The Parallel Trajectories of Apparel and Beauty, Part I: Functional Divergence

In this first of a series of articles exploring the flourishing relationship between the global beauty and apparel markets, Euromonitor International examines the diverging trends of tailoring and multi-functionality. While both industries have embraced tailored products to showcase expertise while appealing to the individual, multi-functionality currently remains the prerogative of beauty brands.

Bespoke moves from niche to mainstream

The word ‘tailor’ has always had inherent links with the apparel industry, being a process which, or person who, creates clothing to fit somebody’s exact measurements. As apparel and beauty brands at the luxury end of the price spectrum dig deep to seek ways to stand out from the crowd, it is that very word which has re-emerged as a tool of choice. Tailored, personalised, curated or bespoke, whatever the buzzword of choice, the metanarrative is clear – appealing to the consumer as an individual and breaking away from the collective has never been more important.

In apparel, bespoke tailoring has been gaining momentum, fuelled by the broader revival in menswear. Luxury brands from Alexander McQueen and Gucci to Tom Ford have launched both bespoke and made-to-measure services in their dedicated men’s stores. However, personalisation has also come in the form of monogramming and customisation options for products like Burberry’s iconic trench coat.

In beauty, the tailored approach in fashion has inspired premium brands. In fragrances in particular, consumers’ desire for exclusivity and offerings that showcase their personality has fostered the popularity of rare and bespoke fragrances. Examples vary from British perfumer Floris, which has expanded its store count on the back of the increasing popularity of its bespoke services, to niche perfumer Le Labo, which, like apparel brands, offers personalised labels on its packaging. Jo Malone, another premium British brand, is offering a ‘Tailor Your Scent’ service whereby consumers can learn how they can layer scents to create a bespoke effect.

Targeted offerings remain in vogue

In apparel, the rise of targeted products is best illustrated within sportswear, where demand for technical advancement and features designed specifically for a certain pursuit is a key driver of sales. For example, the rising popularity of running has kept performance footwear sales buoyant. When it comes to performance footwear, product innovation is crucial. As growth is dictated by product innovation rather than fashion trends, brands are able to charge higher prices and are less prone to discounting. This innovation-led structure has been another reason why sportswear has been outperforming the general apparel market.

The success of players devoted to particular sports pursuits can also be shown by the stellar performance of yogawear brand Lululemon Athletica, which registered a CAGR of 71% in the US over 2007-2012. Beyond sportswear, products targeted at enhancing physical attributes have also been hits, such as Levi’s hugely successful Curve ID range, this being the first line of jeans designed with shape in mind rather than size.

In beauty, consumer desire for more specialised and targeted solutions has marked a shift in innovation in skin care towards devices, products and services which offer personalised formulations to target specific needs and concerns. Two examples include the Ioma Beauty Diag machine in Harrods’ beauty hall, which offers tailored recommendations from over 800 potential formulations, and the Organic Pharmacy’s geneOnyx DNA test, which analyses saliva samples to give consumers a skin care subscription.

Although targeted innovation in beauty remains largely the domain of premium players, with examples being La Prairie’s Cellular Power Infusion or Tria Beauty’s at-home Anti-Ageing Skin Rejuvenation Laser, some mass players are also using specialisation to differentiate their offerings, such as niche UK brand Nip + Fab, which offers area-specific products such as Nip + Fab Upper Arm Fix.

Multi-functionality – the new norm in beauty, white space in apparel

A contrasting consumer trend has been multi-functionality, with time-strapped consumers fostering the need for convenient and quick-fix solutions as well as ‘value-for-money’ offerings.

In beauty, this holistic approach has been seen both within the same category as well as across categories. It has led to the emergence of BB/CC creams, which epitomise the trend for multi-functionality by combining the key benefits of skin care, sun care and colour cosmetics in one product. Their explosive popularity boosted the US other facial make-up category by more than 30% in 2012, showing that despite the economic recovery, consumers are still in cost-saving mode. But there have been winners and losers. Most evidently, the multi-functionality trend is driving a slowdown in sun care as most skin care and colour cosmetics products offer sun protection features as standard.

In apparel, the multi-functionality trend, although a niche, has become increasingly evident. However, compared to beauty, where the trend is really being pushed by companies, apparel players are yet to embrace it to the same extent. Here, it is rather cash-strapped consumers who are buying into products which can be worn on numerous occasions – such as sports-inspired clothing
which can be worn to the gym, as casualwear or as loungewear.

While some brands, including Wrangler and Triumph, have been experimenting with cosmetic textiles as a form of multi-functionality by incorporating ingredients like aloe vera within garments to offer benefits such as moisturising, as of now the main purpose of the beauty claims is to add a luxury feel to products and a point of differentiation in a tough trading environment rather than seeking to be truly multi-functional by replacing skin care products.

Inspiration in apparel and beauty symbiotic

In both apparel and beauty, tailored products offer a means of showcasing expertise while appealing to consumers as an individual, while bespoke products and services take things a step further by showcasing the craftsmanship and heritage of luxury brands. On the other hand, the growing multi-functionality trend, which has been fuelled by increasingly time and cash-strapped  consumers, is currently being better embraced by beauty players and is quickly becoming the new norm across both the premium and mass spectrums, with opportunities aplenty remaining in apparel.