2013 Contemporary Survey

by Harry Sheff

Smart retailers are taking risks to find a replacement for denim.

Contemporary Survey 2013

The shift to slim has reached the mainstream—giving guys a reason to update their wardrobes—and contemporary retailers are reaping the rewards. Our 2013 retail survey of contemporary business indicates average increases at retail of 10.4 percent (ranging from flat to 16 percent). Retailers are planning growth for fall 2013 and spring 2014 (between two and 10 percent). Respondents attribute the spike in business to strong selling from slimmer silhouettes, sportcoats/tailored clothing and non-denim five-pocket pants, trends they’ve been pushing for the past few seasons that are finally catching on.

Contemporary Volume Chart Aug 2013Today, the contemporary consumer is less brand loyal. Instead of a logo, he’s looking for high-quality fabrics, innovative design details and functionality. As one retailer explains it, “The contemporary consumer has so many options now, and he’s doing the research. He has a better understanding of why something costs what it does, and when something is over-priced. Since we’re not in a cycle where you can immediately identify what someone is wearing by looking at them—it could be high-end, it could be fast fashion—you can’t tell anymore. What that means is that contemporary collection brands have to make sure other things signify quality, make and trend. That’s a big challenge that happened a while ago in women’s, but is newer to menswear. When we were in a heavier brand cycle, it was easy: you got credit because you could see the logo from ten feet away. Now it’s a different mode: design, color and innovation, which may have been secondary before, have become primary today.” An independent retailer echoes this sentiment: “The biggest change to our business is that customers no longer care about branding. They want simple design, good fabrics and the perfect fit.”

Top VendorsRetailers agree that the two main challenges in contemporary are finding original brands that aren’t saturated yet and trends that aren’t duplicated at every price point. Most merchants are over things like camouflage prints, graphic T-shirts, “oversized anything,” embellished wovens, contrast cuffs and relaxed or bootcut jeans. Retailers, currently focused on spring 2014, are searching the market for myriad things: unlined sportcoats, five-pocket non-denim pants, streetwear, updated swimwear, color, prints and patterns.

Hot Items for Spring '13Denim business, averaging 12 percent to total volume for 2013 (down from 14 percent last year), is shrinking and not consistent. While some report strong sales, others say it’s fair, and are finding its replacement through non-denim options. However, many are buying non-denim from their core denim vendors, so they’re not necessarily dropping any lines. Non-denim went from an average of 8 percent to 10 percent of total volume from 2012 to 2013. Respondents also agree that consumers are buying washes again—but not tricked out styles from the old premium denim craze; these washes are clean and modest. And while the raw denim customer still exists, the trend is moving away from dark, minimal styles that saturated the market for the past few years. Now Jay Z in Theoryretailers are seeking out lighter-washed denim with some whiskering and distressing details. As one high-end national department store says, “Customers are not scared to try non-denim and colored denim, interesting washes as opposed to the same basic denim.”

Silhouettes are still slim and 13- to 14- inch openings no longer seem skinny to customers. However, retailers admit that they’re trying to find the right balance and answering questions like: “What is too slim?” “What are the right colors in bottoms?” The smart merchants are finding answers through trial and error, taking calculated risks and offering newness that customers now crave. The rest are sticking with replenishment basics, wondering why business isn’t better.

By the Numbers

  • Average initial markup: 57.8%
  • Private label penetration: 6%
  • Average vendors dropped in 2012 (ranging from 0 to 6): 3
  • Average vendors added in 2012 (ranging from 0 to 10): 4

What’s in a Name?

Retailers struggle to define the contemporary market. These guys give it their best shot.

  • “For us, it’s about fit. A navy suit can be contemporary if it’s a trim cut.”
  • “It’s an idea that is extremely current with fit and style.”
  • “Contemporary is clothes or styles that change every year or so.”
  • “I define it as an attitude. It’s not an age, it’s not trendy. It’s modern style for anyone.”
  • “Contemporary is modern and trend driven but not defined by age. We are not the young men’s department. Instead we carry lines that are fun and novel and are easily accessible to any man, young or old, student or professional.”

Retail Revelations

  • “For spring 2014, we’re looking for prints in all classifications from tailored clothing to wovens, and footwear and accessories are all-important. Floral/botanical prints, as well as Hawaiian “aloha” prints, were all over the spring ’14 runways. Nautical stripes and graphic dots. White suits and sportcoats. In terms of color there are two ends of the spectrum: ultra bright, vivid pop colors or soft/filtered neutrals and pastels. (There were also summer darks on the Milan runways, but we will not pick up on this trend, as it’s not commercial or appropriate for our customer.) In footwear, the designer “Vans” or slip-on shoe is the “it” shoe for spring ’14. We’re also seeing innovative versions of the Birkenstock sandal.”
  • “The contemporary customer is even more savvy, intrigued and knowledgeable about core trends. We’re betting on the continuation of the whole blue range being very important. There are so many versions and combinations of blue going into spring 2014. We still see a slimmer silhouette (but not necessarily tight). It’s become the battle cry within contemporary sportswear today. And the customer is starting to think more seasonally. Linens, cottons and cotton blends will continue to be important as guys begin to understand that building a seasonal wardrobe allows him more comfort in the warmer months.”
  • “We’re buying more tailored from new brands, as well as from our sportswear collections. Sportcoat business is great and we’re planning continued growth for spring.”