In 2006 we introduced Throat Threads, a Canadian company which was becoming active in providing services geared to European fashion firms wanting to start selling their products in North America.
Now, 12 years later, we are revisiting Throat Threads, which, according to Profit Magazine, has become one of the fastest growing Canadian companies. We met its founder and creator, Russ Fearon, at the Project MRket show in New York and spoke with him about his business and its notable growth. And, in particular, about what makes the North American fashion market what it is, where the specific challenges lie in entering it, and those considerations which are of capital importance to a brand looking to make a successful landing in this potentially lucrative market.
We learned that success in the North American fashion market, demands that a company facilitate services for all the relevant horizontals: sales, customer service, marketing, public relations, E-commerce, drop-shipping, warehousing, logistics, in-store visuals, shops, product knowledge, merchandising, and stock replenishment. And all this must be tied together with automated data mining and analysis to yield an all-encompassing strategy that is necessary for success in today’s complex and competitive retail landscape. The implication here is that selling alone is not enough; you must have a great product and a full service intelligent engine.
A company faces many challenges when it wants to start doing business in North America. What should they consider concerning the structure of the collection, the range and relative quantities of sizes, design, pricing, and differences in the fashion mentality between North Americans and Europeans, and within North America itself? And, taking all this into account, which brands and fashion items have succeeded and are currently in demand in the North American market?
As for expanding in North America, there is a bridge that offers some great solutions. Life is timing. It is extremely important to make sure you are prepared. What I mean by timing is, research the market and thoroughly understand the competitive landscape. Does your collection/brand fill a void that is relevant for North America? As for price points, it depends upon the relevance of your brand’s fashion styling for North America. There are many significant European brands that translate well into North America and just as many that don’t seem to fit well. Engaging with a seasoned North American provider can provide critical insight to ensure that you are successful. Consider logistical hurdles, labeling requirements, production expansion, shipping capabilities, and electronic commerce compliance with major accounts, to name a few.
In many cases, European companies are unaware of the potential solutions and partners available to help them grow in North America. The best reference when potentially choosing a partner here is the retail community. Retailers want to partner with familiar, proven organizations that have all the necessary capabilities and infrastructure to succeed.
Another key component of your potential entry into this market is selecting a partner who understands the financial and logistical options. A seasoned distributor here can significantly minimize your risk and financial investment necessary to launch in North America. Another option is to hire a highly skilled and proven sales organization that has the capabilities and delivers all the necessary marketing and sales support activities.
The brands and collections that have a high probability for success in North America are the ones that address a need that is currently not being offered: a secret sauce that is resonating with the consumer. Engaging with a proven North American provider will confirm your brand’s probability of success. Suit Supply is a very successful brand with a unique approach to tailored dressing that is very focused. Their styling and pricing is very compelling with a modern edge. Canada Goose continues to be the outerwear brand of choice and are doing a great job of extended categories and new styling. Adidas has done a phenomenal job with its ultra boost and related designs. Their comfort, style and technology are at their best in that space.
Has the US fashion market changed at all under the “America First” (Trump) administration and what, if anything, do you expect to change going forward?
The only change has been the uncertainly around trade, especially regarding NAFTA. There has been a lot of talk but no significant changes at this point.
You have quite a few denim brands on your roster. What do you think about the evolution of denim, both in terms of denim fabric and garment design, as well as marketing, since you first started?
Since the premium denim phenomenon (a decade ago), there always seems to be the core denim consumer. The evolution of denim in North America seems to be based on specific looks and brand loyalty.
Which are the most popular non-denim brands you distribute and why are they popular?
Brax has amazing luxury cotton stretch fabrics from Germany and Italy that offer a fantastic, sophisticated alternative to denim
Which are the most popular denim brands you distribute and why are they popular?
John Varvatos has a great selection of denim as well as some of the best luxury men’s sportswear in the world.
In the last few years we have seen quite a few European denim brands leave the US market. For example, Replay, Miss Sixty, and Closed. Do you think this is due to a lack of appeal of the European brands to the American consumer? Or do you believe that this is rather a result of poor marketing decisions or financial/currency pressures? Or do you attribute it to other factors?
There aesthetic was better geared for the European Consumer. The Denim brands from LA are closer to the market and understand the North American consumer that much more. There price / value relationship based on the age demographic they are going after did not align. You also have power houses like Zara and Forever 21 taking up a lot of that younger space in North America with extremely good price points for that generation. Also the US denim brands have such an edge in regards to the understanding of fits, washed and marketing. As well the fact of the Made in USA gives the brand the opportunity to react quickly to the needs of the market.
Tell us about a unique experience or anything that you have found remarkable in dealing with your brands or clients, for instance, a funny story. Or a surprise – like about a brand you didn’t think would make it and then skyrocketed? Or anything that will make our readers smile? Was there ever a time when you felt ready to give up?
I was once in Nice, France having dinner and entertaining clients and I had to use the rest room at the top of a large winding staircase. I had sprinting shoes on from Nike and slipped at the top of the stairs and went head over heads but ended up landing on my feet to much applause.
How do you go about finding new clients? Or do they find you? Or both?
We are always on the lookout for new brands at tradeshows and in media like Sportswear International, seizing opportunities as we shop the world with the best retailers. We have found throughout our 25 years of business that being a successful provider to the retail community has paid great dividends. Our experience, enthusiasm and leveraging our retailer relationships are our best reference.
Do you consider your company’s core competency to be in the fashion aspect or the marketing? I.e., do you ever go back to your suppliers with recommendations based upon your observations of brand marketing and sales?
In today’s world, to be successful you need to perform at the top of your game to deliver the best results to the retail community, combining all facets of the industry: marketing, technology, brand selection, retail partners.