Fashion Boom

St. Louis Post-Dispatch April 24, 2005

By Mary Jo Feldstein
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS -- Joanne Byrd needs stylish, comfortable clothes for speaking engagements, traveling and dinners out.

Despite her desire and willingness to buy, Byrd spent her 40s leaving stores disappointed and empty-handed. Then she found Chico's, the women's specialty store with its eye on the baby boomer.

"I can definitely get into trouble here," said Byrd, 54. "It's the first time I've been able to feel nice in a long time."

Smaller retail chains, including Chico's and J. Jill, are using specialty stores and catalogs to capture the $30 billion baby-boomer women's apparel market -- sending department stores and big apparel makers rushing to catch up.

Research shows that the baby boomer woman has unique needs. She'll spend more on herself now than when her clothing budget stretched to cover kids. But she's more conscious of value, comfort, fit and wearability.

"It's really a fine line," said Pam Danziger, marketing expert, author and boomer. "It has to have an edge, but it can't be the same things your daughter wears."
Why bother courting more mature ladies? Spending power.

Their children are gone, they're still working and, in some cases, they're receiving inheritances from parents. All those income streams give baby boomers a pool of discretionary income larger than any generation before, said Marti Barletta, author of "Marketing to Women" and chief executive of TrendSight Group, a marketing firm in suburban Chicago.

And because they feel younger and fitter than their mothers did at the same age, they want to spend some of that extra cash to dress better, Barletta said. She calls them PrimeTime Women.
"Baby boomer women are the No. 1, big-money opportunity for any industry but particularly for the apparel industry because so little is being done to create the kind of clothes they're looking for," Barletta said. "The concentration of spending power among PrimeTime Women is the most powerful in the mass market."

Boomer women accounted for $30.8 billion in apparel spending -- nearly double the amount Gen Xers paid for clothes -- during the 12-month period ending last June, according to NPD Group, a consumer tracking firm in Port Washington, N.Y.

Department stores still claimed the largest share of boomers' clothing dollars, but specialty stores lagged only 1.5 percent behind.

Byrd, a registered nurse, said she likes Chico's because most of the clothes don't require special care, such as ironing or dry cleaning. They also tend to have a more relaxed fit with stretchy fabrics and elastic waists. Chico's sizing chart runs 0, 1, 2 and 3.

"Not many people my age can go into a store and say, 'I'll take a size 2,' " said Byrd as she shopped at a Chico's. "The psychology of it is just great."

Byrd and other women said they also like the service at specialty shops.
Chico's, for example, holds parties for groups of 10 or more who arrange to come in before or after store hours. They also get 10 percent off on any purchases made during such events.
"We always say we have to 'Chico-fy' everything" for the target customer, said Pat Murphy

Kerstein, chief merchandising officer. "We're always making sure the garment is proportioned for her, fitted for her. She never wants to look ridiculous."

Though many retail experts consider Chico's the classic example of boomer fashion, a growing number of competitors are entering or expanding in the market.

Catalog companies, including J. Jill and Coldwater Creek, stock boomer-friendly clothes and are opening retail stores. At the higher end, Talbots and Eileen Fisher are focusing on this shopper, too.

Even discounter Target Corp. recently introduced two brands geared toward a more mature customer. And popular retailers Gap Inc., Gymboree Corp. and OshKosh B'Gosh Inc. all have plans to expand into the age 35-plus market with new specialty shops.

Although baby boomers technically include people born between 1946 and 1964, many of these retailers are targeting women age 35 and up to expand the possible customer base.

J. Jill, which has more than 150 stores has seen how this demographic can build a company -- and how the company must continue to nurture that relationship.

It's expected to be a tough year for clothing giant Kellwood as well. The company creates or markets many of the brands seen in department stores nationwide, including Briggs New York, Koret, Izod and Calvin Klein.

Chief Executive Hal Upbin said Kellwood's sweet spot long has been women 45 to 60. But its clothes weren't updated enough to satisfy baby boomer shoppers.

"We were behind," he said. "We were a little slow."

Upbin said he's not surprised that women in this age group have flocked to specialty stores, because department stores were not offering the clothes or service they were seeking.

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