Build Your Business:

The Retail Effect

Alternative begins its design process with inspiration and concept sketches before going into development. Photo by Chris Burdern.

July 6, 2016

 Influenced by the latest fashion trends, apparel consumers constantly are asking for what’s “in” from wholesalers. They want on-trend styles — and they want them as they hit retail shelves.

New styles and fast turnarounds are winning at retail, with social media and “fast fashion” shaking up the industry — and these market-speed expectations are seeping into the wholesale industry. Today’s apparel wholesalers are navigating the best ways to meet today’s demand for up-to-the-minute styles without sacrificing quality.

To find out more about how retail is influencing wholesale — and get a forecast of what shifts may lie ahead — Impressions sat down with John Espiritu, marketing and social media coordinator, American Apparel’s wholesale imprintable division; Megan Huntz, design director, Alternative; Mark Seymour, chief sales officer, Next Level Apparel; and John Spivey, marketing manager, Hanes.

Following is what they had to say.
Impressions: “Fast fashion” is a big trend at retail, with consumers wanting to see new products on shelves weekly. How does this trend translate to the wholesale business?
John Espiritu: There is absolutely a demand for new products in the wholesale industry, but the existence of a “disposable and fast” mentality toward these products is less prevalent. In our industry, I believe a customer is constantly searching for the best product for their decorating needs.
Megan Huntz: The transformation of fast fashion in retail has had a large impact on wholesale. More on-trend styles are accessible to wholesale than ever before. It is forcing suppliers to create products more quickly to meet the demand.
Mark Seymour: The nature of our supply chain is to choose the best of the new retail fashion trends that are sustainable over time and provide a great platform to decorate on. Speed to market is a key component.

What is the relationship between your retail and wholesale divisions?
JE: Our retail and wholesale divisions are intertwined because the foundation of our business started with wholesale — it’s in our DNA. Styles offered at retail that translate to wholesale can be adopted into our line. Photography for our co-branded distributor catalogs and wholesale email marketing appear on the retail website and social channels globally. There is an abundant amount of cross-pollination between the two divisions in terms of creative assets and design.
MH: Our best sellers are best sellers across all channels. We do create some seasonal items, with no limits on “decoratability,” for our wholesale to retail and consumer-direct businesses. We have a completely integrated design team that is involved with every detail for both retail and wholesale.
John Spivey: Consumers want and expect to find our products in every market and across many different touch points. Our retail and wholesale teams often work hand in hand, all focused on bringing the best products to market.  

Does retail drive trends in wholesale?
JE: We focus on creating fashionable basics and inspiration can come from everywhere. For example, our popular bodysuits are directly inspired by actual dancewear and are offered both at wholesale and retail. I don’t believe in our situation that trends move in a one-directional pattern, where retail dictates what we see in wholesale.
MH: Yes, retail business does drive trends in wholesale. We begin our design process with inspiration and concept sketches and then go into design development as though we are developing a fashion collection.
JS: Once a product is developed, we create a go-to-market plan based on production, flow-in, seasonality and other factors. So a product could launch at wholesale first, as it did with Hanes Cool DRI T-shirts, or it could launch at the same time, as it did with the Hanes X-Temp T-shirts.
MS: Absolutely. For example, we recognized the trend in tri-blend and sueded fabrics that provide an ultra-soft hand and have built many successful styles with these fabrics.

Impressions: What are the biggest retail-inspired trends you see in the wholesale industry right now?
JE: Athleisure, which somewhat stems from the “normcore” fashion trend that became prevalent a couple of years ago. A return to basics, pared-down dressing, a focus on comfort and styles that easily transition from fitness wear to daywear. People don’t want one style for one occasion; they want one style to carry them through the day.
MS: Two trends that come to mind are soft and stretchy fabrications with texture and tank tops for women.
JS: The popularity of pastel hues is driving retail sales and new opportunities within the decorated apparel market. Retail brands such as Vineyard Vines, Guy Harvey and Southern Tide continue to fuel the popularity of this coastal-inspired look.

Impressions: How have you seen retail’s influence on the wholesale market evolve over the past 10 or 15 years?
MH: Fast fashion has forced everyone to move faster. The impact of that has trickled down into wholesale. However, at the same time, people are no longer looking for a one-time-use apparel item. Consumers want less disposable fashion and marketers want their messages to be seen again and again. With the changing and unpredictable economy, fashion becomes more fickle and pushes consumers to find the products that have the most value for the price.
JS: Consumers today want and expect what they see at retail to be available in the wholesale market. Technology and social media have compressed what was once two distinct markets, with a year to two years separating product launches, to what now is a blended environment with less and less demarcation. In addition, online retailers and the popularity of personalized apparel, a trend driven by Millennials’ desire for truly customized clothing, continue to transform the marketplace.  
MS: With social media, retail styles become popular faster, so the need to be on-trend and bring high-demand styles to the wholesale market quickly is [huge].

Impressions: What are the design priorities for a wholesale product vs. a retail product?
JE: Cost and ability to produce a best-in-class product with consistency in large volume is of utmost importance, but style should never be sacrificed. In retail, there is the luxury of being able to create a product in smaller quantities, thus having much more room to play with design for solely aesthetic purposes.
MH: We are very diligent with our approach in how we design specifically for wholesale. We have many more factors to consider: available print area; decoration fabric testing; shrinkage; and color fastness. Most importantly, we have to ask ourselves, “Can this style live for several years?’”
MS: Sustainability and value are key components for taking a retail success story and translating it to the wholesale market.
JS: For us, the key design priorities are the same between a wholesale product and a retail product: providing quality, comfortable, durable products — perhaps the antithesis of fast fashion. In addition, providing products with a superior print platform is critical in this market.
Impressions: What future trends do you see coming down the pipeline at retail that you predict will have an impact on the wholesale industry?
JE: Transparency with the consumer will continue to grow. Consumers are intensely curious as to where their products are being made, by whom and under what conditions. In addition, e-commerce and digital points of contact will be increasingly important in our industry.
MH: While better basics are having a moment right now at retail, the desire for timeless pieces with casual versatility is not going away. In an industry of disposables, we see customers looking for brands they can hold onto that deliver lasting quality and style.
MS: New poly/cotton fabrics will continue to drive retail and have an influence on the wholesale industry. For women, we see more demand for dolman-inspired styles. We also see a demand for men’s and women’s fleece joggers.
JS: Informed consumers, especially Millennials, want their apparel to feel good, and they want to feel good about it, to know that it’s made responsibly. These factors will drive retail and wholesale. We’ll also see — as the athleisure trend sprints forward — continued demand for performance features and super-soft fabrics, including tri-blends.