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Reports on shows, trends, and more

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What Do Consumers Want in Hard Times?

Using crafts and sewing to update their wardrobes.

by Ellie Joos, Ellie Joos & Associates (March 23, 3009)

(Note: Ellie is one of the industry's premier trend watchers, marketing pros, and product developers.)

When I began reporting on fashion, color, and fabric trends in my first industry position at Simplicity Pattern Company 30 years ago (where did the time go?), I was fascinated by the influence that world events and culture had on these trends.

Forecasters did not pull trends out of thin air like many people believe; indicators were all around us waiting to be interpreted into fashions and colors of the day. First Ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan and today's chic First Lady Michelle Obama are trend setters, as are popular movies such as the film about activist Erin Brockovich which started the rage for lingerie and camisole fashions.

In the current fashion magazines you can't miss Ralph Lauren's nod to Indiana Jones with the model dressed in sparkling gold mesh pants paired with an Indiana Jones hat and khaki shirt posing with a motorcycle. During the country's last brief recession, 1990-91, the grunge "anti-fashion" street statement, inspired by the Seattle band Nirvana, emerged as a clear overreaction to the excesses of the Dynasty 80's, and then showed up on the runway in Marc Jacobs Spring '93 collection.

As the economy revived and the country entered a dot.com growth period, fashion once again reflected the exuberant mood and became colorful and lively, as did Apple's fashion statement with a line of colored computers.

Today the economy is in shambles, the weather is unpredictable, the environment is unstable, and the nightly news is gloom and doom. So what is in store for fashion in the coming year?

In looking back at the fashions of the 1930's following the crash of 1929, the flapper styles of the 20's disappeared, hemlines dropped, and Hollywood glamour thrived as the movies became an escape from the harsh daily reality. Coco Chanel led the way with less expensive cotton fabric in her collections, bakelite jewelry became popular (oh, what I would give for a piece or two today), as did platform shoes and beaded handbags.

Washable, easy-care fabrics were also introduced during this time. Women were industrious; home sewing, quilting, and gardening becoming necessary and satisfying pastimes. With the onset of WWII, the government asked the country to plant "victory gardens" to support the war effort. (Gardening today is on the rise with Burpee Seeds reporting a 20% jump in sales.)

As the Fall/Winter '09 fashion shows were about to begin, I wondered how the designers would reflect the current events and the mood of the country in their collections. Several articles I read in Women's Wear Daily and other on-line fashion sites reported that designers were scaling down their presentations with more restrained shows, fewer models, fewer seats, some even foregoing the tents and presenting on-line instead.

As the collections began, some editors questioned whether we were watching Fall or Spring since the bright colors, lighter-weight fabrics, floral prints, and sheath dresses were typically themes in spring collections. Strong shoulders are back, bearing the weight of the world as Donna Karan reflected. This look was achieved with shoulder pads as well as with attention to the shoulder with pleated, draping, or embellishment details. Other collections featured glittering details, metallics, and sequins as if to say, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As for color, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, found that designers were using a thoughtful approach to their palette with Iron, a brown-casted grey emerging as a strong new neutral that can be a staple as well as a great backdrop for stronger, more dramatic colors. Lee told me as she reflected on past trends that historically in tough times people will be drawn to the more neutral colors for the big-ticket items, such as furniture, but in fashion and crafts, brighter colors are more enticing and mood changing.

Going forward, she has identified Yellow, a color of hope, optimism and change, as one of the strongest fashion-forward colors. Purple, a strong color from Fall '08, continues and gives consumers a color to build on, as does Green, which is also a symbol of the organic lifestyle awareness.

Lee also sees Blue emerging as an extension of Green and this too showed up in the collections. Lee commented that in a world that looks pretty grey, we need the psychological uplift of color. I experienced this for myself on a particularly dreary day in New York, when I visited Macy's Herald Square and saw their exciting, refreshing, and colorful window displays and product vignettes on the main floor. The merchandise in their housewares cellar department were displayed with brightly colored packaging, another trend that Lee discussed. (For more from Leatrice, visit her blog at www.eisemancolorblog.com.)

With buyers cutting their budgets in these uncertain times, will their customers play it safe and stick with classic investment fashion, or will they be attracted to the beautiful, richly decorated and sexy clothes like those in the Chanel and Louis Vuitton shows? Speaking about his collection, Marc Jacobs said he wanted his collection "to emphasize the pleasure of fashion, in spite of hard times." Galliano for Dior presented a masterpiece with his Russian inspired embroideries, tassels, coins, and really fun looking pom poms on high boots.

For a home-sewer or crafter with a limited budget but with imagination and sewing and gluing skills, these trends can provide dozens of ideas for giving a facelift to their fall wardrobe. I don't think it will take long for knitting enthusiasts to create their own hats like those worn by the Chanel models. Even crafters with limited skills could make their version of the "paper chain inspired" necklaces worn by the models at Louis Vuitton. Jewels with fabric glue can easily be applied to necklines or to shoes and bags to update accessories while, large pom poms can decorate boots like those at Dior or the Diane Von Furstenberg hats. Handmade fabric or ribbon flowers are other creative touches that can give new life to last year's jacket or dress.

In the last few months, a number of newspaper and website articles have explored the topic of crafts and the recession, beginning with the often quoted article in The New York Times, "For Craft Sales, the Recession is a Help." Interviews with large and small retailers indicated that during a down economy like this, crafting (and I include home sewing) provides many rewards. More gifts were handmade this past holiday season and Etsy.com, the website for handcrafted products, saw sales more than double a year ago.

Art and craft supplies are selling on eBay, and according to the Washington Post, Wal-Mart reports the sales of its starter sewing kits are up 30%. The Post quoted Laura Mooney, director of marketing for Prym Consumer Products, manufacturer of the kits, who said that the sales of Prym's Liquid Stitch fabric adhesive are up more than 50% since last year.

A recent article in Women's Wear Daily places sewing right up there with gardening, movies, gym memberships, and chocolate as ways in which consumers are seeking relief for their economic anxiety. Consumers are doing more things for themselves in these hard times and marketers have named this change in behavior, "insourcing."

Several other new fashion terms, "recessionista" and "chiconomics," have been named by the Global Language Monitor, according to The Financial Express in India. The Australian newspaper states that frugality is back in fashion, learning to conserve, "being a recessionista is actually in." Recycling, reusing, and repurposing elements of the indie craft movement have become part of everyday life.

In the March 2009 issue of Yarn Market News, Daryl Brooks asks in his article, "It's the economy, Knitters," if knitting really is recession-proof. One retailer stated "Nervous people knit; it's relaxing, methodical, and it puts them in control of something."

This excellent article directed at yarn stores provided tips that can be applied to other retail stores including provide retail therapy keep the radio turned to upbeat music buy closer to the season, and use sales, promotions, and special events to move products.

With more people than ever staying in, cooking at home, renting more DVD's, having family and friend game nights, and foregoing vacations, brands in the creative craft and sewing industries have the opportunity to enhance the "at home" experience. Companies that produce innovative products while recognizing that quality and sustainability are key components consumers will consider if they are to part with their money, will build customer loyalty and find the silver lining that optimists, myself included, believe exists within these dark clouds.

Note: Ellie is president of Ellie Joos & Associates, a marketing, pr, and product development firm. To contact Ellie, call 908-459-9269 or email eleapple@hotmail.com.

xxx

 

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