The UK and the Luxury Footwear Market: An Analysis of Factors for Change in the Fashion Industry

The UK and the Luxury Footwear Market: An Analysis of Factors for Change in the Fashion Industry

The alarming financial crisis being experienced worldwide has changed the landscape of social, political, and economic activity, due to the decrease in financial capabilities and resources.  Consumer buying habits have been redefined and modified to fit lifestyle changes and downsizing has become the trend for many.  Value for money is the mantra of most people, and major purchases such as homes and cars are now met with longer decision-making processes that often result in postponement or cancellation.  In the midst of these necessary measures made to counteract the substantial decline in income, jobs, and opportunities, it is logical to expect the luxury goods industry to suffer a greater loss compared to its mass-market or mid-level counterparts; however, the performance of luxury brands belies this thinking. 
Luxury has always been equated with quality, and during these times of thoughtful spending, consumers have apparently shifted from impulsive buying to well-planned purchases.  This clearly means going for the brand or product that will last longer and will stay in fashion for a more significant amount of time, as opposed to consumer goods born out of current trends.  This phenomenon is observed worldwide, particularly in the U.K.

The U.K. Fashion Industry and the Credit Crunch

One undeniable proof of U.K. fashion consumers’ relative lack of concern regarding financial issues is 2008’s last-quarter London Fashion Week, where luxury brand designers showcased their collections before huge audiences of fashion buyers and celebrities.  Iconic British fashion names such as Paul Smith, Julien Macdonald, and Vivienne Westwood paraded their designs to the tune of substantial wholesale orders.  Buyers were noted as saying that accessories such as bags and shoes were easiest to sell compared to clothes, with the pattern continuing all the way from the U.K. to the Middle East (Motevalli 2008).  A huge part of the general demand for luxury bags and shoes still comes from celebrity endorsement, such as actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s unabashed association with Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos in the defunct television programme Sex and the City, the effects of which can still be observed to this day (Bainbridge 2008).  Most particularly, the high-heeled shoe for women has become even more popular during the recession era compared to its more functional counterparts.

It is apparent how luxury brands are being pushed to the front of market demand in the face of dwindling funds, because of their representation of quality and status; such is the consumer buying trend seen in past periods of poor economy, since people are more mindful of both appearance and value.

Primark and the Arrival of Sensible Fashion

Luxury is almost always equated with quality, but not necessarily with sensibility and function.  Most importantly, luxury is meant for those who have the financial capacity to afford it, which refers to a relatively small percentage of the total market.  In this light, the needs of the less financially capable are addressed by brands that fall short of the luxury stamp yet are good enough to make their marks on the fashion map.  One such entity is Primark, which has made a name for itself for its low-cost, high-fashion goods.  The budget chain is known for creating clothing and accessories ‘inspired’ by those worn by celebrities, that they sell at popular prices.  However, this kind of success does not sit well with veterans of the fashion industry; Primark, as opposed to the luxury brands it espouses to emulate, is more concerned with bulk sales than actual fashion, which translates to cheaply-made merchandise and growing problems with copyright infringement (Gelb 2005).  But for the budget conscious consumer, the Primark strategy is the answer to his or her fashion needs; in fact, the chain has reported a four percent growth in the last year, and has expanded from the U.K. to several European countries (Hawkes and Gilmore 2008).

Internet Shopping and the Youth

2008 was a stellar year for online shops selling fashion items, with sales up by over thirty percent.  In particular, footwear gained a thirty-eight percent increase in online sales, whereas its performance in physical stores is on the downtrend.  This shows how consumers react to financial issues by leveraging on convenience (BBC 2008), which can be appropriated by both luxury and mass-market brands.  Possibly one of the most influential consumer groups engaged in this style of shopping is the youth, owing to their affinity with technology-based procedures.

Many of today’s teenagers have definite tastes for luxury brands, particularly those that appeal to their desires such as brands like Apple, Nike, and others, and are wont to abuse credit just to own these products (Womack 2005).  Much of this appeal lies in the branding strategies used, which allows luxury brands to target the youth notwithstanding their financial capacities; among these consumers, possession is foremost over reason.  The Nike brand has been successful at targeting teenagers through the concept of sports and celebrity, thus acquiring significant sales of its limited shoe editions and other high-priced styles.

Conclusion

The U.K. fashion industry, unlike its American counterpart, is more inclined toward promoting style as a way of life; this is clear in the successes of noted British brands that have channeled their way into other cultures while still carrying their distinct personalities.  Most of these brands are of the luxury category, which is necessary to maintain the kind of exclusivity and image already established.  But the advent of Primark and its ilk, as well as internet shopping, have greatly diminished the assumed individuality of British luxury brands; the credit crunch may be to blame in this case.  However, luxury brands still have their own power in such financial crises, as more and more consumers—usually outside the U.K., such as Dubai and Japan—turn to them to maintain status, privilege, and quality.  Thus the best ways to achieve change in the industry is to keep individuality above all issues pertaining to financial issues, and promote British fashion without going the Primark route.  The youth appears to be the best target for this objective, due to their predilection toward fashion brands that appeal to their desires and sensibilities.

 

Bibliography

 

Bainbridge, J.  2008, ‘Sector Insight:  Footwear—Down at heel as prices decline’,

Marketing Magazine, [Online] Available at http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/news/786629/Sector-Insight-Footwear—Down-heel-prices-decline/

 

BBC.  2008, ‘UK internet shopping on the rise’, BBC, [Online] Available at

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7512779.stm

 

Gelb, M.  2005, ‘Primark—king of no-frills fashion’, BBC, [Online] Available at

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4466986.stm

 

Hawkes, S. and Gilmore, G.  2008, ‘Primark cashes in on the credit crunch’, The Times,

[Online] Available at

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/retailing/article4709535.ece

 

Motevalli, G.  2008, ‘Credit crunch no big deal at London Fashion Week’, Reuters.com,

[Online] Available at http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSLJ895020080919

 

Womack, S.  2005, ‘Britain’s cash-illiterate teenagers—they know the cost of an

iPod but not a pint of milk’, Telegraph, [Online] Available at

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1483556/Britains-cash-illiterate-teenagers—they-know-the-cost-of-an-iPod-but-not-a-pint-of-milk.html

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