Function over form

retail products - style and functionality

This week we consider the increase in demand for clothing which delivers a winning blend of style and cutting edge functionality – a trend particularly resonant among active, male apparel consumers.

In recent years, a number of fashion and accessories brands have made a success of integrating functional benefits into products. Brands leading on these enhanced features have taken a range of approaches, from making marginal improvements to the humble sock, to incorporating ingenious new features into everyday items. Brands such as Lululemon have even gone as far as creating new categories (see below), helping generate like-for-like in-store sales growth despite today's challenging retail climate.

We highlight here some of the brands capitalising on their functional credentials:

Marginal gains

US brand Bombas (seen above), has refreshed the humble sock to include features such as honeycomb arch support and enhanced cushioning. These marginal improvements to a simple, everyday product may seem an unlikely driver of value. However, this mono-category, direct-to-consumer brand has sold c. 17 million pairs of socks since 2013, and last year achieved annual sales of $50m. With a wholesale agreement recently signed with Nordstrom, the brand has plans to grow sales to $500m to $1bn within 5 years.

Prominent features

Other brands have made their mark by completely re-engineering products to solve specific consumer problems.

Labfresh has made its cotton t-shirts and shirts `life-proof' – stain, crease and odour resistant. Their efforts to combat these commonly reported frustrations resonated strongly with consumers – their Kickstarter campaign received 10x the requested funds, becoming the biggest Dutch fashion project on the platform.

Similarly, Australian wallet maker Bellroy has used clever design to drastically reduce the size of the average bulging wallet. The brand enjoys an enviably low returns rate of c. 0.6% and an average order value of AUD 140, suggesting shoppers are buying multiple items in a single order, and then holding onto them.

New opportunities

Lululemon has succeeded in creating a new category of `commuter-wear'. Products include tailored chinos with features such as reflective turn ups, added lycra and no gape pockets, meaning these garments are appropriate for both the bike and the office. The expansion from female yoga-wear into menswear, and specifically commuter-wear, has helped drive its 21% year-on-year sales growth across both bricks and clicks: direct to consumer sales rose 44% last year and the brand has seen double-digit like-for-like store sales growth for the past 4 quarters.

Where next?

It is clear that the health and wellness trend is here to stay. As we all strive to combine these priorities with busy everyday lives, the role of cleverly designed stylish, yet fit for purpose clothing has a key role. Integration of sports-style functionality and health-focused tech is a natural and commercially sound evolution. Adding value to garments through innovative solutions, for example, to improve posture, circulation or monitor health and fitness, will increasingly drive sales.

Alex Cook