We look at the growth of retro, couture and adult-led collections.
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The licensed apparel sector is worth some £442 million in the UK, according to the NPD Licence Tracker (12 months to September 2009). Despite that being a pretty healthy number, the category was one of the worst hit by the closure of Woolworths – indeed this partly contributed to a 16 per cent decrease from 2008 for the sector – but, with a wave of interest from new retailers and some high profile deals having gone through already this year, the category is well placed to bounce back in 2010.

“There’s been a well documented shift towards an increased amount of product stocked in the grocers since the downfall of Woolworths,” says Cassie Allen, licensing manager at BBC Worldwide. “Retro brands have opened doors to entertainment retailers such as HMV and Sainsbury’s TU is also another retailer we’ve been working with, which is growing quickly in terms of licensed clothing.”

Alan Fenwick, VP of Turner CN Enterprises, agrees that the grocers are now selling more and more apparel in the UK: “We have also been working with New Look to create some higher end products and also some retro t-shirts. Licensed product isn’t just for the mass market though. From Primark through the catwalk designers, licensed characters are being incorporated into design. It’s a massive evolving opportunity.”

“M&S, Next and Bhs seem to be leading the way on the High Street,” adds Sandra Arcan, senior manager, apparel, gifts and home furnishings at 4Kids. “We have also been working with retailers such as New Look, Topshop and H&M, which are increasingly stocking fashion interpretations of licensed daywear and nightwear, spanning both adult and kids demographics.”

In terms of styles, retro has been massively prominent over the past year or so. Warner Bros Consumer Products, which has enjoyed huge success with its superhero lines across the UK and in Europe, believes that the economic climate has inspired the trend for nostalgia brands and this will continue to grow.

“One of the great things about retro brands is that they continue to generate interest,” continues BBCW’s Allen, who has recently secured a deal with Blackstone Designs for EastEnders apparel, and has also seen success in this area for Doctor Who and Only Fools and Horses.

“Important anniversaries provide great platforms for them, really increasing both awareness and demand. Our EastEnders t-shirts, for example, have been signed to coincide with the show’s 25th anniversary. The nostalgic feelings towards brands, which essentially position them as ‘retro’ are always being refreshed and renewed. Everyone has brands that mean a lot to them and these continue to emerge with every generation. We saw a really positive response towards our Teletubbies tween products, for example, which are targeted at those who grew up with the brand.”

Two other retro brands currently making a strong impact include Sesame Street and Peanuts, both handled by CPLG in the UK. The 40th anniversary celebrations for Sesame Street last year helped boost apparel sales significantly – indeed, it was one of Bravado’s top ten selling character licences in 2009. Most recently, CPLG category director Tim Juckes secured a two-year direct to retail deal for the brand with Marks & Spencer, with nightwear, essentials, hosiery, daywear, swimwear and accessories hitting UK stores. The apparel category will also be key for Peanuts – one of Bravado’s brands to watch this year, incidentally - in 2010, as the brand marks its 60th birthday.

On the subject of DTRs, both Allen and 4Kids’ Arcan agree that these are a great way to boost a licensing campaign.

“They create fantastic PR and build awareness,” Arcan points out. “For well established brands it can be a way to create a differentiated collection and provides an opportunity to try new ‘looks’, which have the stamp of that particular retailer’s style.”

Allen adds: “Moving forward we’re looking to work with more direct to retail deals. We’ve had success with Mothercare, which saw us develop home and travel items that fitted with the store’s core product. It’s important to maintain a healthy balance between these deals and traditional licensees.”

After the success of the Disney Couture line, there’s also been a move towards the creation of higher end apparel collections. Nickelodeon recently revealed it is considering a Spongebob by Spongebob line, while Arcan says 4Kids is currently looking at couture range opportunities for Korean fashion brand Chicaloca.

“I think you’ll see more and more high-end licensed apparel, but you need a strong property behind it, a property that’s known already,” offers TCNE’s Fenwick. “I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘how much money do I get from these?’ for the licensees, it’s more a matter of marketing, PR and a vehicle to drive brand awareness. We have had a very strong high-end range of Powerpuff Girls products for a number of years and have worked with some of the leading designers in Spain and Italy. High-end partnerships are something that we’ll be very open to when developing the Cartoon Network Originals apparel programme.”

Another trend which has been emerging for a while, are that more adults are now buying licensed character apparel for themselves.

“Just look at the High Street, licensed apparel is prolific,” states Jay Young, VP creative at WBCP EMEA. “There is a character and licence for everyone and presented correctly it’s a viable fashion option for the majority of consumers.”

Fenwick agrees that you only have to walk down the High Street to see that adults are buying licensed apparel for themselves: “We noticed that the limited edition Johnny Bravo and IR Baboon t-shirts we created sold very quickly; we put this down to good styling and also the kids who watched Cartoon Network when we launched are now at university, and these designs have a retro chic feel to them, as well as being fun. Right property, right application, right retailer, right price, then licensed apparel is an attractive option for the adult sector.”

Moving forward then, where is any future growth for the licensed apparel category going to come from?

“We’re expecting significant growth in adult licensed apparel, as well as an increasing focus on retailers and grocers, through improved direct relationships,” says BBCW’s Allen.

“Retailers will always want elements of exclusivity which helps drive sales, but I think there will be an interesting market for print on demand products,” chips in TCNE’s Fenwick.

4Kids’ Arcan, meanwhile, believes we could see different types of retailers increasing their licensed apparel: “I also think that some of the supermarkets that have previously not invested as much in the sector will focus more on this area. We might also see more licences appearing for lingerie ranges.”


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