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The women’s fashion industry is one of the most saturated and successful markets in the world, with retailers, brands and designers all competing for their place at the top of the seasonal “must-have” lists, seeking places on catwalk shows and fashion pages, publishing marketing ads and videos across social media, and using the immense power of vouchers and deals to allow potential buyers to enjoy great brand names and high quality products without breaking the bank.
As an industry, women’s fashion is big business – and if we tried to count the number of brand names there are within the sector at this very moment, there is absolutely no chance that we could name them all. That is because every brand, retailer and designer who creates fashion for women is considered a part of the sector – whether they operate a large industrial chain with multiple stores around the world, sell from a small online page within a marketplace site, or merely create fashion items which they sell at local markets for their own community.
It all comes down to how we define women’s fashion. Is it the hugely successful global market which is worth billions, and which dominates our high streets? Or is it the creation of unique and fashionable designs which women around the world choose to wear? Or is it something in between?
When we look at retailer trends within the women’s fashion sector, one of the most notable shifts in the way that women’s retail now works is the inclusion and provision of specific brand lines within larger and more well-known retailers. A great example of this is John Lewis, which has always operated as a form of department store – essentially leaning on the concept that as a renowned UK retailer, it can – and does - provide a marketplace and a retail foundation for a whole host of different women’s fashion and other lifestyle brands under one roof. For the retailer itself, this fool-proof approach to selling means that even as some brands lose touch with their customer base and become less popular, they have a whole array of other brands to float profits back up to the surface.
Other examples of these department store operations include Selfridges, Harrods, Macy’s, Sears, House of Fraser, Fenwick, and Liberty.
Upon reading this list, you may or may not have picked up on the fact that more than one of these department stores is considered as high end or luxury. This is where exclusivity and marketing comes into play, with the most luxurious of department stores primarily attracting wealthier buyers who expect to come across high end, expensive and high quality brands within the store. What you essentially end up with is a circle of purchase, whereby the high end brands within these stores are what keeps the top level customers coming back.
Another example of retailers using the power of multiple brands but on a high street level, is supermarket chains and other high street stores such as New Look and Next. While New Look and Next already operate within the women’s fashion sector and so are simply expanding their repertoire and customer base by bringing external brands in-house, supermarkets in particular have been using women’s fashion in the past few years as a way of driving bargain hunters in store - promising all the trend of the high street and the catwalk, but with all the convenience of being able to browse and buy during your weekly food shop. Add this to the fact that supermarkets are renowned for their constant deals, promotions and loyalty vouchers, and you’ve got a winning marketing plan for any small time women’s fashion brand which is looking to get their brand name out on a large scale.
Moving beyond the breadth of choice afforded by department store retail offerings, we then have a whole host of chain fashion retailers targeted at women’s fashion, with some of the most popular examples including:
And finally, we have the independent women’s fashion brands – those which are still considered very much a part of the sector but which do not benefit from the power of an instore experience or the inclusion of their brand name upon multi-store vouchers and gift cards. In many ways, these are the brands which face the largest of all uphill struggles in the sector, as they have to work harder at their online and ecommerce marketing and user experience in order to drive the same level of success as those brands and retailer names that we have come to know and love.
Did you know that despite the rising cost of the average lifestyle, the price of clothing is actually decreasing? In fact, since 1992, the price of clothing has on average dropped by about 8.5%. This not only means that fast fashion is becoming more popular, but that the value of clothes is becoming less important as brands and retailers compete to find that balance between quality, value, and affordability.
The most powerful marketing within the women’s fashion sector is that which uses a combination of strong imagery and powerful descriptions in order to make the potential customer feel like that they are looking at is perfect for them.
The women’s fashion sector is one of the most prominent retail sectors when it comes to visuals and imagery, with retailers consistently upping their game and providing new ways for women to see how clothing looks – widening the repertoire of models they work with in order to show off outfits on various body shapes and sizes, creating catwalk videos which show the outfits moving around in real time, and full scale televised and social media adverts which show models and sometimes even celebrities wearing their clothes in a variety of different scenarios.
Did you also know that women’s fashion brands can pay anything upwards of £1,000 for a social media advert posted by a celebrity of online influence to their mass of followers? Marketing within the women’s fashion sector is serious business, with brands constantly having to change their approach, their strategy and their messaging in order to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of fashion marketing and what is “fashionable”.
But it’s not all clean and easy to follow. Marketing, particularly within the women’s fashion sector, has come under a ton of scrutiny in recent years due to messaging, the use of various models of different sizes and appearances, and even the way in which these brands are showcasing the activities they associate with their clothing. Women’s fashion is a huge sector, but that also means that brands and retailers have to do a great deal of hard work in order to keep their brands squeaky clean and viable in the eyes of the buyer.
Every time we think that there is an outfit or a brand for every possible desire or need, a new one comes along promising to cater to an outfit requirement which we never knew we had. In short, the product line within the women’s fashion sector is a never-ending stream – with independent designers and brands being the most likely to create and offer up new alternatives to problems we didn’t know were problems.
Take the rise of veganism as an example. Prior to the vegan movement and the recent rise in the online presence of the vegan cause as a whole, consumers would likely never have thought about the impact of their clothing and fashion choices on the animal population. It is only when small women’s fashion creators started designing and marketing their products as “vegan friendly” and “made without harming animals” that the buyer population started to take notice and demand the same from the larger retailers and brands. Now, many of the top end and most successful retailers in the world are adding “vegan friendly” to their women’s fashion product labels.
So, what are the most prominent products in the women’s fashion market?
Unlike the most successful brands in men’s fashion who often have a specific focus and will select one or two of the common product lines and specialise in them, women’s fashion is a different game – with the biggest players being those who are able to cater to a series of these product lines in order to maximise their audience and ensure that buyers continue to return to them time and time again no matter what their requirements.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule – think bridal gown stores, occasion wear retailers and shoe shops. However, for the most part, retailers and brands create crossover between different sectors to ensure that they appeal to the widest selection of buyers possible.
A great example of this is New Look, who were once regarded as a mere retailer of women’s fashion for younger women, but who now boast an extensive selection of office wear options, occasion wear dresses and accessories, casual and more formal outfit styles, hair accessories and footwear – as well as those external third party brands brought in house to boost both retailer and brand success. And that’s just the smaller stores – the largest New Look outlets also expand their offering to include homeware gifts and menswear, further heightening their prominence as a leader on the market.
Another example is Marks & Spencer, which has moved from a women’s fashion option for mature women, to one which is seen as popular across all ages – largely due to the use of celebrity influencers and endorsements in recent years, alongside the rise of social media influence. It is through celebrity endorsements that brands can bring in huge success – as long as they select the right celebrity to match their brand and to speak to their potential audience, rather than isolate them. Marks & Spencer, as one of the largest women’s fashion brands in the UK, has successfully been able to use Holly Willoughby, Myleene Klass and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – appealing to the younger audience and essentially transforming the face of the Marks & Spencer brand into something fashionable.
Other successful brands in the women’s fashion sector include:
When you can’t find or think of an appropriate gift for a female recipient, one of the easiest and most coveted gifts you can get is a women’s fashion gift card – giving the recipient the choice of any purchase from a retailer or your choice, or from a retailer of their own choice if you select a gift card which caters to more than one store or brand.
When it comes to the gift card market, women’s fashion is one of the largest players with many largescale retailers offering gift cards which offer their own brand as an exclusive, and also becoming part of larger shopping gift cards which can be used in any number of stores. For the retailer, the more gift cards they can be a part of the better – as, unlike vouchers and deal codes, gift cards do not impact on the amount being spent in their store. Essentially, a gift card is a prepayment for a purchase that will be made later, with no discounts or deals offered or allowed to be used in conjunction with a gift card purchase.
The future of women’s fashion, particularly for smaller and more independent brands, is through using tools like vouchers, deals, gift cards and social media to enhance their brand name and reach a wider audience base. Competing with the big players in the market is no mean feat, but with ecommerce becoming more and more popular it is likely that we will see more and more unknown brands coming to light through targeted marketing and innovative advertisements.
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