Some might call me old school but truth is, I’m a progressive merchant who is constantly thinking of ways to solve problems in the men’s fashion world. And the current challenge is clear: retailers who have built successful businesses based on tailored clothing are suddenly surrendering their birthrights.
I realize that most are licking their wounds from the negative impact of the pandemic. I’ve heard nobody say their business is good. But what’s going to happen after COVID? What are retailers doing to bring customers back, to get them excited to come into stores and replenish their clothing wardrobes? Probably very little, as merchants are operating under the assumption that suits are dead and that men will no longer want them.
Here’s where the lack of imaginative merchants is a huge problem. They all carry the same clothing brands and buy the same year-round fabrics so that one brand blends into another at varying prices. Year after year, they continue to buy the same ubiquitous brands, totally dependent upon makers who are trying to build collections that can be sold all over the planet. They have no idea what your customer is looking for. In fact, few customers know what they’re looking for: they need you, their trusted clothing advisor, to tell them.
Real merchants need to explore the world for uniqueness. Create your own brand, design it (or consult with a few emerging designers), and find production to execute your vision. With the recent slowdown, many talented Italian artisans will jump at the opportunity to work with you. Fabrics are key: tweeds, flannels, coverts, saxonies, these reimagined classics will look new after years of absence. Don’t predetermine what will sell. Even in warm climates, people travel and are more open to fresh ideas than we realize. Too few retailers these days can claim that when a customer walks out of their store, it’s clear where they shopped. They sell units, but very little style. Merchants need to create and promote their own discernable taste level.
Yes, e-commerce is a growing factor today but what are you selling online? How are you going to compete with your suppliers? They are your biggest competition.
Armani was the last great revolution in men’s fashion. Fred Pressman recognized his talent, and built the brand in America. But how many other retailers failed to get it? Without a clothing business–suits, jackets, pants, topcoats–there will be no menswear business. Sportswear is not going to save you.
Barry Wishnow is a long-time menswear exec who built businesses for Schoeneman, Hugo Boss, and Calvin Klein, among others. As a consultant, his clients have included Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Joseph Abboud, and Luciano Barbera. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.