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Global sales of designer apparel and footwear picked up in 2017 after a challenging 2016. This was thanks to the return of foreign tourists to some terror-hit European destinations, Chinese consumers buying both abroad and at home, and strengthening demand, combined with positive currency effects in key markets. However, a question mark remains over the US, the world’s largest luxury goods market, negatively impacted by a strong US dollar, and a cull on travel flows, and more profoundly by American millennials moving away from traditional luxury brands.

Source: Euromonitor International

The need to appeal to millennials and gen-Z is far from limited to the US market only. Indeed, these demographics who have very different expectations than their parents when it comes to consumption and luxury, account today for around 40% of the population in key designerwear and footwear markets around the world, and will be the mid- and high-earners of tomorrow. In a bid to appeal to such consumers whose desire of ‘experiencing’ and ‘being’ rather than ‘owning’ shift the paradigms in terms of the way people consume fashion and engage with brands, designer brands are redefining luxury. This new luxury gravitates towards personalisation, craftsmanship and quality, and is epitomised in initiatives from the likes of Gucci, with its appliqué designs on some of its jackets, or ‘Mon Monogramme’ by Louis Vuitton luggage.

Appealing to the new tech-savvy and connected consumers also means the accelerated adoption of omni-channel distribution by designer brands. But digitalisation is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it has opened up new opportunities to engage with customers and help them build their ‘brand me’, but on the other hand, the increasing importance of friends’ and peers’ opinions over traditional advertising make it very challenging to retain fickle consumers looking for constant novelty, and likely to mix items from H&M with Gucci.

Consumers growing preferences for ‘being’ rather than ‘owing’ also translates into seeking a healthy and active lifestyle to present to the world and further fuels the proliferation of athleisure. Hence designer brands developing their ranges of sports-inspired apparel, footwear and accessories, for example, the Louis Vuitton-Supreme collaboration in menswear generated instant hype with celebrities such as Brooklyn and David Beckham seen wearing multiple pieces from the collection. As athleisure is poised to move from an ephemeral trend, to a longer-lasting lifestyle choice, we expect designers to launch more limited edition collections designed in collaboration with celebrities and athletes, or smaller labels with cult followings, in the future.

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