Sales of private label clothing have bucked the slowdown seen in the overall apparel market according to market information company The NPD Group Inc.

It says that while overall apparel sales have been down for the last four years, private label increased by five per cent over the same period.

A key reason for this growth is that retailers are now using private branding, such as Mossimo at Target and Jaclyn Smith at Kmart, to increase sales of their private label merchandise.

“The industry is putting a new face on private label and that face is private brand,” said Marshal Cohen, senior industry analyst, The NPD Group.

“The biggest difference between private label and private brand is that private brand offers the ability to establish a personality behind the product, to give the consumer the ability to be more loyal and aware of the exclusivity factor.

”JC Penney is an example of a retailer that has done a great job for many years in developing ‘Arizona’ into a brand that consumers believe has its own product integrity and identity.”

Private label and private brand merchandise represent 36 per cent of the total apparel market, taking in almost $60 billion in the 12 months ending April 2003. National brands represent 34 per cent of the apparel market and designer brands account for 7 per cent.

Mass merchant retailers are posting the strongest gains in private label apparel sales, with a six per cent increase over the past three years. Annual private label sales now represent 51 per cent of total apparel sales in the mass merchant channel, up from 45 per cent in 2001.