International Department Supervisor at RSM Poland
Well-dressed Polish people, i.e. the XXL perspectives of the Polish clothing industry
People arriving in Poland after a longer absence will notice a civilizational leap that occurred in our country in the scope of the last decade. Not only do the changes pertain to the infrastructure, the improvement of service quality, greater accessibility to information, but also with regards to ourselves as a nation. By no means do I mean changes in mentality, a noticeable openness to the world or ever more popular knowledge of the English language amongst the Poles. What I mean is our appearance, specifically - our clothes...When wandering around the streets of Polish cities, especially those defined as metropolis, it is difficult not to notice the depth of changes in how the Poles are dressed. What is also interesting is the fact how the changes in our appearance transfer onto particular numbers and the state in which the clothing industry currently is - issues I am undertaking to scrutinize in this post.
The estimated value of the clothing and footwear industries in Poland in 2014 amounted to 7.3 billion euro and was higher in relation to the previous year by 5.6%. The clothing segment recognized an increase by 5.9% in relation to 4.5% of the growth of the footwear industry. It is worth noticing that in the stretch of the last four years, the entire branch was growing steadily at 4%, with the exception of 2012, where a slight decrease was noticed (- 1.6% in the footwear industry compared to 0.5% in the clothing segment). In 2014, most of the branch companies expanded their sales network, which in connection with a growing demand translated into the increase in revenues.
Only China, Bangladesh and Vietnam?
In order to answer the question of who dresses the Poles, I have reached out to the Central Statistical Office data relevant to the imports of clothing and footwear. It is no secret that I was surprised to learn that among the largest exporters of clothing and footwear to Poland, the countries of the Middle and Far East tend to dominate, which puts the countries typically associated with fashion such as Italy or France to farther places in the hierarchy. It does not mean, however, that nothing changed since the time when we were supplied with a cheap and low-quality clothing bought at market parlors, which at the time performed the function of today's supermarkets. One must consider that the import value depicted in the statistics of the Central Statistical Office is calculated on the basis of customs declarations (in the case of imports outside the EU) or the Intrastat declarations (in the case of imports within the EU). While it is true that a given product has been manufactured in a given country, it does not have to mean that the target market identifies it with this particular country. For the sake of clarity - a shirt may be manufactured in China or Bangladesh on the commission of an Italian or a French company, the brand of which is embroidered, sold and recognized in Poland.
An increasing role on a fashion retail market is played by domestic companies such as LPP, which perfectly respond to the consumers' taste, while their brands, from the consumer's perspective, do not differ from the brands offered by the clothing companies of the West.
Italian sounding and more
Our imitation of the West and the certainty of their high quality products is also reflected in the clothing industry. It is no accident that many domestic companies select foreign sounding names which are supposed to be synonymous with high quality and a good taste (Italian names are highly popular in this context).
A Polish person is slowly but surely becoming a more demanding consumer, and the foreign sounding brand itself is not enough to coax them into purchasing a specific piece of clothing or footwear. Quality, comfort, uniqueness - these features, along with tailor-made clothes are gradually growing in significance and popularity. And, most importantly, from the standpoint of numbers, we are also more prone to spending more on clothes. According to a survey conducted by PMR, a woman in 2014 would spend on average PLN 158 on a dress, PLN 113 on pants, PLN 158 on footwear. A man would average at PLN 99 for a shirt, PLN 135 for trousers and PLN 194 for footwear, respectively.
Along with the increase in remuneration, the trend to spend larger amounts on clothes will only solidify. It undoubtedly creates an opportunity for clothing companies that offer products of the premium segment.
In sum, I believe I am safe in assuming that the fashion retail sector will become yet another dynamically developing branch of our economy which will attract new players who offer well-known and appreciated brands. Since, although a Pole is dressed better and better, the fashion retail branch in the premium segment is still in an embryonic stage. Consequently, the growth capabilities are much greater here than on the overly fashionable, saturated with expensive brands, Western markets.
 PMR Data.