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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Brown

How consumers fell in love with bridge brands

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

The gap between luxury and high street has long defined consumer segments - that is, until the sudden boom of contemporary bridge brands. 

The so-called ‘affordable luxury’ bridge brand sector has opened up opportunities for both aspirational luxury purveyors and high street consumers alike to achieve the near-luxury exclusivity, without breaking the bank. Bridge brands have created a middle ground between high street fashion (Topshop, Mango, Zara) and luxury (Gucci, Prada, Burberry). Some of the most recognised names include the likes of cool-girl new generation contemporary brands such as Reformation, Nanushka, Rixo and Rouje, as well as Scandi names like Ganni, Arket and Cos, through to more well-known mid-luxury staples like Isabel Marant, Ted Baker and Michael Kors. Contemporary bridge brands are not to be confused with diffusion lines, which are generally labels that are created by luxury brands, such as Venus for Versace. 

Whilst luxury brands have the advantage of history and legacy, contemporary brands have the advantage of having a distinct, accessible aesthetic. Moreover, mid-priced contemporary bridge brands have been able to thrive where many high-street brands have failed by addressing sustainability and wardrobe durability. The one-use, disposable image associated with mass-produced and low-cost fashion is more and more incentivising those who can afford to shop elsewhere, to look further afield and discover contemporary new brands. 

The brand positioning map shows an alignment of brands from fast fashion to luxury and the price range. Considerable factors that do not appear include sustainability, segmentation and brand messaging although these are key determinants of popularity and brand image

The excitement and the ‘discovery factor’ of emerging contemporary brands brings exclusivity that is unattainable from high street retailers - and this is where brands need to play their cards right in creating the new ‘It’ items. Creating timeless, design-focused and conscientious collections of highest quality within an affordable price range, sales of contemporary brands have skyrocketed in recent years. Swedish brand Ganni hit $50 million in 2018, thanks as well to ecommerce sales on Net-A-Porter and Farfetch, which are normally dominated by designer names which suggests a growing preference for durability and capsule wardrobes with fewer items that can go further.

Streetwear brands too have entered this sector, with names like Vetements coming up at around $600 for a sweatshirt and around $380 for a tshirt, along with Chinese names like Li Ning who has emerged as a dominant player. The global demand for streetwear has skyrocketed and highlights a unique bubble up pattern whereby previously thought of as informal and ‘chavvy’ has become a billion dollar market. It is one of the latest trends to have taken over the fashion world for global consumers and has leveraged the power of celebrity influence and design collaborations, such as Taiwanese artist James Jean for Nike

Chinese consumer insights 

More and more consumers are eschewing high street labels in part because of the single-wear, disposable message they embody, according to Elizabeth von der Goltz for Harper’s Bazaar. And for Chinese consumers, purchase decisions are no longer just about the clothes in question, as consumers are increasingly drawn to the brand message and how it fits into their personal images. Mid-ranged domestic Chinese brands such as ZucZug, Icicle and Bosideng, for instance, have captured a preference for design-led popular style, and concept stores like ALTER focus on alternative and niche findings that give consumers a sense of thrill with their unique, one-off offerings. 

This, along with a global consciousness towards sustainability means consumers are seeking transparency more and more from brands about details of the country of origin, quality and source of products, and the lifeline and lifespan of what they are buying. Bridge brands look to guarantee the highest quality product possible in an affordable price bracket which enables wider distribution at an accessible price point, particularly amongst both male and female Chinese millennials and Gen Y (those born from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s) who have higher disposable income and fall into China's largest consumer segments. 

Advice for bridge brand retailers 

What does this mean for retailers heading into China? One of the biggest challenges for retailers, and especially emerging brands at the moment is the competition. Retailers ought not to outprice themselves at the risk of failing, and to determine the maximum impact they can make within their given price range. However, tastes are growing beyond big-name luxury brands and Chinese consumers want the discovery factor and a unique consumer experience, along with quality assurance and brand image that they can relate to. For smaller brands and emerging designers, concept stores have opened up doors to new designers and new ideas which are a good starting point without jumping on the ecommerce bandwagon straightaway. Ecommerce is saturated and whilst convenient for the consumer and can cut the costs of brick and mortar retail, choosing the right platform and being seen should be at the forefront of the decision making process when choosing retail outlets.

Bridge brands identity ultimately focuses on conveying the highest levels of sustainability, quality and production available within the affordable price bracket, and by creating new consumer experiences and focusing on self expression through fashion, this makes contemporary bridge brands the ideal offering for the Chinese market.

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