May 8, 2018
In the past, retail trends appeared at wholesale on a time delay; today, trends in both channels seemingly are one in the same. Styles currently on store shelves likely also can be seen simultaneously on industry supplier websites and trade-show floors.
A shift in customer demand and preference for retail-like apparel has wholesale suppliers turning around product faster, while also moving away from traditional basics and toward more fashion-forward looks. More recently, the industry has taken this interest in retail to the next level, going straight to the sources and bringing not only the trends, but also the retail brand names to wholesale clients.
Elevated fashion and streetwear from familiar retail names are exploding onto the wholesale market. S&S Activewear, for example, offers brands such as adidas, Oakley, American Apparel, Alternative and more.
“Years ago, from a retail viewpoint, our industry was two to three years behind the trend,” says Kevin Mahard, regional vice president of sales, S&S Activewear. “Once our customers had access, department stores had already moved on to the next season. Our relationships with our brands [allow for a] direct connection to what is current.”
These partnerships with retailers also allow suppliers to take more risks, according to Mahard. “Some of our competitors make their own product, and sometimes they can’t take a chance on a product they don’t know is going to go through,” he says. “We carry plaids and flannel, for example, and the competition doesn’t — but we took a shot on partnering with one of our retail brands and bringing it in, and it’s been phenomenal.”
Working with big-name brands, suppliers can watch how products perform at retail, and then sell and carry what customers prefer and what they are shopping for in stores.
Beyond keeping pace with trends, relationships with retailers also enable suppliers to offer solutions for every client need, making them a one-stop shop.
For example, Hanes, which always has been known for its core basics, is expanding its offering with new lines and its recent acquisition of fashion brand and retailer Alternative, according to Rachel Newman, director of sales and marketing, Hanes.
“We were missing that elevated fashion, so now we’ve added [Alternative] and it really rounds out our story to the market,” she says. “I think what is really cool about it is now you look at our portfolio and we are a ‘brand house.’”
This spring, the retail-to-wholesale connection will be even stronger for Hanes, with its Hanes Activewear, Champion and Alternative brands all being sold in Bloomingdales stores simultaneously.
SanMar, which touts a retail-brand portfolio that includes Nike, Eddie Bauer, The North Face and more, recently introduced New Era into the mix.
“New Era is iconic for headwear in the retail market, and with their authenticity in sports and its lifestyle appeal, creating an apparel line was a natural extension,” says Shelley Renning, vice president of brand management, SanMar. “New Era fills the gap between traditional sneaker brands and our private-label offering with an authentic line built on the legacy of sports and its urban appeal.”
The moral of the story is that customers now can go to suppliers for everything from authentic sports lifestyle pieces to core basics and elevated fashion from familiar retail brands.
What Customers Want
Today’s wholesale customers are less focused on price point and more focused on quality, reputability and attention to detail, according to suppliers.
SanMar’s New Era line, for example, boasts a blend of natural fibers, performance fabrics and details like black-nickel hardware and silicone-dipped drawcords. While these elevated details don’t always come with a higher price tag, Renner says she finds that there’s an expectation of greater perceived value based on brand legacy and product design.
“We are continually looking for ways to bring value to our customers and retail brands resonate strongly in our channel,” she says. “Companies want to associate their business or product with well-known brands, and end users want to wear product that they already know and love from the retail market.”
Today’s wholesale customers no longer are looking for one-time-use apparel. They want less-disposable fashion and marketers want their messages to be seen repeatedly.
According to Jason Buchanan, senior vice president of sales, alphabroder, which introduced Under Armour to its offering in late-2016 and has another big name expected to arrive this fall, clients approach the company requesting retail-branded products.
“There’s really not an upsell to it,” he says. “It’s just the power of the brand and what it does to elevate their company. It’s just about putting the right image with the right brand.”
Newman says she sees the same thing at Hanes. “Unless there is a very large group outing and there is a specific budget that they are wanting to meet, people want to buy things that they’re going to wear,” she says.
No longer is the wholesale channel’s emphasis on being the cheapest, but rather, being the best. Retail names appeal to today’s wholesale customers who want a product that elevates their brands and guarantees visibility.
Wholesalers are tuning in to the very real effect that social media has on customers. With platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, celebrities have the power to popularize a style overnight.
“This has influence on the items that we pick up, that we show and display to our customers,” says Kevin Mahard, regional vice president of sales, S&S Activewear.
From the neon craze in recent years — which prompted S&S to sell out of its construction shirts — to the recent resurgence of the Champion brand, led by celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kanye West, Mahard stresses the importance of watching these trends closely.
“Even a specific color that they wear or they have on Instagram — or some social media — influences the whole market,” he says.
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