Today marks the kickoff of the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men's. For the past 50 years, NYFW has mostly showcased the work of womenswear designers, with men's fashion occupying little space on the catwalk. But, now the growing menswear market has garnered enough attention to launch a four-day standalone platform for 56 menswear designers.
Men were a previously neglected segment of the fashion community, which can be easily attributed to the fact that for decades they were relegated to a uniform consisting of a stiff suit and tie. Thanks to social and cultural changes over the past five years, ideas about men's style have evolved.
The millennial generation, specifically, has invested much more time in their appearance. Besides the fact that they now have their own discretionary income, the growth of social media has put an unprecedented spotlight on personal appearance and grooming. Not to mention the rise of casual office culture and the breakdown of gender binaries have allowed for more experimental dress.
Since 1998, the new interest men have in their appearance has caused sales to uptick 70 percent worldwide and 16 percent in the US.
The evolution of the menswear market has pushed retailers to expand and develop their men's sections, an area that used to come as an afterthought to women's. The new market offers great opportunities for retailers who invest wisely—by 2019 it is estimated that menswear will contribute around $40 billion to the global apparel market.
However, the problem lies in the fact that many department stores and e-commerce outlets are still figuring out how to sell to men. Unlike women, men don't share the same fashion sensibilities that most young girls are inundated with as soon as they exit the womb. Even as adults, men are still exploring their options and trying to figure out what works best for them.
Jorge Cosano, the founder and CEO of the men's e-commerce site École, has been working to develop an experience exclusively catered to men. Cosano spent years working in tech for companies like IBM and AOL, before coming to the US where he started running the men's businesses for L'Oreal and Ralph Lauren.
He quickly realized that there weren't any great retail platforms for dudes, so for the past few years he set out to find where men's fashion was failing and how to appeal to the fastest growing demographic of online shoppers. After months of research, he eventually used his technology and men's fashion expertise to build École.
The site, with a name that is derived from the French word for school, is giving men a streamlined way to learn about and buy clothing from the best and most wearable designers in New York City and Los Angeles.
We sat down with Cosano to talk about the growing market, how men shop, and the future of menswear.
VICE: Why do you think the menswear market has changed so much over the past five years?
The main forces that have driven it are generational change, with millennials coming to adulthood and being much more image conscious, and the cultural changes. There is a diversity of professions that have developed since the financial crisis. Also, guys now need to look good when they go to the office because they are really competing with women.
Why do you think menswear retailers have been unsuccessful?
I think what has been happening over the past five or six years is a huge gap in the market. Guys are looking for a way to improve the way they look, but there are still not a lot of places for them. When you look at retail specifically, the world is phrasing it almost like a joke. The home country of e-commerce is the US, but the biggest players in this space of premium fashion are British companies like Mr. Porter, no one else is in this space, which is pretty crazy.
What did you find the market was missing?
What you see a lot of is the mass ready to wear market like the J. Crews and then the very high-end department stores. There is actually a guy in the middle who we call the "H. E. N. R. Y." It stands for: high earnings, but not rich yet. He is millennial guy who is curious about fashion and makes money and he looks at fashion like an investment. He is the guy who is graduating from J. Crew and Bonobos or whatever and they are looking for better options, but they would never spend the weekend going to Barneys or spend time on Mr. Porter.
Why has it been hard to target this type of shopper?
It is because most of the retail e-commerce operations that have been developed for men have been an afterthought of women's. You develop the women's experience and then you create the little corner for men's. The problem with that is that experience is not the same for guys. Women want to go to a website and see the products because she already knows which ones she likes, which things fit her well, which colors she likes. A guy goes and the first thing he thinks is, I'm out. They just don't know. He is just getting into fashion, while girls have been learning about it since they were 14.
How did you figure out what guys were looking for?
It came from a lot of research. We identified the key needs for men during their shopping experience and one of them is curation, which is why our homepage is only five or six items. If you like the white shirt, we are going to help you figure out how to use it. For guys, that is important. By September, we will have an istyling service, right now it is very simple. But we are going to create a new service on top of everything. The idea is to bring what Uber has done to transportation and what Spotify has done to music to fashion.
So how did you develop École differently?
The idea is lets build for men's from the bottom up. We design and engineer for how guys discover and shop brands. We are really focusing on the best brands that the US is creating today. I have been talking a lot about Men's Fashion Week in New York and a lot of the interesting brands for men are coming from New York and now LA, but there wasn't really a platform for them.
How did you choose what brands and aesthetic to feature?
The premise is that we think of a brand like Public School. It is great, but today the business has been built in a way that the accounts and dealers like Barneys always want the most fashion forward stuff. So, even though Public School is a pretty easy brand to wear because it is a lot of tees and sweatshirts, the normal guy hasn't been able to get that. We are trying to upgrade a guy from a T-shirt from J. Crew for $75 to a very quality T-Shirt maybe from Patrik Ervell for $200. But, we know we will never get that guy to buy a crazy fashion forward shirt for $600.
How do you see the future of menswear, especially in retail?
I think it is a very interesting time for men's fashion. I think we will see a lot of guys who are comfortable with the way they look. We are going to see a huge increase in their spending per capita. That is the reason why a lot of retailers like Amazon have gone really hard with men's. This is an opportunity and they know what they have today is built to satisfy mainly women.
Follow Erica on Twitter.
Buy cool shit from École.