The Great Wide Open

In a fashion landscape straying from a dominant silhouette, opportunity and uncertainty abounds as to what might fill the void.

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In a fashion landscape straying from a dominant silhouette, opportunity and uncertainty abounds as to what might fill the void.

It was bound to happen one day, right? Nothing burns at its brightest forever, not even supernovas. And if its dominant run is merely falling back to the front of the fashion pack, then it was still one hell of a run. Just think of where our industry would be without Ugg having set a furious pace during the past decade, especially when the Great Recession kicked in, and its effects have continued to linger. Ugg has been the brand thousands of retailers have banked on season after season, year after year; the “slam dunk” that actually verified. For many retailers, it was the difference-maker for staying in business. At full-price—and a premium price, to boot—Ugg has been a cash cow the likes of which some would say was never seen before because the brand appealed to such a broad audience. An A-list fashion staple that seamlessly crossed over to the masses, spanning Millennials to Boomers, Ugg has been a fashion phenomenon born out of its utilitarian attributes of comfort, versatility and ease of wear. Not to mention the silhouette’s illusion of slimming women’s legs. It was the perfect storm—in a good way.

Depending on which side of the fence you sit, the idea of Ugg becoming a staple rather than the tip of the fashion spear could be a tremendous opportunity (for competing brands and those retailers who don’t carry Ugg) or a source of financial fret (what, if anything, might fill the sales vacuum?). Selling at $150 a pair on average, one Ugg sale can equal potentially three sales of other styles. That alone could require an unrealistic increase in customer traffic. One respected retailer in the Northeast reports that Ugg sales until this fall had been humming along at 40 to 50 pairs a day, but the jury is still out for this season. A warm October hasn’t helped matters. His fear is that Ugg sales might not be as numerous in the months to come. “It’s tough. It’s a huge chunk of business to try and account for,” he laments. His advice to fellow retailers: Get creative. And that may require looking beyond shoes to help drive sales. “Our overall numbers are still up, largely because of clothing,” he states. “We have had some really hot jackets this fall.”

Beyond the stark reality of lost dollars, there’s also the question of whether a brand or a look can become as ubiquitous and massive in the age of social media. Trends now come at a dizzying pace, some going viral in days and getting quickly played as the next Internet sensation zooms into the fashion sphere. The patience to nurture and invest heavily in the latest must-have can be risky. Like a game of musical chairs, no one wants to be left holding the inventory.

A pessimist would say there will never be another Ugg-like phenomenon. The optimist would say, at the bare minimum, people aren’t going to go barefoot, so the potential always exists. In the meantime, some of the freed-up open-to-buy dollars are allowing retailers to test new brands and looks. One of the best ways to find the “next big thing” is to give new things a shot. If history is any indicator, something big will eventually come along. And it’ll likely be fueled by Hollywood celebrities, rock stars and athletes, just like Ugg, Dr. Martens and Nike were.

As big as Ugg has become, plenty of room for growth still exists for the brand. Just look at Nike as a blueprint for how a lifestyle brand can evolve from its original “Moon Shoe” jogger into a world superpower that, according to its latest internal projections, aims for its portfolio of brands to hit $36 billion annually by 2017. As Nike President and CEO Mark Parker stated: “Nike, Inc. is designed to win.” He cites the company’s strong management team, commitment to creating innovative products, delivering exciting retail experiences and improving its supply chain as the pillars that will support that epic growth. Parker didn’t allude to some secret sauce or magic spell. He cited the blocking and tackling basics that build a brand.

Based on that premise, Deckers Outdoor and its Ugg brand are just getting started. So might countless other brands. The market, as always, remains wide open.

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