- Millennials are increasingly buying clothing that’s characterized by durability and utility.
- This has led to a surge of interest in brands like The North Face and Patagonia.
- With durable fashion in vogue, fast-fashion retailers, like H&M and Forever 21, that have been known for creating cheaper, more disposable clothing are likely to suffer.
These days, you’re as likely to spot a Patagonia fleece on the back of an explorer clambering their way up the side of a mountain face as you are to see it on a hipster sipping coffee in Brooklyn.
Practical fashion is in vogue, and it’s being driven by millennial customers’ desire to shop at brands that sell clothes that last longer and seem to have a purpose.
Outdoorsy labels like Patagonia and The North Face are surging in popularity. These brands have won over the hearts of customers who were psychologically scarred by the recession and have become more considered with their spending habits.
Historically, during times of economic uncertainty and social unrest, consumers will dress in more practical clothing.
“Economical or ideological climates definitely influence designers and consumers in the way they interact with fashion,” Kate Nelson Best, an expert in fashion culture and author of the 2017 book “The History of Fashion Journalism” told Quartz. “For example, after the relative freedom of style in the 1920s, the 1930s [during the Great Depression] saw a return to a more conservative style of dressing: long dresses for evening, and suits for daywear. There was a more inward-looking consciousness.”
This shift towards practical, sustainable fashion and away from the culture of buying cheap clothing from stores that jump on trends poses a big threat to fast-fashion retailers, such as H&M and Forever 21, which may offer lower prices than these brands but fall short on quality by comparison.
Here are some of the most popular utility-focused brands:
Patagonia started out in 1973 as a company that made tools for rock-climbing. As consumers increasingly crave “authentic” brands and the image of leading an outdoors lifestyle, Patagonia has exploded in popularity to become a billion-dollar business with 103 stores globally.
A spokesperson for the brand told Business Insider that sales have quadrupled in the past 10 years, but they wouldn’t divulge exact figures as it’s a private company. According to The Guardian, the company had sales of $800 million in 2016, which was twice as much as in 2010.
Part of Patagonia’s success has stemmed from its marketing itself as being anti-consumerist and encouraging customers to only buy products that last. In 2011, it ran an ad campaign that showed its R2 fleece with the words “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” explaining the environmental costs of making the fleece. The attention this ad received helped to drive an increase in sales in 2012.
“We can’t control whether or not our brand is deemed cool or uncool, and we really don’t care,” Mark Little, Patagonia’s director of men’s sportswear and surf apparel, told GQ in 2017.
The North Face
- The North Face Facebook
The North Face started off in 1966 as a mountaineering and backpacking equipment company in San Francisco. It’s since grown to offer all things you need to prepare yourself for the great outdoors, from skiwear to hiking and camping equipment.
The image of The North Face has transitioned from being a purely practical brand to one that makes a fashion statement.
“Their mainline products are seemingly so unassuming, so banal, so practical that each owner or subculture have been able to project their own identity onto those three simple curved lines and sans-serif text,” the British culture magazine Dazed wrote in 2016.
The North Face has taken off in Europe in recent years – in its parent company’s most recent quarterly results, released in February, it reported that same-store sales were up by 32% in Europe compared to the previous year. Overall, they were up by 23% in Europe in 2017.
The North Face is owned by VF Corp, the parent company of Lee, Wrangler, and Vans.
Swedish brand Fjällräven started out making backpacks for schoolchildren. Today, its well-known bags are loved by millennials across the globe. The store launched in the US in 2012 and has become one of the fastest-growing names in outdoor and lifestyle wear here.
Fjällräven prides itself on creating long-lasting products. “We’re not interested in short-lived trends,” Thomas Gröger, a member of the company’s executive board, told ISPO.com.
It has a limited turnover of clothing with two seasons a year and no collection in between. On average, a product will stay available for 14 seasons.
“Our approach to product and how it works at retail is a bit different from the industry standards. We have products that have been in the line not just for multiple seasons, but for multiple decades,” Steve Stout, vice president of retail at Fjallraven North America, told Business Insider.
The Greenland jacket has been in the collection for 50 years.
Dickies was born in 1922 and is traditionally known for its sturdy workwear.
“Every piece of Dickies workwear has stood for the quality, toughness, and pride that embodies the spirit of the American worker,” Dickies’ website reads.
The longtime family-owned business was bought by VF Corp for $820 million in 2017.
Birkenstock dates back to 1774 to a town outside Frankfurt where Johann Adam Birkenstock worked as a shoemaker. One of Johann’s descendants went on to open two shops in the late 19th century in Frankfurt, making shoes with insoles that were designed to be supportive to the foot. From here, the Birkenstock brand was born.
These comfortable, practical sandals are champions of the “ugly fashion” trend we often see today. They first appeared on the runway at Paris Fashion Week in 2012, were picked up by a whole host of celebrities including the Olsen twins, Miranda Kerr, and Miley Cyrus, and have now become a staple part of any fashionista’s wardrobe.
This has all happened without the brand having to chase trends.