Despite relaxing dress codes, neckwear remains integral to the menswear market. Here’s how labels are building brand awareness and more importantly, sales.
Men’s style is getting more casual than ever. Just recently, financial services firm J.P. Morgan relaxed its dress code, allowing employees to ditch their suits in favour of tie-less ensembles like button-down shirts under smart knitwear.
Meanwhile, the so-called “athleisure” trend is gaining steam, with brands like Outdoor Voices collaborating with A.P.C. (founder Jean Touitou happens to be an investor in the label). In fact, the global activewear market is set to garner $83 billion in sales by 2020, according to a report by Morgan Stanley.
What does that mean for the tie? We examine the current state of the neckwear market (valued at around $850 million in 2013) in our latest report, The Future of Neckwear, which is viewable to subscribers.
According to Allyson Lewis, president of The Tie Bar, a Chicago-based direct-to-consumer men’s furnishing business, there are still plenty of men buying neckwear for work, as well as “customers that shop for a variety of occasions.” The Tie Bar sells its neckwear for $19, and offers everything from standard wovens to silk knits, and bow ties in a variety of solid colours and conversational prints.
“Since we came in the market, customers see they can get the same quality as a $95 tie for $19. It’s changed the way they think about price,” says Lewis. “The price point encourages them to try a wide range of different things.”
Indeed, Lewis says that neckwear is an ideal way for trend-reticent men to try out more directional prints or bolder colours. She notes that unique fabrications and textures do especially well, with burgundy and stripes gaining traction in terms of colour and pattern.
Ties also provide an ideal platform to branch out into related categories. The Tie Bar will introduce a complementary shirting line in October, consisting of 11 semi-spread collar shirts made of a non-iron fabric. The price is commensurate to their tie offerings, at $55 a shirt.
In addition, storied British accessories brand Drake’s plans to introduce a full apparel line this season under creative director Michael Hill, consisting of tailored sport coats, selvedge denim, and chinos. It’s a natural progression for the brand, which acquired Somerset shirting factory Rayner and Sturges in 2013.
The accompanying lookbook—the label’s first—features young model Eshan Kali and older creative Jason Jules, conveying the message that classic menswear is cross-generational.
Similarly independent labels, like Agyesh Madan’s Stoffa, Niyi Okubuyejo’s Post Imperial, and Emil and Sandy Corsillo’s The Hill-Side all began with accessories before branching out into other categories. Of course in the menswear world, Ralph Lauren is the most famous example.
The Hill-Side and Post Imperial represent an alternative approach to classic menswear, informed by global traditions and artisanal notions of craft. The Hill-Side specialises in rare Japanese fabrics and prints, while Post Imperial reconciles Okubuyejo’s Nigerian roots with his taste for tailored clothing.
“I think there’s a shift in attitudes in what a tie represents,” says Okubuyejo. “Now people are buying ties either for novelty, or to dress more casual.”
Indeed, most of Post Imperial’s product may not fly in formal settings, but offers a smart approach to off-duty dressing. It’s known for trousers, blazers, and ties featuring an “Adire” treatment, a rare dyeing process developed by the Yoruba tribe in southwest Nigeria. The result is handpainted patterns and imperfect stripes that convey the same wabi-sabi appeal of The Hill-Side’s Japanese indigo-dyed offerings.
“With globalization, exchange of ideas is bound to happen, and with exchange of ideas comes new creation,” explains Okubuyejo.
Both labels offer ties with unconventional blades. The Hill-Side often opts for a square tip, sometimes with a selvedge end. Post-Imperial utilizes a frayed end, further contributing to the lived-in appeal. This new breed of directional neckwear speaks to a consumer that wears neckwear occasionally, and seeks unique product that stands out during ceremonies like weddings or more casual workplaces.
But with cultural sampling comes the need to pay homage to the originators of artisan traditions, cautions Okubuyejo.
“When you’re borrowing, you have to cite where the original source is from—that’s always been important for me.”
Stoffa’s Agyesh Madan sees plenty of success with Stoffa’s knit ties in Asia, where they’re vastly outperforming his traditional woven twill products. There are still plenty of regions that place an emphasis on classic men’s dressing, which are outlined in the report.
But Madan also sees growth through embracing the “phygital” realm that bridges online direct-to-consumer labels with physical retail spaces. Stoffa hosts pop-ups at stores around the world, where customers can be measured for his made-to-order trousers and suede outerwear, as well as buy the accessories in person. From this, he’s seen 80% of visitors buy something at the trunk show, and another 50% make an online purchase following their visit.
The Tie Bar is executing a similar strategy. What began as a three-month pop-up shop in Chicago became a permanent retail store because it was so successful. It’s experiencing a high growth in sales through online orders placed on iPads inside the store.
The company is planning more pop-ups in cities where the online consumer is robust, coinciding with the debut of its shirting program.
“I think it’s a great way for us to bring the brand to life,” adds Allyson Lewis.
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