Fashionably Speaking

Experts discuss emerging industry trends and how these changes impact African Americans

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Who decides what’s hot and what’s not in the fashion business? Nowadays, consumers determine which designs make the cut, what occasions are appropriate for their new threads and how much they’re going to pay for them. They also define which industry players get the most play and which ones become démodé.

So where is the apparel industry headed in the new millennium? We’ve spotted five forces: a more casually dressed workforce, the decreasing popularity of department stores, the emergence of urbanwear, a stronger voice among youth and the integration of technology into the fashion arena-that seem to be putting an end to fashion as we know it. But change can be a good thing, as long as African Americans position themselves to be both the driving force behind, and the beneficiaries of, it.

Kickin’it in khakis for business
For companies, it’s not business as usual as far as attire is concerned. Casual Fridays have become a year-round custom and “dressing down means that people will spend less money on clothes than they have in the past,” suggests Teri Agins, author of The End of Fashion (Morrow, $25). In fact, casual wear is a key market driver for apparel sales with the most robust growth reported among dressed-down garments, such as sweaters, casual pants and shorts. In 1999, sales for men’s tailored apparel took a dive of .5% while sales from women’s tailored apparel was up only 1.9%, according to market information provider the NDP Group Inc. Designers of high-fashion garments beware!

Department stores downslide
As dressing down gains in popularity, so do specialty retailers and discounters-and they do this at the expense of department stores, which are losing market share. According to NPD, discount stores-which include retailers such as Kmart and Wal-Mart-have surpassed department stores in market share since 1995, and are continuing to widen their lead. With a 7% revenue gain in 1999, discount stores were able to capture more than a 20% market share of apparel dollars. Not only were discount stores the fastest-growing retail channel, but last year’s market share was a new high.

Fashion goes high-tech
“You don’t have to travel to meet a person face-to-face because you can e-mail your work and designs, [thus] becoming an international player in the global market,” points out Joyce Brown, president of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Designers are using computers to refine designs, e-mail sketches, develop three-dimensional animated images, organize projects and eliminate the paperwork that was once an inescapable part of doing business. Plus, e-commerce largely impacts the industry as companies and consumers conduct transactions over the Web. In 1999, online apparel sales reached a high of $1.1 billion. “Now it doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are, as long as you can create the designs that are in demand and get your styles seen,” says Brown. “Technology is going to make a tremendous difference in how the industry ends up being formed and how people break in.”

Movement to mix and match brand labels
As the baby boomers cruise into retirement, their

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