What happened to the branded men’s market?
The men’s branded market is bracing itself for a flurry of closures. It was recently confirmed that Woodhouse Clothing would be shutting after nearly 50 years, alongside its discount designer site, Brown Bag. Both owned by the parent Clothingsites Group, Woodhouse was a stalwart of 1980s and 1990s men’s designer fashion.
Started by Philip Start in 1975, Woodhouse was at the crux of the explosion in branded and designer jeanswear during that period. Famously on the King's Road in Chelsea, it brought big names to young guys hungry for the status of these easily recognised designer brands.
Bought by the Clothingsites Group in 2009, it continued to sell premium labels such as Boss, Polo Ralph Lauren and Lyle & Scott online, but has announced a closing down sale. Based in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, the latest reported 2021 financials saw the company break even on a turnover of £12.3 million.
Times are getting tougher for the men’s branded market. Where a teenage guy in the 1990s would have spent his first wage packet on a pair of Armani Jeans, his equivalent today is buying the latest pair of trainers or hyped piece of sportswear. Fashion has also moved up a level with the prices to match. A young man buying a ‘designer’ Lacoste polo shirt in the 1990s, today, his equivalent will be spending a month’s wages and aspiring to own brands like Valentino and Balenciaga.
While the men’s branded stores have continued to service its original customers, many of whom are now in their 40s and 50s, they haven’t kept pace with younger generations. The branded offer isn’t directional or niche enough for the new wave of younger, savvy menswear consumers. This has played out in the popularity and expansion of larger chains like Flannels and USC, taking higher fashion to Britain’s high-streets and offering larger ranges with more labels to suit a broader range of tastes. Fashion for Instagram rather than the pub.
In December 2022, the two main UK groups in the branded menswear market, JD Sports and Frasers Group, agreed the sale on a host of retail and brands names, it was said to be 15 at the time. Last month, JD Sports completed the sale of five brands to Mike Ashley's Frasers Group - Tessuti (including Xile), Scotts, Choice, Giulio and Cricket. Many of the recent acquisitions’ websites have since become holding pages and there are expected to be a number of redundancies and closures within the transfer to a new parent company. Some Choice stores were already being rebranded as Giulio, with a site at Westfield Stratford waiting behind its new branded hoarding.
It makes sense for bigger groups to simplify their retail brand mixes if they are all selling the same things. JD Sports has since announced the closure of its Wellgosh chain. After 35 years of serving the men of Leicester, its three stores are to close and the one in Leicester converted into a JD owned Size? store. Word has it that JD-owned Oi Polloi in Manchester could also be closed and turned into another JD fascia.
Similarly when Frasers Group bought the Middlesbrough designer department store Psyche in 2020, it was later reopened in 2022 as one of the first Frasers, the new format of the House of Fraser chain.
Times are tough across the whole market. Almost three quarters (73%) of UK consumers are planning to cut back on retail spending. According to VoucherCodes in its ‘2023 Spending and Saving Report’, UK fashion sales will fall by 6.5% year-on-year with 50% of consumers saying they plan to cut back on spending on clothing across the year. Online sales have also continued to contract since the peak on the pandemic, in January 2023 they were down 2.2% year-on-year.
There is worrying a lack of growth in the men’s market overall. According to Globaldata, the United Kingdom (UK) menswear market size was £11.7 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of less than 1% during 2022 – 2026. Add in inflation and other costs, and the market is going backwards.
Many of these retailers are having to absorb higher costs and many of the brands they sell are moving away from wholesale and into DTC, be it in a physical or online capacity.
For example, Ralph Lauren recently announced it had plans to open 250 stores through 2025. The brand recently opened a neighbourhood store at the new Battersea Power Station, a location putting it into direct competition with brands such as GANT and Lacoste. The brands want to control their point of sale and to elevate themselves in the eyes of the consumer.
It could be said that many of these branded menswear retailers were past their sell-by-date. Having started in the 1970s and 1980s, they didn’t move with the times.
While the older branded menswear customer is happy with a perfectly placed monogram or slogan or two, the new customer wants something louder for their money. It’s too jarring to put the two together.
These stores once offered guidance and service, and an introduction to brands. The new generation of men’s consumers already know what they want from social media or the internet. These retailers were born when you had to wear ‘proper’ trousers and leather shoes to get in anywhere past 11pm. It all feels like ancient history now.