28 June, 2003
The connection of style and function provides for impulses in the market. As a result of that, a new clothing segment can develop. New target groups and new materials drive the change. To take advantage of these chances, a strategic design management with the integration of product development, communication and distribution is necessary.
By Joachim Schirrmacher (Summary)
A paradigm change initiates itself in clothing. The traditional industry is becoming more and more obsolete because of changing values. Today customers look for comfort and function with style: wellness clothing, attractive outfits for the Best Ager or travel wear for business nomads.
Tension from crossover
In fashion, tension results from crossover —as well as in science, where new things develop particularly in interdisciplinary teams. The most important segments is the connection between function and fashion, sport and style. The trend researcher Matthias Horx said, “During the day I am in a business, in a sport and in a casual situation. I wait ardently for the day when I can run in my suit in a few years. High-quality sportive basic fashion is the attempt to design these transitions.”
A look into the wardrobes also confirms that the racing cyclist and the businessman are not two different target groups, they are often one person. Also the study ”BBE Consumer vision: Clothing purchase of the future” points out: “Sport clothes are often purpose-alienated from many customers in the everyday.”
No wonder that today’s customers expect their clothes to be, wind and water-resistant, casual, uncomplicated, moisture management, easily drying and wash-and-wear. That is also confirmed by a representative survey of “Bundesverband des Deutschen Einzelhandes (BTE).” In a time of apparently exhausted business models and stagnating turnovers, this possibility shows up—theoretically. Because while industry and trade do not find customers for their goods, the customers do not find the goods they are looking for. Obviously the majority of the fashion industry has ignored the trend for function on material and cut and has focused completely on style and pattern. Do they fear that their label could be defined differently? Do they remain defensive? Because apart from their brandnames there is “intel inside” – next to Marc O’Polo would be Gore-tex?
In sports there are only few labels which combine function and style in an good way (Arc’teryx, The North Face, Salomon, Mountain Hardware or Vaude). Above all, the sports trade does not have the feeling for fashion. While fashion is looking for future clothing on look and cut, sports settles primarily on function. A connection between the two worlds to produce uncomplicated clothing is missing. Hedi Slimane pointed out this style in 1999, as he expressed his approach with Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. He spoke from “informal Prêt-a-Porter de Couture, a balance between elegance and sportswear with a moment that is very fashion.” This style, completed by comfort and function, best defines “Active Couture”.
Best Agers are looking for comfort and function
Not only is a new clothing segment developing, but the focus on target groups is also shifting. So far fashion followed the youth. But the largest crossover potential of style and function in regards to number, purchasing power and interest is the Best Ager. The generation of 68 is still young in their heads, are often good looking and retain good figures, despite their age. They are voguish and interested, but find nothing to wear. Also people who retire nowadays are sometimes fitter than 30 year olds, and they are juvenescent in their heads. Another target group, Travelers, are also looking for lightweight, multi-functional, comfortable and informal clothes without looking like they want to climb Mount Everest.
High tech from nature
The most important impulse comes from new materials, which was not conceivable three years ago. However: With high-priced function textiles, not everything that shines is gold. Nature textiles are often better, particularly with endurance sports. Whether “new” materials like poplar seed fiber, algae or a new fiber from corn rice or potatoes, once again discovered materials like hemp or cotton, which receives more performance.
The largest potential comes from wool. It brought amazing results in a test of a recognized research institute. The material-mix from 66 per cent polyester and 34 per cent merino cools the body two degrees lower than 100% polyester. And absorbers approximately 30 per cent fewer sweat.
Above all, the combination of wool with function textiles appears interesting: “Nature textiles combined with function becomes more and more important,” determines Yvonne Bissegger, product manager of Mammut. As one of the few small outdoor brands, Canada’s “Arc’teryx” has featured the product “Diplomat” in its line since 2001. It combines cashmere loden with a windstopper membrane. The jacket looks like Prada, but is also weather-suited and therefore suitable for both sports and city.
The new clothing segment offers a multiplicity of choices. To realize them is however much more complex than it is with previous clothing. The designer who puts only a little function in his collection, or styles a few functional parts, does not achieve great success. Not only does the outside form determine the design, but the intervention into the system where the product is placed. ”Design means draft not figure,” wrote Lucius Burckhardt, whose essay ”Design is invisible” set standards. It requires the conception, planning and reflection of social and economic, cultural and political processes as well as the consideration of ecological and technical data to develop products successfully and meaningfully. Therefore, the integration of product development, communication and distribution is necessary. It is all about strategic design management.
A new way of communicated is needed to promote the qualities of complex textiles, which can do more and cost more. “What the customer doesn’t know won’t hurt him” which makes the whole expenditure in vain. It’s quite difficult to get an overview with such variety at novelties and material innovations, specialists can hardly tell what is useful and what are pseudo innovations on the market. In addition comes a tremendous huddle of brands. For Gore-tex alone, there are more than 65 comparable competitors! Who really knows about all the hyped functions and their differences? Who can tell the customer what’s exactly the best thing for which situation?
Present and explain
The trade decides what is successful and what not. But 90 per cent of the energy vanishes on the way from trade to customer. With the exceptions of Strech, Gore tex and Outlast, function in general has not been accepted within menswear; that is the experience of Bugatti. So in store communication is missing. Communication does not mean more expensive ads, even more POS-material or events. It means an outstanding informed salesman who is a specialist. Only he is capable to select the information which is important for the customer’s purchasing decision.
To be able to use the new, the dogmatic borders between sports and fashion have to be overrunned, which are particularly in the heads. In order to assure that a segment emerges from a trend that can resist broad change on a long-term basis, the target groups, as well as feeling and knowledge for the numerous functions is needed.
The best from two worlds
It’s not about bare styling of products. It’s about shaping new business models, as well as strategic design management.
For my wardrobe, I require the connection between fashion and function: plain in the look, noble in the material. In addition, my clothes must be practical, flexible, wash and wear, crease resistant, easy to combine, lightweight, small luggage measure, breathe-actively, water-rejecting and windblocking. Likewise for the job, long journeys as also suitable for the active recovery . From the desk to the bicycle, from the suit-case to the press conference. The noble casual look of Giorgio Armani, the fantastic wool fabrics of Ermenegildo Zegna combined with the high tech of Gore, Schoeller & Co. The best from two worlds: Active Couture.
Translation: Daniel Kugler (Munich), Bob Yehling (New York)
Volvo Car Cooperation (Ed.) Volvo Sports Design Forum 03 – New Materials and Technologies”, Munich 2003, p. 14 – 15 (Conference documentation)
Quod vide: Sportbiz 3/2002: “Active versus Passive”, p. 36 – 39 (German)
Style in Progress 3/2003: “Das Beste aus zwei Welten”, p. 71 – 76 (German)