Gap, Zara, H&M pushing higher-quality clothing again

Tags: News
Call it fast-fashion fatigue. Millennials, after years of settling for apparel retailers’ downgraded fabrics and workmanship, are pushing for higher-quality clothing again, and chains are getting the message.

Gap, the biggest US specialty-apparel retailer, and Fast Retailing’s Uniqlo are able to charge more for better basics. Even fast-fashion kings Inditex, Hennes & Mauritz and Forever 21 are chasing more-discerning customers with upmarket brands.

“I can wear Forever 21 or H&M-type clothes a maximum of two or three times until the seams start falling apart or they shrink in the wash,” said Kendra Melnychuk, a 25-year-old diving coach at the University of Chicago. “Now that we’re not in school anymore, it’s not an option to wear those types of clothes. You have to look good at all times, and you can’t buy new clothes every month.”

The rise of fast fashion threw the US apparel industry for a loop in the past decade with a model of rushing runway styles to stores in weeks at cutthroat prices, spurring shoppers to buy armloads of trendy, disposable wear. The recession increased their allure, and retailers looking to capture sales often cut quality to compete on price.

“There’s a whole vast sector of the public that really has been burned out by fast fashion and the novelty and is just very exhausted,” David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger group, a New York-based trend forecaster, said in a telephone interview. ‘There’s a great opportunity now for quality basics that are very, very well-priced.’’

While Americans bought 19.4 billion garments last year, a 5.3 per cent decrease from 2010, the value of sales rose almost five per cent to $283.7 billion, showing consumers accepted higher prices, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, a trade group.

Gap’s namesake brand invested in upgrades of its merchandise starting this spring, and customers have noticed, Mark Breitbard, president of its North America division, said in a telephone interview. The company has used tags, store signage and employee training to highlight the merchandise’s specific fabrics, feel and design, he said.

Clothes this year “struck a chord for them being easy to understand and look like a style we could be famous for, but look new,” he said, citing the addition of certain colours and patterns, as well as effective marketing such as partnerships with fashion blogs.

Highlighting fabric details on a tag is one way apparel retailers communicate the quality of materials and workmanship. Uniqlo touts the characteristics of its Heattech thermal wear in advertisements, while J Crew uses its catalog to show off the cashmere it produces in partnership with an Italian mill.

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