Credit crunch hits high street fashion sales

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The Independent Online

New research suggests that the pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap ethos of the British high street may finally be on the way out. With more than one in three women now unable to justify the cost of keeping up with the latest fashions, the carousel of constantly changing collections – composed of cheap, disposable items – could soon grind to a juddering halt.

The findings of the market research company Mintel point to a growing demand for good-quality clothing, a trend that can be seen in the current renaissance of mid-market brands such as Jigsaw and Whistles. Under the stewardship of the former Topshop style guru Jane Shepherdson, Whistles' much-anticipated new collection has been lauded by fashion magazines, selling out in stores across the country.

"I don't think it's any big surprise that the trend for disposable fashion turned out to be disposable itself," said Leisa Barnett, fashion editor of Vogue.com.

"The credit crunch means that people are moving away from the kind of frivolous excess that goes along with fast fashion and choosing their purchases more wisely" she said.

It may appear counter-intuitive, but it seems that cash-strapped women are increasingly willing to buy more expensive clothes, feeling that they offer better value for money in the long term. Mintel's researchers found that there has been a distinct shift towards buying fewer goods, but "trading up" to more expensive purchases.

For a clear example of this, one need look no further than the US brand Banana Republic, whose stylish basics have been flying out of London's Regent Street shop since the doors opened in March, so much so that the store had no need of a summer sale, moving straight from full-priced summer clothes to its autumn range. Meanwhile the label's lower-priced sister shop, Gap, has seen a steady decline.

Mintel pointed to Gap, Next and BHS as the brands most likely to struggle in the coming months. It is thought that retailers such as Primark are so cheap that they will continue to attract customers on lower incomes, even if more affluent consumers defect, while brands such as Gap will struggle to hold on to middle-income customers.

"Customers are turning to the mid-market from both ends of the market spectrum," agrees Louise Trotter, creative director of Jigsaw. "At the designer end, customers are questioning why clothing should cost the earth, and at the lower end they are increasingly giving consideration to the impact of disposable, cheaply manufactured clothes."

Ethical and environmental concerns have also played a part in bringing about this change among British consumers – with worries over sweatshop workers and the tonnes of waste heading to landfill every year, it is no longer "cool" to boast about how cheap a purchase was.

"I personally feel that that kind of addictive spending seems rather wasteful now, and I am tending to make more considered purchases," said Jane Shepherdson, chief executive of Whistles.

This desire for longevity is also seen in the growing call for shops to stock more "classic" items – a third of women surveyed by Mintel said that they wished that shops stocked more timeless styles.

"Customers are turning to quality and looking for investment items. It is all about having a great white shirt, a quality coat, a fab pair of riding boots and a well-cut pair of trousers, instead of cheaper disposable items," Ms Trotter said.

The development of mid-range brands has also been linked to the increasing demand for stylish fashion for older women, an area that has been earmarked for growth in coming years.

"Labels traditionally associated with the over-45 age bracket – such as Marks & Spencer, Jaeger, Wallis and Principles – are all producing more directional collections each season, as well as targeted capsule collections of luxury staples, which is probably what their customer base has been crying out for for a long time," Ms Barnett said.

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