The Arrow Co., one of the fashion industry's major purveyors of middle-of-the-road, reliable menswear, is making a bid for the urban market. It has created a separate division called Urban Arrow that is aimed at hipper, inner-city customers--predominantly African American and Hispanic--and those who take their fashion cues from them.
"Demographic studies say that Hispanics and African Americans are the only groups really growing," says Sonny Puryear, sales manager for Urban Arrow. "That's an opportunity. It's an opportunity to grab customers who have been walking out of department stores."
The line of shirts debuted this spring and is distinguished by creative detailing, such as the curved collars favored by Michael Jordan and Pat Riley. The hues are richer and more dynamic and there might be color details at the cuffs. Shirts in the "city collection," composed of cotton blends, sell for $36-$38. The "platinum collection," which sells for $40-$48, includes 100 percent cotton shirts as well as some that have a small percentage of spandex.
These are not hip-hop clothes but they do have a swaggering masculinity. They are dress shirts created to be worn with business suits, but the styles steer clear of button-down collars and oxford cloth and anything else that could be construed as preppy or traditional. But, most notable for these shirts, which have a studiously crafted fashion appeal, they do not mimic the styling of Helmut Lang or Prada or Jil Sander or any other favorite of the menswear press.
Instead the inspiration comes from focus groups in which Puryear talks with potential customers and from forays into malls in and around cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit.
The line was launched after one of Arrow's department store accounts noted that this urban niche was being filled only by small companies that didn't have the resources or the knowledge to meet the demands of large corporations such as Federated Department Stores and the May Co., both of which now carry the Urban Arrow line. Early predictions of first-year volume were $1.6 million; Puryear says the company now expects to come in at $2.3 million. And by next year, he forecasts $5.7 million.
To be sure, Urban Arrow accounts for only about 4 or 5 percent of Arrow's business. But its existence emphasizes a reality that the fashion industry has slowly begun to face: The consumers of the future are not going to look like Barbie and Ken--or even like Barbie and Ken with a nice tan.
Over time, the garment industry has become more adept at marketing to minority consumers and using diverse cultures to inform a collection of clothes. The results have been increasingly more sophisticated. In many ways, the look of Urban Arrow has as much to do with the way it is presented to consumers as with the cut of the shirts themselves. They are not wildly colorful or overwhelmed by dizzying patterns or logos. But they are presented in a haze of inviting sex appeal, charisma and cool. They are not sterile accessories to a bland business suit. The shirts have personality.
And at the end of the day, the greatest influence the urban market--which is quickly becoming the mainstream market--is likely to have on the garment industry will be the reintroduction of character, pizzazz and individuality into a bleak menswear landscape.
CAPTION: Who needs pinstripes? Richer colors and curved collars are helping conservative shirtmaker Arrow appeal to urban black and Hispanic men.