Apparel Brands: Looking Beyond Trends to Real Life

By Bertrand Chovet

The great Coco Chanel said, “Fashion 
is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” And as we said in our Best Retail Brands 2013 report, the act of shopping itself “represents the search for a better life, the promise of a brighter tomorrow.”

The strength of an apparel brand shouldn’t be about keeping up with trends or even setting them. It’s about being responsive to changing needs (and crises, such as the Bangladesh disaster) and taking practical cues from the zeitgeist, and then incorporating those insights into every part of the brand’s journey to the point of sale, from materials and manufacturing to the retail channel and merchandising. That’s why today’s visionary apparel brand leaders are thinking about:

Creating a culture of brand champions

Apparel brands are digital rock stars, but it’s a many-to-many conversation. Nike, Vans, Converse, adidas, and Hollister have a huge presence on Instagram. On Facebook, Converse has almost 40 million fans, while Nike has 15 million and counting. But it’s not enough to rack up masses of fans; brands must engage with them, learn from them, and activate them. From digital divas (hyper-connected young women with social moxie to spare) to hardcore sneakerheads, leading brands must engage influencers with exclusive offers and other rewards for helping drive sales.

Exploring brave new processes and materials

Fast fashion will inevitably hit a bump in the road as commodity costs increase, populations grow, and resource scarcity becomes a reality. However, the textile industry is finding that resource-intensive (and often polluting) processes and materials can be replaced with cleaner, more efficient ones. Nike and adidas are revolutionizing water-based processes like dyeing by eliminating the use of water entirely—
a huge and commendable breakthrough.

Reinventing the shopping experience

Online, great service and easy returns make all the difference. The in-store purchase decision, however, is as influenced by the environment as the garment itself. Pop-up shops and unexpected collaborations can keep things fresh, but think mobile integration or digital touchscreens, too. Enhancing and connecting the in-store shopping experience to more engaging and efficient e-commerce are a pre-requisite to making great clothes. Consider how Hointer, a small US denim boutique, puts mobile center stage and utilizes robotic technology to bring the purchase to the customer. Shoppers are craving more opportunities to touch, try, interact, and share. The world is changing swiftly and apparel brands must change with it, or risk ending up on the clearance rack.

Bertrand Chovet (bertrand.chovet@interbrand.com) is Managing Director, Interbrand Paris

RankBrand NameBrand Value ($m)Change in Brand Value
21H&M18,16810%
36Zara10,82114%
88Ralph Lauren4,58414%
100Gap3,9205%