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How Fashion Is Targeting the Travel Rebound

Brands are investing in resortwear and opening more stores in tourist destinations as summer vacations return.
Ulla Johnson's 2021 resort and swimwear collection.
Ulla Johnson's 2021 resort and swimwear collection. Ulla Johnson

After a year of cancelled trips and staying at home, travel is back.

Seven in 10 Americans are eager to book a vacation, according to a recent Nielsen survey, as summer vacation commences alongside vaccination distribution. And fashion brands, anticipating a blockbuster summer travel season, are investing in vacation and swimwear and opening new stores in travel destinations.

“What we’ve been hearing from [our customer] is that she’s thinking of getting away this summer and is eager to buy beachwear and getaway clothes that are fashionable and fun,” said Anu Narayanan, the chief merchandising officer of Anthropologie, which just opened a pop-up inside a hotel on the Jersey Shore.

Sales from travel shopping have always been a big source of revenue for fashion, particularly for luxury brands. Stores located in major tourist destinations suffered tremendously during the pandemic, but even as travel resumes, the landscape of travel shopping is shifting. It will be a while before Chinese tourists, once the linchpin of travel retail, start travelling internationally again in the same numbers, making domestic travellers and locals more of a priority for brands.

To meet today’s trends, brands are looking beyond the airport duty-free shop. Some are opening pop-up shops at popular vacation destinations in the US, gearing up for a boom in domestic travel. Others are turning last year’s vacation pop-ups into permanent storefronts. They aren’t just preparing for the 2021 summer season: with the corporate work structures changing, so are vacation habits. Experts believe vacation destinations will now attract year-round traffic — making an already important sector even more vital for brands.

The Appetite for Vacation Clothes Heats Up

Shoppers are gearing up for vacation. Anthropologie has seen the traffic for its digital landing page for vacation clothes and beachwear, dubbed the “Getaway Shop,” explode. Donata Minelli Yirmiyahu, Ulla Johnson’s chief executive said wholesale accounts that sell its swim and resort wear have sold out inventory meant for an eight-week window in two weeks flat.

Resort and vacation fashion was already a big business, pre-pandemic — and one that typically sold at full price. Luxury brands invest in splashy fashion shows, sometimes set in vacation destinations, like Chanel’s Cruise show last month in the south of France or Dior’s Cruise show, which will take place in Athens later this month. In 2019, research firm Censuswide reported that not only do British shoppers spend nearly $3 billion on summer clothes but that young shoppers also buy new clothes for every vacation because they’d be “embarrassed” to be spotted in the same outfit twice.

To capitalise on demand, brands are expanding their assortments. MyTheresa, Net-a-Porter and H&M have increased their supply of caftans by 28 percent this year, according to data from Edited, while new players are entering the swimwear space this season, including Cuup, Tanya Taylor, MeUndies, Good American and Girlfriend Collective.

Even if it’s for a half-hour drive away, people want to indulge in the vacation experience.

“Anything associated with vacation like beach and swimwear will be a growth area right now,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData. “Even if it’s for a half-hour drive away, people want to indulge in the vacation experience.”

In stores, retailers are highlighting their vacation wear. Anthropologie set up vacation displays inside some its 200-plus stores, featuring hats, sunglasses, and beach coverups. It’s also launched a pool-side skincare category and plans to stock more breezy dresses and swimsuits this season. Narayanan said that customers are “often buying multiple items to complete the outfit.”

Existing players are also getting competitive. This spring, Summersalt launched a direct mail campaign featuring a swim catalogue that garnered social media buzz for its focus on diverse body types, an effort to meet the category’s “exceptional” demand, said Lori Coulter, Summersalt’s co-founder and chief executive.

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Saunders predicts that going forward, resort, beach and swimwear will shift away from being seasonal items. To adapt to that burgeoning shift, brands should be ready to invest in the category, but must also be cautious about excess inventory, according to Saunders, particularly as the future of vacation wear is still being determined.

“Because more people are working from home, it’s going to be easier to do quick weekend vacations and shorter trips, so the demand for vacation products will be higher year-round,” he said.

The Opportunity in Vacation Retail

Travel will be different upon its return. Only 44 percent of American consumers feel comfortable flying right now, according to the Deloitte State of the Consumer Tracker, and only 13 percent of travellers plan to fly internationally this summer, according to a TripAdvisor survey. Instead, vacationers are trading international destinations for locations that are a drive or domestic flight away.

More brands are doubling down on the vacation pop-up strategy this summer. Dior is operating a pop-up at Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel in Santa Barbara and Alvin Valley is opening a pop-up boutique at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami. Both Tod’s and Christian Louboutin have pop-up shops in the Hamptons. Over Memorial Day weekend, Anthropologie opened its first pop-up boutique inside The Reeds at Shelter Haven, a luxury hotel located on the Jersey Shore.

“It’s a good place for a young brand to get discovered,” said Saunders of vacation spots. “Shoppers are more habitual at the mall, but on vacation, they are more relaxed and like to browse.”

Some are so confident about the expected rise in domestic tourism, they’re opting for permanent locations in vacation hotspots. Both Todd Snyder and Gucci opened permanent locations this summer in the Hamptons.

“The roadmap strategy for this summer is to be in vacation destinations or suburban areas because people want to be outdoors,” said Melissa Gonzalez, founder of the Lionesque Group, a retail and pop-up strategist firm. “This summer people will take trips more than ever, even if it isn’t a full-on vacation.”

Anthropologie's new pop-up store inside The Reeds at Shelter Haven, a luxury hotel located on the Jersey Shore.

Some vacation spots in Europe are seeing an uptick in local tourism too. Silvio Ursini, the executive vice president of Bulgari Hotels and Resorts, said its hotels in Milan, Dubai and Shanghai are seeing an explosion of bookings from locals, with “young, sophisticated” consumers forgoing international trips in favour of nights in luxury hotels just a short distance away.

“Leisure local is the new trend,” said Ursini.

This summer people will take trips more than ever, even if it isn’t a full-on vacation.

And just as vacation wear is on the path to becoming something people shop for all year, summer vacation destinations are also bracing an increase in year-round traffic, said Julianna Teeple, who this week opened One, a boutique in East Hampton that sells independent fashion labels and will remain open through December.

“Vacation markets used to be seen as a location from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but ... you’re going to see people vacationing around here year-round, shopping on a Wednesday or Thursday,” she said.

A Holiday Experience

In addition to longer leases, retailers would do well to invest in enhanced consumer experiences, such as events or capsule collections, as consumers itch to spend more on their vacations.

The Pellicano Group, which owns three luxury hotels in Italy, plans to host events with local Italian designers so hotel guests feel they’re getting an intimate fashion experience.

“When people are on vacation, they want to unwind and do experiential things,” said Gonzalez. “They aren’t just visiting a store; they want to go somewhere special.”

When people are on vacation, they want to unwind and do experiential things.

Taking on real estate in vacation destinations does not come cheap. Gonzalez estimated that when a lease is annualised, “brands pay in the summer months 70 to 80 percent of what a full-year lease would be.” Success in these shops often means just breaking even, between sales and retail costs. And most foot traffic in these shops is tourists browsing, said Saunders, making the tactic an expensive customer acquisition play.

But it’s a market some feel is worth the premium. Snyder said that even though digital sales account for about 90 percent of his brand’s business, he still felt it was important to have a retail presence in the Hamptons.

“We look at these stores as complementary to what we do online because it’s where [consumers] discover and try things on,” Snyder said. “It also creates a halo effect. The shopper [in the Hamptons] is luxury, so it’s important to have a presence there.”

Related Articles:

Why Shoppers Are Obsessed With ‘Summer Camp’ Jewellery

How Brands Leverage Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Who Is Actually Livestream Shopping?

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