Neckwear Notes: Ties by the numbers

by Harry Sheff

In my research for my January issue story on neckwear, I’ve looked at a lot of past numbers — mostly from NPD Group (few retailers or vendors are willing to be so candid about sales volume). The picture of the neckwear business I’ve been piecing together since its apparent peak in 1995 is volatile, but looking better. Much better.

Two major things happened to stop the bleeding over the last few years: a change in the product and a change in consumer perception. The product is, if not evolving, at least enjoying some profitable fits of nostalgia: narrow widths, more bow ties, seasonal fabrications and some small pockets of prints and knits. That “newness” means guys are obliged to replace some of the handful of ties they’d been holding onto. Consumer perception has changed to where younger men see the tie as a fashion accessory.

But let’s take a look back. For 1995, NPD Group says that the tie business had its all-time peak with sales volume of $1.3 billion. The industry has basically hemorrhaged and consolidated ever since. In 2008, the year the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association dissolved, NPD Group says sales volume of ties was around $677.7 million. That year, the Wall Street Journal‘s Ray Smith (his article then is where most of these numbers so far have come from) reported that PVH would produce 25 million ties.

Compare that to July 2010 when the neckwear market was starting to get more optimistic. NPD Group said in mid-2010 that 2009 sales volume was just $418 million, and that only 29 million ties were sold. If PVH made 25 million ties in 2008, and the entire industry sold just 29 million the next year…that tells us two big things. One, that PVH is huge, and two, that sales really continued to drop.

But look at the most recent NPD numbers I found. From March 2011 to March 2012, tie sales spiked 23 percent to a total volume of $701 million. That’s better than the $677 million number we saw in 2008!

Now for the caveats. NPD Group tells me they aren’t willing to share any numbers from the past (they even said they don’t have numbers that go back as far as 2008) and they no longer give neckwear figures to the press. Another issue: many in the business haven’t trusted NPD’s figures for some time. According to them, NPD lost their access to retail sales numbers years ago, and moved to a consumer survey method, which isn’t as accurate. When MR estimated the volume of the neckwear business in August of this year, we came up with $790 million. We arrived at that figure from a series of conversations with key neckwear industry presidents.

And finally, some more good news. In late 2011, Richard Jaffe, an analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. estimated that the retailer Express was on track to sell one million ties. Randa Accessories has told us that their bow tie business keeps growing: last year they made a million bow ties, double what they made the previous year. And while we’re all trying to estimate neckwear sales at Macy’s and other department stores, online retailers like is quietly doing a significant business. Their growth has been in the double and triple digits every year since they launched in 2004.