Blog: Leonie BarrieSpring has sprung early for US retailers

Leonie Barrie | 5 March 2012

Warm weather might have weighed on winter sales of coats, boots and other cold climate basics at the start of the season, but spring appears to have sprung early for many US apparel retailers in February. Indeed, figures released last week showed sales trended upwards during the month as the sunshine enticed shoppers out in search of new merchandise and clearance bargains.

Sales were also lifted by special events across the three-day Presidents Day weekend and Valentine's Day. But an even bigger impact is the improving economy, with a survey earlier in the week suggesting US consumers were in the most upbeat mood for a year in February.

Business wasn't so buoyant at apparel seller Liz Claiborne Inc, which swung to a fourth quarter profit after offloading its namesake label to retailer JC Penney - but saw its most significant brand lose sales over the crucial Christmas trading period. The firm, which changes its name to Fifth & Pacific Companies in May, posted a 2.6% drop in sales, with a 15.4% revenue decline at Juicy Couture.

UK supermarket retailer Tesco hopes to boost sales of its F&F fashion line with the launch of an online 3D virtual fitting room service to help shoppers find the right garment style, fit and size based on their individual measurements. The technology lets customers see how garments might look, and lets them put different outfits together.

In other fit and size news, a new low-cost 3D full body scanner is described as a "breakthrough," coming in below the $10,000 price point for the first time. And a new range of fashion sizing and fit tools based on the dominant body shape of "real" US women has been developed to help brands and retailers design and deliver better-fitting clothes.

The organisers of the London 2012 Olympics are introducing new measures to protect workers producing merchandise for this year's games after evidence of child labour, excessive hours, poverty pay, dangerous working conditions and an absence of independent trade unions was uncovered at factories in Olympic supply chains.

And for Ranjan Mahtani, the CEO of Hong Kong based apparel supplier Epic Group, the apparel industry's current preoccupation with price leaves it in danger of failing to see an even bigger and more worrying issue: the lack of new supply countries coming through. In an exclusive interview with just-style, he also asks how long the apparel industry can survive on its "fragile fundamentals"?


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