Clothing serves a number of purposes to different people, but two of the primary purposes are:
1) a means of protection (protection against the elements, protection from going to jail for public nudity, etc.; all in all, a practical purpose)
2) an outlet by which one can express him or herself and a means by which one can feel good about him or herself
Though there are no viable alternatives to clothing when it comes to the “protection” aspect, executives in the movie, music, tech, media, sports, and other industries are constantly looking for products, shows, and services that displace clothing with respect to the second of the two purposes it fills. Leaders in these other industries are constantly searching for things that fill the role that clothing currently fills for so many of us: making us feel good. And for good reason too.
The latter of the two purposes that clothing fills drives the majority of sales (~80% in fact) in the $1.1 trillion global apparel market. Put in other terms, $880 billion is spent each year on clothing that is bought just to make us feel good and/or express ourself.
But this battle has been going on since the concept of discretionary income was invented (so, pretty much, since forever). And it wouldn't be fair to characterize the battle as the apparel industry vs. all because in truth, it's a battle that each industry (media, entertainment, sports, tech, and apparel) is facing.
Given all of the history, it's probably worth asking, what is new and newsworthy then?
The answer: the apparel industry is losing, particularly among one of its key demographics, like never before and that should scare the hell out of apparel industry execs because that key demographic is the future of the industry.
Who are these ever so important people? Teens.
Teens are a big part of our economy today (including ~15% of U.S. apparel sales) but more importantly, they are a huge part of our future economy. They will comprise our future workforce and they'll be the backbone of our economy one day. Furthermore, what they value and what they spend on will have a huge impact on the future of companies and even entire industries.
So, when reports come out saying that apparel sales among teens are lower, those in the apparel industry needn't necessarily worry. It could just be attributed to overall economic conditions, their parents economic situations, etc. But when reports come out that apparel sales are lower and attitudes/sentiments towards clothing, particularly versus other forms of entertainment/leisure/outlets of self expression/self validation, those in the apparel industry should start to worry.
Furthermore, when it is discovered that the industry displacing clothing in terms of $ market share is large and growing, those in the apparel industry should freak the fuck out. So, to those in the apparel industry: now's the time to freak the fuck out.
Particularly because technology, which has displaced clothing as “cool” is, as stated before, only growing. Growing in its ubiquity. Growing in function. Growing in features. Growing in the importance/role that it plays in people's lives. And growing in its ability to satisfy the needs of people that clothing once filled.
And while this all sounds a little hypothetical and conspiracy theory-esque, I assure you, it's real. Just go out an talk to some teens. They are obsessed with Snapchat, Instagram, and other social apps. Usage and engagement stats for these apps are insane and will give you some sense of just how tech crazed teens are. Also, take a look at this NY Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/
But, despite all of this the apparel industry has a chance to revamp itself and adapt to the times. Tomorrow we'll discuss just how they can go about doing so. Stay tuned.