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'Better days will come to apparel industry' - Industry Analyst
Apr '09
The NPD Group, Inc., a leading market research company, takes a closer look at the U.S. apparel market and through ongoing economic challenges, is finding some pockets of growth in an otherwise fizzling fashion market.

One area of the apparel market that continues to hold on is the jeans business.

According to The NPD Group, Inc./Consumer Tracking Service, dollar volume sales for total jeans rose 2.3 percent for the 3 months ending with February 2009 (a key period of the economic downturn for the consumer), while total apparel sales declined 6.3 percent for that same time period.

Additionally, premium jeans* sales grew 17% during all of 2008, and the category is still growing. For the most recently reported three month time period, December 2008 thru February 2009, sales rose 2.3 percent. “That is the time period that was the most challenging in terms of consumer spending, so any growth during that time is significant. With the newfound focus on fit by some of the commodity brands coupled with women's never ending quest for the perfect pair of jeans, the passion for denim is alive and well” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc.

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Why? Cohen says it's all about pent-up demand. “Previously, outerwear was not an item that made it onto the consumer's priority shopping list. Outerwear purchases were delayed for a year or so, and that created a greater need this past year.” Cohen adds that technology, comfort and variety have also helped drive growth in a traditionally stubborn market.

The biggest surprise in the U.S. apparel market is in tights sales. Dollar volume sales of tights were up 11 percent for the 3 months ending with February '09. For Annual 2008 overall hosiery sales were up almost 3 percent.

“Here is an example of where the current economy has actually helped drive growth. For a long time the hosiery industry has been struggling to get consumers connected to the category and think of it as an important 'accessory' to their wardrobes. And now, consumers realize that legwear is an inexpensive wardrobe makeover or enhancement, which has helped the sales of tights flourish,” said Cohen.

Among all of the pockets of growth highlighted by NPD, the most impressive category for sustained growth is dresses. According to The NPD Group, Inc. /Consumer Tracking service, sales of women's dresses during the 3 months ending February 2009, were up 11 percent. For the year 2008, dresses posted a 12 percent growth rate.

“The dress offers the perfect opportunity to buy a complete outfit. The fact that the dress is trend right and has even been embraced by many high profile magazines, celebrities, and the entertainment industry helped drive its growth,” noted Cohen, “Spring is here, and the progressive retailers will recognize the consumer likes this trend. Trends that last and grow don't come around very often, particularly these days.”

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