10 industry developments that shaped the decade
By Joe Ayling | 23 December 2009
Having delivered apparel and footwear industry news for the past decade, just-style takes a reflective look through its archives to highlight ten key themes that have helped shape the apparel industry over the last 10 years.
1. China quotas
The defining moment for apparel sourcing came on 31 December 2004, when quotas between member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) were lifted. The measure was aimed at levelling the playing field for supplier countries, but a rapid drop in prices meant the EU and US dramatically increased their clothing imports from China.
Faced with a surge in shipments from China, both the US and EU lost no time in making significant use of the textile special safeguard provision built into China's WTO accession agreement.
While the US restrictions went without a hitch, a delay in application of the EU's plan to introduce a phased quota system limiting annual growth in Chinese textile and apparel imports resulted in 87m garments getting stuck in customs posts around the world - the so-called Bra Wars shambles. This was only resolved after new regulations were introduced to release the blocked products.
2. Sportswear battle
The past decade has seen much consolidation in the sporting goods marketplace. The spending started in 2003, when Nike snapped up trendy pump producer Converse for US$305m. The footwear brand signalled a migration towards fashion for Nike.
Two years later German firm Adidas Group snapped up Reebok for EUR3.1bn. Adidas believed it would overtake Nike by swallowing up a major sector player in Reebok. However, a mixture of teething problems and existing problems at the brand means Reebok still hasn't really fulfilled its brand potential.
3. Manufacturing migrates
In 2003 the industry was rocked by news that Levi Strauss, Lands' End, and the Warnaco Group, were to close their last remaining plants in the US. Similarly, VF Jeanswear lost around 2,000 jobs across the US as production shifted overseas.
The past decade has seen producers in Asia, Central America and Southern Europe take a final stranglehold of textile manufacturing.
4. Fast fashion
Taking advantage of cheap labour and speedy supply chains, "the noughties" also saw the birth of so-called fast fashion. Retailers H&M, Zara, Mango and Primark were quickest to react. Customers expectations of how many styles are delivered each season has been transformed.
The signs were there in 2006, when the likes of Primark, New Look and Asda started outpacing general multi-brand stores like Matalan. Meanwhile, Zara operator Inditex confirmed plans to open between 250 and 300 new stores in 2003, having bolstered sales a staggering 31% the prior year.
Their rapid expansion and cheap prices also put supplier factory conditions under the spotlight though. In June 2008 a BBC Panorama documentary called "Primark: On the Rack" attracted 4.2m viewers, and prompted the fashion chain to axe three factories in Southern India - saying they had broken its ethical code of conduct.
5. Rollercoaster for Gap
While fast fashion knew no boundaries in the past decade, once-golden market player Gap Inc at times struggled to get back on track. Its woes started in 2001 when profits more than halved, dragged down by struggling Old Navy and Banana Republic chains.
One year and a chief executive later, and the chain's resurgence started, attributed to more brand-appropriate styles and better marketing. Indeed, celebrities including Madonna were giving Gap's television adverts more appeal, albeit at some cost. Gap also joined the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in 2004, and prospects were bright.
However, real recovery was still not evident by 2006, when the firm admitted there was much work still to do amid slumping sales. Another change in CEO later and by 2007 it was being rumoured that Swedish rival H&M may even make a swoop for the world's largest clothing retailer.
Gap had hired Goldman Sachs to study turnaround options, but re-emerged under the guidance of Glenn Murphy and managed to return to profit growth in 2008. More recently the company has reinvigorated its famous TV ads, and is pinning its hopes on premium jeans, together with a strong performance at its Old Navy unit this Christmas.
6. China's retail boom
China has emerged as the hotspot for international operators, particularly in the retail sector. Chinese clothing sales increased 21.2% in 2008 despite the global downturn, with branded fashion and fast fashion leading the way.
International brands still dominate the high-end market in China, while domestic brands like Li Ning have a bigger share of the mid to low end market. Household brand names in the country include Louis Vuitton, Dunhill, Zara, Nike, Coach, and Vero Moda.
Among the retailers who launched in mainland China during the past decade are Uniqlo, H&M and Marks & Spencer, while Mango is eyeing 1,000 stores in the country. Luxury players including Burberry and Coach also have their eyes firmly fixed on the prize.
7. The birth of sustainability
Although nicknamed "the noughties", the past decade has witnessed a clean-up of the apparel and footwear supply chain. There is still much work to be done, and the clothing miles enforced by globalisation appear to be a fixture. However, most leading brands, including PPR, Adidas, and Timberland, have committed to regular sustainability reports on business practices.
Furthermore, consumers are demanding that clothes are sourced ethically and within labour standards. One country, Sri Lanka, has even dedicated its entire model to being a green and ethical supplier, while plenty of brands have launched with the same green message.
The decade ended with a subdued UN climate summit in Copenhagen, where real compromises weren't agreed by politicians. However, the fashion community seems intent that greener is better, as voiced in a number of key industry events recently.
8. A 'Greener' high street too
Having snapped up ailing retail chain British Home Stores (BHS) just before the turn of the century, Sir Philip Green made a real splash on the British high street in 2002 when he purchased the Arcadia Group of fashion stores for GBP770m.
Arcadia, which runs chains including Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop and Wallis, has had a stronghold on the UK fashion retail market ever since. Green eventually merged BHS with Arcadia Group last year, in a bid to streamline the department store chain.
The growth of Sir Philip's trendy women's wear chain Topshop has led the charge, and despite the recent downturn managed to launch a first flagship store in New York last year. India and China openings are expected to follow.
9. Credit crunched
The financial events of September 2008 are still taking their toll on manufacturers, brands and retailers today. Even before the US' fourth biggest bank, Lehman Brothers collapsed, the fashion industry was being hit by an ensuing credit crunch as customer debt caught up with them, not to mention rising commodity prices.
The result of the banking crisis was a double-edged sword, with stricter lending and plummeting consumer confidence bringing the retail market to a standstill and resulting in UK and US recessions. The fashion sector also suffered from being a discretionary choice for consumers, and casualties followed.
A month later US footwear retailer Shoe Pavilion, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection that July, decided to shutter its entire chain of 64 stores. By January clothing chain Goody's faced the same destiny, sparking a spate of retail layoffs and bankruptcy filings.
Eddie Bauer, Filene's Basement, Hartmarx Corporation and S&K Famous Brands were among those who took bankruptcy protection in the US, while Marchpole Holdings, USC, Original Shoe Company (OSC), Qube and Canterbury Europe all filed for administration in the UK.
The trouble continued well into 2009, when Icelandic retail investor and Mosaic Fashions owner Baugur Group filed for bankruptcy after a court in Reykjavik refused to give it more time to sort out its affairs.
Mosaic eventually put its Karen Millen, Coast, Warehouse and Oasis brands under new ownership at Aurora Fashion, but Principles fell by the wayside. Meanwhile, German fashion house Escada AG filed for insolvency in August, and was later sold to Megha Mittal, daughter-in-law of steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal.
10. The Rose revolution
The end of the decade sees a significant change in personnel at the UK's largest clothing retailer Marks and Spencer. Sir Stuart Rose first joined M&S as chief executive from fashion retailer Arcadia Group in 2005, with the company facing plummeting profits and lacking retail direction.
Within a year though Sir Stuart kick-started its recovery as profits jumped 35% in 2006. His actions included inking a business-wide 'eco-plan', called Plan A, and a reshuffled management team that saw Kate Bostock, director of women's wear and girl's wear at the company, take on additional responsibility.
The recession presented new challenges for Sir Stuart though, whose comments about weather being "for wimps" came back to haunt him. He also took up the additional role of executive chairman in 2008, prompting opposition by institutional shareholders concerned with corporate governance guidelines.
However, M&S also successfully ventured into new markets including China - and under Rose's leadership was never far from the headlines. The retailer goes into the next decade under the leadership of Marc Bolland, who was appointed as Sir Stuart's successor in November this year.
Companies: Nike, Reebok, Primark, Zara, H&M, Mango, Old Navy, Arcadia, Converse, Adidas Group, Umbro, Levi Strauss, Lands’ End, Warnaco, New Look, Asda, Matalan, Inditex, Topshop, Uniqlo, Marks & Spencer, Burberry, PPR, Timberland, British Home Stores, Shoe Pavilion, Eddie Bauer, Filene’s Basement, Hartmarx, Marchpole, Escada
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