IU Kelley School’s fashion index suggests a warmer spring season for apparel retailers

March 27, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Despite the cold weather and storms -- which some economists suggest have been behind the recent economic slowdown -- retailers may enjoy a hot spring season, according to the FIndex survey released today.

The FIndex is based on survey data obtained from a representative sample of CollegeFashionista’s 600 "style gurus," who report on fashion trends at college campuses around the world. Style gurus are a curated group of college-age students who possess a keen eye for new style trends in all realms of the fashion industry.

"The results indicate that product already in stores for spring is positively perceived by this influential group of millennials -- many of whom will shop early in the season to ensure they get the looks they desire," said John Talbott, associate director of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business' Center for Education and Research in Retailing.

The quarterly index, also produced by Kalypso and CollegeFashionista.com, measures consumer sentiment toward fashion trends in the apparel, footwear and accessory industry. Its purpose is to help retailers better track and understand consumer sentiment toward the innovativeness of merchandise quarter-to-quarter and more quickly identify and adopt emerging fashion trends.

Talbott said survey results also suggest good news for retailers later in the year.

"Style gurus like what they are seeing on the runways for this fall," he added. "The perception of future products is significantly more positive than the values from the holiday and back-to-school FIndex surveys, indicating that retail performance may continue on a positive note through the end of third quarter of this year."

“Our style Gurus are excited about the spring product they are seeing in stores,” said Amy Levin, founder of CollegeFashionista.com. "Additionally, Fashion Week in New York, which featured fall fashions, was also very well-received based on social media commentary from our gurus."

Talbott thinks FIndex data may help to shed light on prospective fortunes of retailer sales as the year progresses.

"Following a challenging holiday season and tough start to the year, retailers may finally have a ray of sunshine to look forward to this spring and on into the year," he said. ""Data from our study indicates that members of this group have a bit more to spend, like what they are seeing in stores and are inclined to purchase sooner rather than later."

The National Retail Federation recently acknowledged the challenge in predicting retail performance given the many weather-related issues that have plagued much of the United States this year.

In addition to indexing sentiment toward fashion for current and future seasons, the FIndex also captures data about brand preference and purchase intention by product category. According to Women's Wear Daily, the broader millennial demographic is responsible for $65 billion of retail spending in fashion category.

Those surveyed will spend their money on apparel, footwear and accessories. Technology products continue to generate little interest among those surveyed, and not a single tech product was mentioned as a spring "must have."

"While we saw a sizable jump in those fashionistas who think that fashion merchandise in store now is more innovative than last year at this time, those same fashionistas were uninspired by the level of innovation in technology products," said Steve Riordan, global retail practice leader at Kalypso.

Other findings from the first-quarter survey included:
•Zara, Topshop and Urban Outfitters were top retail brands, as measured across four factors: awareness, purchase intent, personal purchase choice and advocacy for the brand.
•Newer and emerging brands in the same survey were Brandy Melville, ASOS and H&M.
•Apparel is the largest spending category for most of the respondents, with footwear in the second spot followed by accessories. Consumer electronics are not generating much interest with this group.
•While the online sales segment continues to develop, three out of four of those surveyed indicated that their first choice was to shop in stores.
•Mobile transactions continue to grow, but mobile devices are primarily a source of information about products, not a method to acquire them.
•The Internet, mediated through mobile devices, is the primary source of information about fashion trends. Magazines are a distant second for this group.

The style gurus also identified key "must have" items for this spring. Some of the more important items are represented in the image of a style guru attending the University of Connecticut. While brand information is included, more general fashion information is shown in bold type. The "must have" items include:
•Thin gold bracelet with pastel green stone (Tai)
•Cat-eye sunglasses (Marc by Marc Jacobs)
•Chelsea boots (Jeffrey Campbell)
•White leather jacket (Blank Denim)
•Neon floral crop top (Bailey44)
•Black leather skater skirt (Blank Denim)
•Black nylon hobo bag (Marc by Marc Jacobs)