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Despite Declining Sales, Apparel Wins in Brand Licensing, While Footwear Gets ‘Hot’

Fashion, apparel and accessories continue to be major drivers of the brand licensing ecosystem even as the COVID-19 outbreak has shifted consumer spending habits away from those categories. In fact, apparel companies dominate License Global’s 2020 Leading Licensees report, which named the top 200 licensees providing best-in-class products, services, design and manufacturing for retailers in 2020.

47 Brand, Fanatics, HanesBrands, Mad Engine, Threadless, Unique Vintage are among 54 apparel companies that were showcased in the report, the highest concentration of all categories.

“In the licensing space, fashion, apparel and accessories are the biggest categories, so it makes perfect sense that those types of licensees would be the most prominent here,” Amanda Cioletti, content director of License Global, told Sourcing Journal. “I don’t see that continuing to change despite the current environment—they are important categories for licensed goods. Business is still happening during this pandemic—things are still unfolding and business is moving on.

“While we have to cope with the horrific thing that’s going on, there is a level of normalcy in the fact that some business is able to trade and interact,” she added. “As we adjust to the new normal and as we shift our focus to getting back to our everyday life prior to the pandemic, we’ll start to see more of these deals come back to the forefront.”

Cioletti identified footwear as a “hot category” that has gotten more traction than in recent years, especially as more brands have capitalized on consumer desires and the popularity of social media sharing. In total, 13 footwear licensees, including Calares, Converse, Puma and Vans were showcased within the report.

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“There’s a lot of street cachet in footwear right now,” Cioletti said. “Everywhere from high-end collaborative partnerships for sneakers to lower-end mass appeal. Footwear for us continues to show a spike in attractiveness. The rise in direct-to-consumer retail and how these companies market themselves and appeal to a certain demographic on Instagram is something to note, and it’s driving great brand awareness.”

The 2020 Leading Licensees report also recognized six bag companies, 27 toy companies, 14 beauty companies, seven electronics companies and 19 home and homewares licensees as part of the list, which was designed to identify the world’s top licensees driving the consumer product business forward. License Global expanded its annual report from 150 to 200 for the 2020 edition to highlight the important role that brand partners play in bringing valuable intellectual property (IP) to market.

“The timing of the launch really lent itself to showing our support for our vulnerable licensee community,” Cioletti said. “Given the environment, everybody could use a bit of support in highlighting all the good that’s done on their end to drive these partners from conception and the IP stage to retail shelves.”

The report is nomination-based, largely by licensors that nominate their manufacturers or other partners that they think are doing exceptional work in their respective category. Additionally, License Global took into consideration factors such as the quality of deals made between licensee and licensor, as well as the ability to grow the IP, to finalize the list.

“Typically the licensee—in this case, the apparel manufacturer—would be left to do the marketing on their own and secure the retail spot,” Cioletti said. “In that regard, the best way to market your product is with a visible and recognizable brand identity. That’s the beauty of these licensing deals. You have built-in brand recognition right away.”