10 Plays For Success In Apparel And Footwear

Many apparel and footwear companies are struggling in the US in spite of high consumer confidence and a strengthening economy. Too many headlines are eulogies for once-formidable brands and stores.

To understand the trends and figure out how best to address them, we have carried out an extensive literature review, conducted a survey on consumer shopping habits, and held numerous interviews with leaders across the apparel spectrum – from low-cost to luxury and from brands to multi-brand retailers.

Our main conclusion: In the past, apparel and footwear companies enjoyed strong, easily defensible positions. A company first developed a brand and products that connected with consumers, then built out a store network to sell them – or else used an established channel such as department stores. With this footprint established, it was relatively straightforward to attract shoppers who were already heading to malls and shops. But today, that model is crumbling, and competition is increasing, as consumers change and the industry responds.

To help clients navigate this uncertain competitive environment, we identified 10 actions – or plays – from our analysis that will dramatically raise the chances of success for apparel and footwear companies over the coming years.


Stephanie Tuttle Answers 3 Questions
  • 1How did you come up with the 10 Plays?

    We looked at the consumer and industry trends impacting the apparel market, which gave us insight into the pressures on retailers. We examined who was succeeding and who was struggling in order to identify some of the key differences between the “winners” and “losers.” We also conducted a consumer survey on shopping journeys and preferences, in addition to testing our ideas extensively with experts working in the industry. All of these insights helped us to identify the “plays” we think will make the difference between success and failure in apparel.

  • 2Are apparel companies innovating enough to keep up with consumers evolving shopping habits?

    We are certainly seeing a lot of exciting innovation in apparel. However, a lot of this innovation (and therefore growth) is coming from relatively new players, who have really nailed one or more of the 10 plays, rather than traditional apparel incumbents. For example, off price retailers have done a great job of providing a value strategy (Play 7) that resonates with consumer. At the other end of the spectrum, digitally-native vertically-integrated brands (e.g., Bonobos and Allbirds) have truly built a compelling brand experience (Play 2).

  • 3How do you suggest companies evaluate their current positioning against each of the 10 plays?

    One of the biggest mistakes apparel companies could make would be to continue to only compare themselves to their traditional competitive set. More than likely, the real challengers are going to be coming from unexpected areas. So, when companies are evaluating their current positioning on each of the 10 Plays, they should make sure they are really looking at best-in-class examples. Of course, not all companies need to excel in all 10 Plays. Once companies have a realistic point of view on where they stand today, they need to prioritize in order to shape the company they want to become.

10 Plays For Success In Apparel And Footwear