Fashion industry brings sustainability into style

Filed under: Retail |

Walk into a trendy boutique and you might find a shirt made from corn, pants sewn from bamboo or a dress made from wood pulp.

It’s out with the drab organic cotton and hemp fashion and in with the seaweed and soy fabrics.

It is estimated that there are about 500 ecodesigners worldwide. Five years ago there were only 10 or 20.

Fashion magazines devote regular small photo spreads to sustainable fashion. In May, Elle was the first to devote an entire issue to green fashion, printing the magazine on recycled paper.

At Greenloop, a boutique devoted to sustainable fashion in West Linn, Ore., most of the customers who wander in are drawn by something in the window that catches their eye.

“The environmental aspect is added value,” said owner Aysia Wright.

Her online store, thegreenloop.com, however, is trafficked mainly by people deliberately searching for ecofashion. The lines that Greenloop carries, including Valenti’s Nature vs. Future and Young’s Undesigned, are “the cream of the crop,” Wright said. “They are painstakingly made by designers who are building a brand, not just on sustainability, but on image.”

Prices are about what you’d find at a high-end department store such as Bergdorf Goodman or Barneys. T-shirts cost between $17 and $180, jeans run from $70 to $200, and cocktail dresses and suits sell for up to $400.

Using organic rather than regular cotton can cost a designer up to 30 percent more, which is why so few are able to make their lines 100 percent ecofriendly.

Circuit City predicts big hit with online sales

Circuit City’s e-commerce sales are growing — due in large part to consumer response to the company’s 24/24 in-store pickup guarantee.

Customers are guaranteed that items ordered online will be ready for in-store pickup in 24 minutes or they receive a $24 gift card. This multi-channel shopping promotion has resulted in almost 60 percent of online purchases being picked up at a retail location.

Circuit City expects 2006 Web sales to top $1 billion.

“Industry growth in Web sales, plus a shift from retail to the Web, is estimated to be a $17 billion transfer over the next five years,” said Circuit City president and CEO Phil Schoonover. “We’re using the Web and direct marketing to drive profitable customer traffic to our stores. This strategy is working and creating more opportunity for Circuit City while leading the growing consumer trend of shopping online and picking up in the store.”

New franchise features edible flower arrangements

Jeff and Courtney Thornton are in the business of making floral bouquets that not only smell good, but also taste good.

The local Edible Arrangements franchise is headquartered at 1234 E. Woodmen Road Suite 110, next to Wag N’ Wash.

The couple sculpts the flowers from fruit such as cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, grapes, apples, oranges and strawberries. The strawberries, apple wedges and orange slices are dipped in chocolate.

In 2005, Edible Arrangements stores in business for 12 months had an average of $453,825 in sales. Companywide sales for 2005 were $25.8 million.

Edible Arrangements began in 1999 and signed its 500th franchise store this year.

Basic arrangements come in several sizes and range in price from $32 to $200 and can be ordered from franchise stores, by telephone or from the company’s Web site at www.ediblearrangements.com.

Some big-box retailers faring better than others

High gas prices and a deflating housing market are taking bite out of lower-end retailers’ pocketbooks. Second-quarter results suggest that luxury or higher-end chains, such as Nordstrom, suffer little, while as those led by Wal-Mart are struggling.

Nordstrom reported a 20 percent increase in net earnings on a sales rise of 7.8 percent for the second quarter. Categories that performed well for the upscale department store included intimate apparel, accessories, designer apparel, men’s apparel and cosmetics. Nordstrom also didn’t have to resort to discounting.

On Aug. 1, Coach showed a 31 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit on a 23 percent rise in sales. And in the specialty retail area, Limited Brands, said earnings per share increased 40 percent during its second quarter from year-ago levels.

On the downside, Sears Holdings, parent of big-box outlet K-Mart, managed to boost operating income despite a loss in sales year-over-year. Casual clothing retailer Gap saw net earnings drop more than 50 percent year-over-year to $128 million as comparable-store sales fell 5 percent.

High gas prices “hurt Wal-Mart more than anybody,” said George Whalin, CEO of Retail Management Consultants, because they force the mega-retailer’s lower- and middle-income customers to think twice before taking a drive. Indeed, the company recently reported its first quarterly profit decline in 10 years.

Yet retailers catering to middle-income shoppers — such as TJX, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney — showed strong results for the second quarter.

Whalin said that for the real picture of the retail environment, it’s a good idea to look at unemployment figures, which have been “historically low.”

“With people working, the implication is that they are still willing to spend regardless of higher gas prices,” he said. “That might ultimately spell bigger problems for struggling retailers such as Gap. Their problem of late is that their fashions aren’t what people want to buy.”

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.