can be turned into glowing, multicolored panels able to display characters or simple animations.
The Rise of the "Precautionary Principle"
Americans are feeling the need to take control of their lives in ever-increasing numbers, particularly as it relates to health. This trend plays out in a variety of practices, from the use of cleaning products and grooming items, to what is consumed and ingested in the body. "Precautionists" swap chemical products for vinegar and water and leave their shoes at the door in order to not track in contaminants. They sleep on cotton sheets, eat organic food and buy chemical-free toothpaste and deodorant. Some have even banished bleach claiming that they've "given up on their whites ever being white."
With the beauty organics market growing 15% - 20% in annual sales during the past nine years, beauty products are increasingly being formulated with ingredients that are of food-grade quality, natural, chemically-free and organically-produced. Jurlique, an Australian skin care company, has taken this approach since 1985 with the goal of helping the user grow the "purest skin care on earth" because "your skin eats too." This natural organic trend represents a major lifestyle shift as is evidenced by Wal-Mart's interest in natural and organic personal care.
Within the next 10 years, as many Americans will visit China as will travel to Europe. As they did two decades ago when they returned from their European travels with a hankering and a taste for things French and Italian, similarly will they embrace Asian themes. Always on the hunt for the newest, greatest, and freshest looks, French Vogue recently featured a Chinese model on its cover for the first time.
On a parallel track, Chinese medicine is gaining mainstream acceptance in the West and is being incorporated into beauty protocols. Leading hotels in Asia have recruited experts in Chinese medicine to design programs and offer treatments to their guests.
Active-wear as Everyday Wear
Two-thirds of American women dedicate at least half of their closet space to active-wear and are not saving their workout clothes solely for the gym. Instead, they're trading traditional sportswear for active-wear as their casual apparel of choice. Going forward, active-wear manufacturers will place much more emphasis on projecting a fashion point-of-view, which explains the recent partnerships between Stella McCartney and Adidas, and Alexander McQueen and Puma. American Eagle's new retail concept, Martin + Osa is dedicated to the concept of fusing high-tech sport and casual sportswear. And, L.L. Bean, the grandfather of active-wear, is creating "bricks and mortar" shopping emporiums dedicated to celebrating the wearing of active-wear in the Great Indoors. Actress Scarlett Johansson will launch a line of urban active-wear next year in partnership with Reebok.
The Branding of Private Label
What appears to be an oxymoron is now true. As a recent Brandweek article (8/21/06) noted, consumers are warming to Wal-Mart private label brands including Great Value, Equate, Sam's Choice, Wal-Mart, and Member's Mark. 82% of American consumers believe that store brands have closed the gap with national brands. Wal-Mart's Ol'Roy dogfood is preferred over Purina. 7-Eleven now sells more of its private label Santiago beer than Corona. About one of every two fans sold in the U.S. belongs to Home Depot's Hampton Bay brand.
More people are clamoring to "Spa" on their own. The desire for privacy and one's own space is encouraging consumers to learn how to incorporate the spa experience into their everyday lives. For example, Viceroy Palm Springs Resort & Estrella Spa, Palm Springs, CA, offers an "Ice House Treatment" where guests are provided with all of the necessary supplies and expected to perform the protocol themselves.
Feeling the Need for Speed: Disruption in Fashion
It no longer takes 9-12 months to "fast follow" runway trends. European chains, H&M, Zara, and Topshop boast of being able to translate and merchandise runway trends for a mass audience with production cycles of fewer than 30 days.