Americana Moves Down Under

IN the 1960s, the Americans coined the phrase ''British invasion'' to describe the arrival on their shores of rock stars such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Searchers.

Almost 50 years later, Australians might invoke the words ''American invasion'' to describe the retail blitz here by US chain store powerhouses such as Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and the soon to open J.Crew, Sephora and Banana Republic.

Hip American brand Hollister will also hang out its shingle next year to sell its ''SoCal [Southern Californian] clothing for Dudes and Bettys''. The youth-oriented beachwear brand will be direct competition for surfwear labels such as Billabong and Rip Curl, and its arrival as part of the US invasion comes in the wake of European chains including the Spanish giant Zara and British high-street phenomenon Topshop. Cheap Japanese denim and cashmere chain Uniqlo and the Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M also intend to open stores in Australia as part of global interest in retail opportunities here.

But why Australia? And why now, as other local brands continue to struggle in the economic climate?

The cynical answer is because there is hardly anywhere else left to go for brands such as Gap, Zara and H&M, which have colonised almost every corner of the globe from Delhi and Denmark to Moscow and Uruguay. Continuing expansion is key to the growth of such immense retailers that thrive on economies of scale, and despite the likes of Country Road blaming its 11.6 per cent fall in full-year net profits on ''extremely difficult'' local retail conditions, compared with the faltering economies of Europe and the US, Australia's is relatively strong.

Another factor is that companies such as Gap and Banana Republic put new global stores on the drawing board years in advance of their opening, and are more concerned with securing a lease on a prime site for the long-term than they are with short-term fluctuations in local markets.

We may lack the sophistication of more established fashion capitals such as Paris and Milan, but Sydney's relaxed approach to style also dovetails well with the easy, breezy aesthetic of youthful American brands.

Much has been made of the supposed negative impact on Australian high-street chains by international arrivals, but the likes of Witchery, Country Road, Sportscraft and Oroton are not only all still trading, they have revitalised their product and are making a bigger deal of the Australian heritage.

And it's not all a one-way high street. Local chain Cotton On has opened more than 800 stores in seven countries around the world, including 116 outlets in America and five in the United Arab Emirates.

The retail chain founded in 1991 in Geelong opened its first store in Thailand several months ago and will open in the Philippines in three weeks.

Yesterday, Cotton On showed its new CO. by Cotton On range on the runway during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Sydney, which it sells exclusively online as a more fashion-forward alternative to its core product offering of T-shirts, shirts and denim.

Instead of focusing on doom and gloom predictions for the fortunes of local retailers, you could argue the arrival of international high-street brands has helped our country's shopping options evolve to mirror those available to consumers overseas. In a twist on the Starbucks and McDonald's phenomenon, the same stores and brands are colonising the globe, resulting in a kind of United Nations of affordable fashion options and trends, whether you are in Australia or the US.

This, in turn, is generating an opportunity for indigenous labels to stand out internationally by offering a point of view and design direction that could not have come from anywhere else.

From: The Sydney Morning Herald

The story Americana Moves Down Under first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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