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INDX Menswear Indies enjoy the feel-good factor

Eric Musgrave
19 July 2022

Optimism was soaring almost as high as the summer temperature as the independent mainstream menswear community convened at the INDX Menswear show in Solihull this week.

In air-conditioned comfort, more than 150 brands from suit suppliers to sock manufacturers paraded primarily their spring-summer 2023 ranges to retailers from all over the UK, plus some from the Irish Republic, at what was the third event since lockdown restrictions were lifted in summer 2022.

One of a series of sectoral fashion events organised each season by the AIS buying group, the three-day INDX Menswear show (July 17-19) lived up to its reputation of a no-frills gathering where orders are written. With a strict vetting policy in place, only bona fide menswear retailers (who do not have to be AIS members) walk the aisles.

INDX Menswear

Alyson Lyndon and James Crabtree, INDX Menswear

“After our very strong February show, we were expecting good things this season and that’s how it’s turned out,” said James Crabtree, AIS head of fashion. “We aim for the INDX shows to be nice, friendly, welcoming events at which both suppliers and buyers can have a positive experience.”

There was no shortage of positivity in the halls with most attendees from both sides of the fence reporting the post-COVID jump in business was continuing. The demise of large menswear retailers, including Debenhams, Burton, Topman and Austin Reed, plus the apparent retreat from, or reduction of, mainstream menswear by firms like Moss Bros, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer has created gaps the independent sector is ready, willing and able to fill.

INDX Menswear

Peter Southwell, Torre Uomo

“Anyone selling tailoring is having a very positive time,” said Peter Southwell, agent for Portuguese tailoring house Torre Uomo, expressing a view heard across the show. “There are three years of cancelled weddings everyone is catching up on and despite some awareness of the cost of living issue, people do not want to skimp on a wedding. Venues are booked up this year and into 2023. The biggest problem for a lot of retailers is finding suppliers who have spare stock.”

Supply chain issues and the continued fall-out from post-Brexit duties and importing red tape were among the negatives mentioned at the show but there seems a general acceptance these are realities of life that are not going to disappear any time soon.

There was a general feeling that having got through COVID-19 the indie menswear sector could ride out a few logistical problems.

INDX Menswear

Brook Taverner

Roger Meeke, retail sales director for tailoring supplier Brook Taverner, confirmed there was no end in sight for supply chain disruption, especially from Asia, but part of the post-COVID bonus for the industry was that suppliers and retailers were communicating much better and more openly now, so there were no unknown surprises ahead.

The better relationship between buyer and supplier was mentioned often in the three Retail Insight panel sessions that INDX Menswear introduced this week. Hosted by this correspondent, the 30-minute discussions underlined the buoyant feeling within the indie menswear community.

Suppliers and agents such as Kevin Stone, group marketing director and sales director at Leeds-based Baird Group, Toby Sugdon of Sugdon Brands Agency, and Matthew Rawlings from Ulster-based supplier Douglas & Grahame appealed to buyers to place forward orders early and with confidence to help manufacturers organise their production runs – and hopefully ensure deliveries.

Sugdon pointed out that Digel, the German tailoring brand he represents, has seen its lead time for cloth extended by mills from two months to six, so the entire supply chain is impacted.

Overall, there was a palpable sense at the show that independent retailers were in a good place right now. At Brook Taverner, Meeke pointed out the company was busy opening more of its own shops while still serving 500 or so wholesale accounts.

The INDX Menswear show

The INDX Menswear show

“We now have six shops in England and three in Scotland. On 4 July we opened a 1,900sq ft unit in the part of the former Palmers department store building in Bury St Edmunds and we are opening in Windsor in mid-October.

“Like our wholesale stockists, we see a gap in the market. The man aged 40-plus who wants good quality, fashionable, colourful clothes, the man who is confident in his dressing, has been left behind and ignored by most of the major retailers.

“In Stratford upon Avon’s main shopping street, for example, we are the only shop selling mainstream menswear.”

Known for its classic tailoring expertise, Brook Taverner is typical of those INDX-type suppliers that have pivoted their collections to include more casualwear, such as shirts, chinos and unstructured jackets. Like many stands at the show it was ablaze with vibrant colours and patterns. Spring-summer 23 is going to be a bright one.

Wholesale price increases of 10% to 15% were typical but no complaints or reluctance to order from buyers was noted. In his panel discussion, Stone from the Baird Group warned retailers to expect the cost of living pinch to be felt in spring 2023 once the bigger energy bills of winter 22-23 hit.

Jessica & Tony Harvey of Suave Owl

Jessica & Tony Harvey of Suave Owl

For now, however, retailers were in buoyant mood. Tony Harvey, co-owner with his wife Jessica of Suave Owl in Bath, said: “It’s all been good, all positive, since lockdown was lifted, whether it is to do with weddings or summer casualwear. To make the most of this period we retailers have to maximise the experience we give customers. About 10% of our sales are online, but people like coming into the shop, especially tourists, who I am glad to say are back in Bath.”

Nigel Pinnock, Matthew Rawlings, Eric Musgrave form a Retail Insights panel

In a panel discussion on the feelgood factor within indie menswear, Nigel Pinnock of NP Agency pointed out that a lot of consumers had discovered or re-discovered their local owner-run shops during lockdown and working from home. That continuing trend was boosting independents’ sales.

While there were few reports of new retail entrants to the sector, there was plenty of talk of existing businesses adding one or more branches. The void left by some independent casualties and the exit of big players like Debenhams has encouraged and allowed confident retailers to expand.

Tony Symons and Carrie Parsons of Rogers Menswear

Tony Symons and Carrie Parsons of Rogers Menswear

Representing complete confidence in the single mainstream menswear shop idea is Carrie Parsons, who is taking over Rogers Menswear in Herne Bay, Kent from Tony Symons, who is retiring next year. The business was set up in 1967 (the year she was born, Parsons pointed out) by Roger Wisbey, who died last year.

Symons joined the business in 1983 and took it over when Wisbey retired in 1999. History is repeating itself as Parsons has been working at the shop either fill-time or part-time since 2007 apart from a short break.

“It’s a small shop but it is a very viable and prosperous business,” said Parsons. “It will be my first time as an owner but I didn’t want the town to lose the legacy of Rogers Menswear.”

Neil Rennie of White Stuff

Neil Rennie of White Stuff

On a larger scale, on the lookout for new stockists was White Stuff, the lifestyle brand best known for its 120 or so high-street shops. Neil Rennie, head of partnerships and wholesale, reported he had seen retailers from the north-west, the Midlands and both sides of the Irish Border at the event.

“Our wholesale side is bigger in womenswear but we see plenty of scope in menswear and this is the right show to meet some of our potential partners,” he said.

Following the demise of the Moda Menswear show at the NEC, AIS’ INDX Menswear event is the only large-scale gathering for the mainstream sector. Well-edited, well-organised, easy to work (and with excellent catering facilities!), it deserves its current success, which reflects the sector it serves.

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