What’s Missing in the Mall? Great Spring Fashion.

It hasn’t been an auspicious start to the Spring selling season. One after another, middle-of-the-road chain retailers have described the environment as “difficult,” blaming weather, the economy and competitive price pressures. With the exception of high-end designer/luxury brands, the message has been the same – retailers are not particularly optimistic about the first half of the year.

It’s true that unusually cold and snowy weather has hampered the early spring selling season and the economy is still struggling (particularly at the lower end).  But I believe a big part of the issue right now is a real lack of new spring fashion trends represented in stores – in fact, it feels like most retailers are playing it safe. During a recent mall visit, most stores didn’t feel very “springy” as color palettes across the mall were neutrals like beige, black & white and some navy. After a few seasons of bright colors, neons and colorblocking, this spring’s looks feel pretty blah – so it’s no wonder women aren’t buying them.

It’s not there aren’t fashion trends this season, it’s just that they are micro trends with more segmented appeal. Some of the key runway trends for spring fashion include: pastel colors (especially pink), flare skirts, high-waisted pants, crop tops, sheer pieces, active inspiration, overalls, floral prints and metallics. While most of these trends are represented at high-end luxury/designer stores, few of them are visible at women’s apparel retailers like Ann Taylor, Gap, Banana Republic, Express and even Nordstrom.  Or they are a very small portion of the assortment, with basics and neutrals overshadowing the newness. For many of these retailers, certain of these micro trends are difficult to interpret for their specific customer base – e.g., can Banana Republic sell a crop top to a 40 year-old woman? And unlike previous seasons, there is no one overarching new fashion trend that every retailer has bought into (note: for the last few years the overarching trend has been bright colors, inescapable throughout the mall and clearly conveying to the customer that it was time to buy color).

spring trends

Overalls at Urban Outfitters, courtesy of Retail Eye

Even at teen or millennial focused brands, the current trends seem tough for retailers to interpret. Even typically edgier retailers like Urban Outfitters are struggling. However, the current micro trends should actually appeal more to these younger, edgier customers – so perhaps it’s just the retailers that are having trouble identifying and sourcing the right items featuring the right trends?

It’s tough to say why retailers are struggling with spring fashion trends this season. But one thing seems clear – since retailers don’t have a strong fashion point of view for the season, it’s much more difficult to get shoppers in the buying mood.

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