While the dominant theme of fashion forecasters at Hong Kong Fashion Week for Fall/Winter 2010 was eco-responsibility, fashion industry businessmen were talking about trading down.
The basic necessities of winter fashion appeared to grab the lion's share of buyer attention as the industry sought to continue recovering from the debacle of 2008. High quality, no-frills, fall-to-spring coats manufactured in Mainland China factories were popular with the nearly 5,000 buyers in attendance this year. This was especially so since prices were as low as US$14–20 for the same quality coats that you would find at Western-brand outlet stores across the Pacific.
Top sellers included knitwear as well as the pashminas of the Indian pavilion. This seemed to affirm the forecast of WGSN content director Juliet Warkentin of an increased interest in 'cocooning' fashion (e.g., knits, hoodies), which she explained to be a natural human defensive reaction, regardless of season, to the ongoing economic recession.
Data released by the HK Trade Development Council (HKTDC) shows a notable dip in consumer investment on accessories compared to the lesser drop in knit purchases. The most notorious impulse shoppers (women) seem to be reusing last year's winter coats as buying slowed to minus 16–17; even as the men favored buying knits and posted a relatively healthy minus 2 growth in knitwear purchases.
The emergence of a more discriminating Asian consumer has led manufacturers to invest in higher, value-added activities such as design and brand development, material sourcing, and quality control. Proof of this: Manufacturers and retailers flocked to seminars by styling and global trend analysts WGSN and Promostyl, packing double conference rooms.
Meanwhile, clothing retailers have turned to private labels as a marketing tool. Marks & Spencer is a classic example, selling everything from M&S pasta sauce to undergarments with a promise of unflagging M&S quality.
Not wanting to miss out on the big bucks, manufacturers have responded by breaking into the retail industry. HKTDC officials point out how a few, well established Hong Kong manufacturers have launched retail networks with their own labels in the world's major fashion cities of New York, London, and Tokyo. Examples of these HK-grown manufacturing retailers are Bossini, Episode, G-2000, Giordano, and U-2.
In Hong Kong, the clothing industry is the third largest manufacturing employer, hiring some 19,824 workers in 1,379 establishments as of December 2008. But the former colony's clothing manufacturers have been on a steady decline in the past few years as a majority have already set up offshore production facilities to cut operational expenses.
The logical venue for these production facilities is Mainland China, the world's third largest apparel market, steadily gaining ground on Japan and recession-hit America.
Print ed: 03/10