U.S. Apparel Market Beginning to Show Signs of Life

According to The NPD Group, Inc., the U.S. apparel market while still in negative territory for 2009 is showing some signs of life. The total U.S. apparel market posted a 5.1% decline for all of 2009 but in the fourth quarter of the year there were some signs that the women's apparel market might be starting to recover. 

In the fourth quarter of 2009, the women's market slowed its decline and bucked the total apparel trend with only a 3% decline in that quarter. While still not positive growth, it is a sign that momentum is shifting.  "For the fashion industry this is a very important sign.  As go women shoppers, so goes the total fashion market," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc., "Women represent just over 50% of total fashion market sales and they account for almost 25% more in the purchases they make for others…without them a true recovery will not occur."

Another sign that things are moving in the right direction can be seen in other demographic breaks.

Apparel sales attributed to middle income consumers, those with incomes of $25,000 to $75,000, according to NPD's Consumer Tracking Service shows that their purchases for 2009 are even with the purchases they made last year.  "To put it in perspective," says Cohen, "the total market declined 5 percent while middle income consumers held fast. That means the recovery is beginning to show up in the apparel market for the very critical middle income consumer."

Still, however, upper income consumers and teens (with no income) are still showing the deepest declines (down 9 and 20%, respectively).

There are some important apparel categories that performed well in 2009. Those are: jeans +3.5%, dresses +2.3%, bras +1.1%, tights +2.4%, and men's underwear tops +11%.

"Don't be fooled into thinking that we are out of the woods, just yet." cautioned Cohen, "Between "frugal fatigue" and pent up demand, the consumer is spending, but we will likely see a lull in February and March as they wait for their credit card balances to recover from holiday and January sales.  Then, come the change in the weather, late March and April, consumers will likely be assessing their wardrobes and opening their wallets a little bit, again."

Research conducted by The NPD Group, February 24, 2010.  Website: www​.npd​.com.