Discount retailers change look of fashion industry

Joanna Dornfeld

When Teri Agins grew up in the 1960s, fashion magazines flaunted the new, up-and-coming styles.

Now, Parisian runways mean little to a nation whose tailors are Target and Wal-Mart.

Today’s shoppers frequent discount retailers because it’s difficult to differentiate between name-brand and less expensive clothing, Agins told approximately fifty students on the St. Paul campus Thursday.

That means fashion design students need to be more creative when searching for employment in a dying industry.

“Market demands are really going to determine what is valuable in this business,” said Agins, a Wall Street Journal fashion correspondent.

Fashion changed when large clothing design companies went public. To maintain investments, the companies were forced to turn a profit each quarter.

Clothing designers were forced to cater their clothing lines to what would sell rather than to foster a creative atmosphere in which some lines could fail. Every quarter must be a profitable one for public companies.

“I think it’s important that students understand the reality of business,” Agins said. “They don’t get most of this.”

The exponential growth of the fashion industry since the 1960s has stagnated. The market is saturated, and the cost of entry is high, Agins said.

Large clothing conglomerates will either go bankrupt or be forced to sell many of their smaller brand names, Agins said.

“It’s going to go back to the way it was and the way it should be,” she said.

The clothing industry will become more specialized like it was in the 1960s, Agins said. Clothing designers will carve out their own niches targeting a specific type of consumer.

“People will come up with ideas, and there will be ways to enter the market, but it will be harder,” Agins said.

Plus-sizes and maternity wear are two areas for growth, Agins said.

Graduates should work for corporations to gain experience. They should treat each work experience as part of their education, said Marilyn DeLong, design education professor.

“It gives them a real taste of reality,” DeLong said.

Successful fashion industry members began with an idea and a dream. Graduates should look to them as examples, DeLong said.

“I gained a realistic look into the economic status of fashion to come,” said Amy Kleven, senior retail merchandising major. “It was a hardcore look at where I can go in the fashion industry.”

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes your comments at [email protected]