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Nike Repeats As Top Apparel Brand In Tough Year

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

US shoemaker Nike has done it again, claiming the title of the world’s most valuable apparel brand for the seventh year in a row, but the bad news is that virtually all apparel brands faced a major decline in sales and revenue.

That’s according to the annual Brand Finance Apparel 50 report for 2021, which looks at the industry over the past year.

And what a year it was. According to Brand Finance’s data, the total value of the top 50 most valuable brands crashed by an almost unheard of eight per cent in a single year, thanks to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, decreasing from US$ 301.9 billion in 2020 to US$276.4 billion by Jan. 1, 2021.

Also, while Nike still took the crown for the Top 50 list, the brand’s value sagged by an even worse 13 per cent to $30.4 billion. That appears to signify a weakening in the company’s relative brand strength in 2020, although that can potentially be seen as a one-off due to the impacts of the pandemic. However, it’s worth noting that within the apparel sector, footwear was the only sub-sector to show growth in brand value, increasing by nine per cent on average.

Richard Haigh, Managing Director, Brand Finance, commented:  

“2020 was undoubtedly a tough year for the apparel sector,” said Brand Finance Managing Director Richard Haigh. “Global and widespread economic disruption caused a sharp decrease in demand and lockdown-induced store closures forced brands to digitalise quickly or face dire consequences to sales and profits.”

While Nike suffered a major decline in its brand value, the report says it still maintains a considerable lead over secondranked Gucci, with a brand value of US$15.6 billion, down 12% from 2020.  

Nike’s sales took a hit last year as the brand was forced to shut the majority of its stores across North America, EMEA and, Asia Pacific due to the pandemic, the report reveals. The brand saw an impressive untick in online sales, however, which almost doubled in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  

The good news is that Nike and other brands have continued to innovate through the pandemic, and Haigh says that ability to adapt should server the industry well as the economy recovers in late 2021 and beyond.

“Despite the total brand value of the world’s top 50 most valuable apparel brand declining eight per cent year-on-year, on the whole we have witnessed remarkable agility and innovation across the sector, which will no doubt stand brands in good stead in the coming year,” Haigh said.

Haigh says Nike  “has continued to make leaps and bounds with new technology in its products, most significantly the controversial Nike Vaporflys, a shoe that has dominated the international athletics arena in recent years, with athletes wearing them claiming 31 of the 36 podium positions in the six world marathon majors in 2019.

“With the shoe surviving a ban for the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics, Nike can once again showcase itself as a brand that has helped to change the face of world athletics and sport,” he says.   

Brands to Watch in 2021

While many brands saw declines in 2020, others saw surprising growth, particularly the sport shoe company Fila, which is the fastest growing brand in this year’s Brand Finance Apparel 50 ranking following an impressive 68 per cent brand value increase to US$2.7 billion. The brand, which operates in 70 countries through licensing deals, celebrated strong sales growth towards the end of last year, particularly within the Chinese market. Since Fila Korea purchased the global Fila brand in 2007, the brand has worked on strategically embracing the return of trends which helped it make its name across the sector originally, including 90s fashion making several comebacks.  

Underwear Under Performs

The apparel ranking in the report is divided into sub sectors: luxury; sportswear; fast fashion; watches, accessories and jewellery; high street designer; underwear; and footwear. Of these sub sectors footwear is the only one to record an increase in brand value year-on-year, posting a nine per cent increase in brand value on average. New entrants Timberland and Converse have performed particularly well this year, recording a 47 per cent and 8 per cent brand value increase, respectively. Nike-owned Converse saw a modest uplift in sales last year, due to an increase in demand in Europe, as well has higher global digital sales.  

In contrast, underwear brands have suffered the most significantly this year, with the two brands featured in the ranking losing an average of 19 per cent of brand value. Victoria’s Secret(brand value down 22% to US$4.2 billion) is the third fastest falling brand in the ranking. The brand has been facing continued backlash for the lack of diversity in its marketing and in model line-up, an issue that has only been exacerbated as Gen Z consumers, in particular, are redefining the social norms around body image.  

Rolex: A Brand With Timeless Appeal

In addition to measuring overall brand value, Brand Finance also evaluates the relative strength of brands, based on factors such as marketing investment, customer familiarity, staff satisfaction, and corporate reputation. Alongside revenue forecasts, brand strength is a crucial driver of brand value. According to these criteria, Rolex (up 1 per cent to US$7.9 billion) is once again the ‘strongest’ apparel brand in the world, with a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 89.6 out of 100 and a corresponding elite AAA+ brand strength rating 

Rolex is renowned for its world-leading quality and exclusivity, with the brand’s new releases known for setting the standard across the watch sector. Despite the challenges of the last year, the market for luxury watches has shown remarkable resilience to the pandemic turmoil, with demand remaining stable, demonstrated by Rolex’s website traffic experiencing a surge over the previous year.  

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