Too many fashion brands, a few demographic
October 27, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

What's the difference between Uniqlo, Zara, H&M, United Colors of Benneton, Topshop, Gap, Old Navy, J. Crew, Madewell, Espirit, and Forever 21?

I'm wondering as to the difference in terms of their target audience, price range, and type/quality of clothes.

I know that it's a long list, so it's fine if you just compare a few brands.
posted by facehugger to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
H&M - Hip-but-not-too-hip.
Topshop - Hipper/more flashy than H&M.
Uniqlo - Japanese H&M. Slightly more conservative in color and make.
Forever 21 - For young women: flashy and alternative.
J. Crew - Classic/consciously preppy. Looks-upscale-but-not-really.
Gap - Classic and safe while remaining in tune enough with the trends.
Old Navy - "I give up."
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2011 [10 favorites]

H&M, Topshop and Uniqlo are all going for the roughly same audience: late teens to early 30s. J. Crew skews a bit older, although there's overlap in the venn diagram. Same thing with Forever 21, except it skews a bit younger. Old Navy and the Gap try to cover as much ground as possible.
posted by griphus at 10:39 AM on October 27, 2011

This is hard to answer without knowing why you're asking. Are you from another country and not familiar with these (mostly American) brands?
posted by slmorri at 10:41 AM on October 27, 2011

H&M has very poor build quality, much worse than Uniqlo.

Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic are all owned by The Gap, Inc., and each has their own niche. Old Navy is cheaper and much more casual. Gap hews to the middle; they're mostly known for unbranded standards nowadays. Banana Republic is the priciest of the three.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:41 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic are owned by Gap, Inc. The wiki entry on brand has a nice summary of the branding strategy:
The Banana Republic stores try to convey a more sophisticated image for an upscale customer seeking "modern, accessible luxury," whereas Gap stores appeal to a broader demographic of customers. The Old Navy chain is designed to appeal to families and younger customers by emphasizing "fun, fashion, and value" through a store experience that aims to deliver "energy and excitement." Although Gap, Inc., along with other retail-store chains, has been criticized for blandness and uniformity in its selling environments, the company maintains that it tailors its stores "to appeal to unique markets" by developing multiple formats and designs.
I heard on Marketplace or somewhere recently that Gap is closing a bunch of the Gap branded stores. Possibly due to it failing to actually being able to successfully differentiate Gap from Old Navy on the low end and Banana Republic on the higher end.
posted by birdherder at 10:42 AM on October 27, 2011

H&M has very poor build quality, much worse than Uniqlo.

Are you sure? Uniqlo's J+ stuff is definitely of good make, but their general stuff isn't that much better than H&M.
posted by griphus at 10:43 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

H&M is cool if you weren't planning on washing and wearing an item every again. Luckily it is usually priced accordingly.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:46 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you sure? Uniqlo's J+ stuff is definitely of good make, but their general stuff isn't that much better than H&M.

I'm relying on general agreement among my friends, including myself. In my experience, their button up shirts die horrible screaming deaths after about five washes.

I'd be happy to see a more objective stress test applied to the companies' general stock.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:49 AM on October 27, 2011

These are my (generalized, stereotypical) impressions:

Uniqlo are higher quality clothes favored by NY hipsters who have outgrown the funkiness of Urban Outfitters.

H&M is what the same demographic wore when they were in college and had less money--interesting designs, but the clothes get worn out very quickly, particularly if you ever deign to put even so much as a T-shirt in the dryer.

Forever 21 is roughly the same quality, but aimed toward a solely female demographic and skews younger--it's favored by customers around late high school age, if my local mall is any indication. It's a step above stores like Wet Seal and Delia's in terms of design and trendiness, but only slightly.

Topshop is where all of the cool girls shopped when they studied abroad. Now that it's in the US, it's where cosplayers who want to dress like Rose from Doctor Who shop.

J. Crew skews more conservative and older in terms of design, but their clothes are of higher quality than all of the above. If you have money, you're more likely to have a few J. Crew items at the core of your wardrobe.

Old Navy is comparable in price and design to Target. You can find cool stuff there, but it carries no cool cache. Clothes don't wear or wash especially well, and sizing can be inconsistent.

The Gap is what people who shop at Old Navy wear to work.

Banana Republic is where moms get their khakis.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:53 AM on October 27, 2011 [11 favorites]

You know, I think I have some sort of bizarre Hannukah-esque luck with H&M stuff. A pair of their black drain jeans lasted three years before they died. I still wear a button-up that I got in 2007 and it's just a bit faded.
posted by griphus at 10:53 AM on October 27, 2011

Forever 21's clothes are shoddily-made, extremely trendy, and look dated quickly. H&M's similar, but a bit better. Zara's a step up from both of them.
posted by sea change at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Uniqlo - carries smaller sizes (in men's) than most of the others (except for Topshop). If you're thin, this is where you end up shopping.
posted by Stynxno at 11:04 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: re: slmorri

Mostly my lack of knowledge was due to lack of interest. Now that I live right next to a mall I've become increasingly interested in what makes up a fashion brand, and I'm especially interested in the type of clothes they sell and the demographics they are trying to appeal to.

I'm not very observant, however, so all the brands I've listed above seem (to me) like they sell similar clothes/appeal to similar people. That's why I'm turning to AskMeFi, where people actually know what they're talking about. :)
posted by facehugger at 11:04 AM on October 27, 2011

The non-American brands:

H&M knocks off designer trends and has a bunch of really cheap poorly made items ($5 t-shirts) to get you to add those onto their mid-range priced items ($35 sweater) - demographics range, but I'd put college/early 20s working people as their core. Sort of embarrassing to admit that item is from H&M.

TopShop is similar to H&M with slight better quality. College/early 20s. A little less embarrassing.

Uniqlo is Japanese H&M, simpler, and with a hipster edge.

Zara is late 20s professional woman attire and has a more fashion-y edge to it. The quality isn't great.

Mango is a more casual Zara, but also focuses on late 20s and some early 20s.

Espirit and Benneton are both like an edgier Gap. Demographics range, but with the slightly higher prices, assume late 20s, early 30s.

French Connection is a more fashionable Benneton. Prices are higher than Mango or Zara, but it is like a girly Mango. Late 20s, early 30s.

The American brands:

J.Crew is the best quality of your list. This is very much a 30-something store. Good quality suits. Nice sweaters. Very preppy.

Madewell is J.Crew's answer to Anthropologie. It is funkier and cooler. Geared at a wealthy college student or 20-something.

Anthropologie, owned by Urban Outfitters, is funky but classy women's clothes and household goods. Late 20s-30s. The prices are way too high for the quality of the products, but the styling of items together is what makes the store great.

Urban Outfitters is very college. Prices range, but aren't over the top. Does a lot of mimicking of edgier fashion.

Banana Republic is Gap's top brand and is a 30-something brand, with some 20-something professionals. Decent quality work clothing - although a little pricey for the quality.

Gap is the original Gap brand - wide range of demographics. Varies on the funkiness, but is really for basics for a wide range of people. Does very well with its kids brand.

Old Navy is sort of embarrassing too. Good kids low quality basics, but the adult stuff varies in quality. Good place to go to "try" something - like a weird color of cords.

Forever 21's entire model is to mimic high fashion. What they do very well is that they make most of their clothes in small / medium / large - not having a range of sizes makes production very quick. If it doesn't fit you, they don't care. The quality is the worst of all of these. High school/college girls are the target demographic. Probably a little embarrassing to wear F21 if you're an adult, except for accessories that don't look cheap.
posted by k8t at 11:12 AM on October 27, 2011 [11 favorites]

Forever 21 does, in fact, sell men's clothing. I'm not sure who buys/wears it.
posted by hapticactionnetwork at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2011

One thing J. Crew has over most of the other shops on your list is a cult-like following. You won't find blogs like J. Crew Aficionada for Old Navy. Gap's catalogs (if they have them?) don't generate the kind of excitement J. Crew's catalogs do. J. Crew has a long history of definitive, unique branding choices that have made their clothes it for a fairly broad generation of women.

Also, J. Crew makes beautiful wedding dresses. This was mine.
posted by litnerd at 11:16 AM on October 27, 2011

In the US, Uniqlo has no presence at all outside NYC, which creates a kind of cachet that isn't necessarily commensurate with its global brand. On the other hand, that kind of fast-fashion market for 20/30-somethings in the US is pretty threadbare (pardon the pun) especially outside the biggest cities. In the UK, while the shops themselves don't extend far beyond London, you have online sales to broaden the market.

You can make a cross-market comparison to IKEA, whose expansion beyond the northeast and California has been very, very gradual. As a good rule of thumb, if an IKEA arrives to a part of the US, a H&M (and possibly a Zara) will follow, and vice versa.
posted by holgate at 11:17 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forever 21, H&M and Zara are "fast fashion" brands- they have lots of cheap stock that they turn around quickly to be in keeping with seasonal trends. By seasonal trends I mean things like "elephants are the thing for spring!" and not "sundresses in the summer, sweaters in the winter." Here is one of many articles about high-fashion/haute couture designers suing Forever 21 for copying their clothes.

Gap and J. Crew are more conservative basics. J. Crew is slightly more expensive.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:18 AM on October 27, 2011

Forever 21 has been discussed over on the Blue, mostly around the idea of "fast fashion".

At the opposite end of that, how many of those stores put out something resembling a seasonal collection? Banana Republic does, J. Crew does. Could you say that Gap does?
posted by mkultra at 11:26 AM on October 27, 2011

Oh, The Limited is the American Zara/Mango for early 20s. Express is the cheaper Limited with women and men's clothes for college age. It is almost H&M like but not as on-top of trends.
Mexx is the Euro equal to The Limited and Express.

BeBe is like TopShop but not as large.

Women also have Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft for work clothes. Demographics are 20s and 30z. I don't know any Euro equal for this brand. Maybe River Island?
posted by k8t at 11:37 AM on October 27, 2011

Another difference I've noticed is that Old Navy and, to a lesser extent, Gap have a decent selection of Big & Tall clothes for men. Banana and J.Crew may stock a few XXLs, but it's slim pickings and the actual measurements are way smaller than Old Navy's. Uniqulo, Zara, H&M or any of the more fashion-y places probably don't carry XXLs at all.
posted by mullacc at 12:04 PM on October 27, 2011

...the actual measurements are way smaller than Old Navy's.

That's actually a pretty big point about the difference in all these stores as far as sizing goes. Check out this chart.
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on October 27, 2011

I wear almost these brands! So here are my opinions on all of them (mostly regarding cost and style)

H&M: very cheap, basics to trendy. Quality is very poor, but you get what you pay for.

Forever 21: very cheap, basics to trend. Similar to H&M (see above). I usually get accessories and cheap fashion items (stuff to brighten up my dressing) from either H&M or Forever21. If you can afford better quality stuff, don't buy from H&M or Forever21. Still, it's good for what it is.

Uniqlo: cheap basics for very good value on money. Quality is okay. I get all my basics here! They have cheap cashmere sweaters. It's not terribly great quality cashmere, but hey, it's really warm and it lasts for a while.

Gap: cheap to mid range, basics. Quality is poor to okay. Like Uniqlo, great for basics. However, Gap clothing doesn't really flatter my body size, so I prefer Uniqlo.

Zara: mid-range prices, basics to mildly trendy pieces. Quality is poor. Some people may debate about the quality, but the clothes only look expensive, they aren't really very well made. I get some work clothes here.

Topshop: cheap, trendy. Quality is poor. Edgy cool fashion. But will fall apart at seams in months.

JCrew: mid to expensive prices, basic to mildly trendy items. Quality is okay to good. Michelle Obama has this brand in her wardrobe. Basically, this brand is for people who don't want to wear designer but still want to look good and dip their toes in the realm of luxury (literally, in the case of python-capped flats).
posted by moiraine at 12:28 PM on October 27, 2011

From the not-fashion/clothing-conscious male grad student perspective:

Old Navy--Where a lot of my clothes come from. Not the greatest quality, but I'll buy trousers and polo shirts when they go on sale. The button-down shirts are too big for small me.

Gap--Where I'd shop if I spent more on clothes. Their shirts have a 'slim fit' which fits me. Quality is higher than Old Navy, but costs double. Their trousers don't fit me.

Banana Republic--holy shit expensive. It's like a really expensive Gap. My brother will shop there for work clothes if he's got a coupon or there's a sale.

J. Crew--I perceive it as too expensive for the likes of me.

H&M--largely too fashionable for me. Not very good quality and fairly expensive for the quality much of the time

I've seriously never set foot in any of the others. When I was in college, many of my housemates shopped at Forever 21. I'm under the impression Topshop is pretty new in the US. I don't know if there's one here. I've never even heard of Madewell.
posted by hoyland at 12:54 PM on October 27, 2011

Madewell is J.Crew's answer to Anthropologie. It is funkier and cooler. Geared at a wealthy college student or 20-something.

I think Madewell goes a bit broader -- definitely appeals to the 25 or so crowd, but I'm in my thirties and wear a lot of their stuff to work and such. It's generally small -boutiquey sized stores with carefully selected brands, as opposed to the gigantic Forever 21s and Old Navy storefronts.
posted by sweetkid at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2011

Not mentioned, but I've recently found Lands End Canvas to be a nice alternative to J Crew and Banana (perhaps a bit more casual than either). A lot less frumpy than Lands End's normal catalog, but with presumably the same reasonable prices and good quality.

I actually don't own anything from them, but my take is that they're cheaper and less formal than J. Crew/Banana, a lot more interesting than the Gap, and presumably have great quality considering that Lands End's stuff generally lasts forever (ditto for LL Bean; I realized a few weeks ago that a few of my shirts from Bean are about 10 years old and haven't visibly aged whatsoever).
posted by schmod at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2011

Oh, and Banana Republic's stuff is deeply discounted when it's on sale. It's the only way I can afford their stuff. Their solid color t-shirts are absolutely fantastic (but only worth it when on sale). Their outlets sell cheap knock-offs of the stuff carried in their main stores; you can tell which is which; the labels have 3 stars on them for the outlet-specific stuff; avoid these.

I buy black athletic socks from H&M in packs of 6 pairs for about $3 a pack. The quality is atrocious, but considering just how easily athletic socks get lost or mismatched, it's nice to know that they're effectively disposable.

I've also owned a handful of items from H&M that have worn and aged well (and about an equal number that have not). Your mileage will vary.

If it's all you can afford, H&M is a godsend, and I wouldn't knock it as quickly as others in this thread have done.

hapticactionnetwork: "Forever 21 does, in fact, sell men's clothing. I'm not sure who buys/wears it."

Dudes caught hostage shopping with their girlfriends, or gay-best-friends.
posted by schmod at 2:00 PM on October 27, 2011

H&M is to clothing what Ikea is to furniture: a distinctly hip (but not too hip) style, lower-to-middling prices with correspondingly lower-to-middling quality. Not a bad way to boot-strap your wardrobe/furnishings when you're just starting out but vaguely embarrassing to be in your late 30s and to have most of your stuff from there.
posted by mhum at 2:24 PM on October 27, 2011

I really disagree about H&M being poor quality. My H&M pieces outlive most of the other brands listed. Some I have had for many years and simply follow washing instructions. I'd say F21 and Old Navy are the worst quality -wise.
posted by beyond_pink at 3:16 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a guy, Uniqlo is the only place I can buy business shirts for work that aren't shaped like giant triangles. God bless skinny Japanese dudes; they have performed a valuable service for skinny dudes everywhere. Also, hardly any of their stuff is plastered with banal prints, stupid extra pockets or other dumb, faddy shit I can't stand.
posted by smoke at 5:20 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Zara has great tailoring, but isn't always great quality. However, I've gotten pretty lucky with my Zara pieces because I have had some of them for years. Targets 20s and 30s.

H&M isn't great quality, but it's much better than Forever 21. Caters to teens and 20s- especially those living in major fashion capitals that have little money, but work in industries where labels are recognized and appreciated (e.g., music, film). Really easy way to get up to the minute fashion for cheap because H&M closely follows the Fashion Week trends and replicates them quickly. Note: I do have H&M pieces that have lasted for awhile too.

Gap is already covered. Very safe brand- tries to attract all ages.

JCrew- very preppy. Tries to attract 20s and 30s, but attracts everyone, really. Decent quality, although I think it is often overpriced for what it is since most of the clothes are pretty classic and don't involve a lot of innovation. However, people tend to look polished in JCrew.

Topshop- agree that it is flashier and trendier than H&M, mainly because it comes from London.

Forever 21- very teen focused .Not much above CHarlotte Russe and other very, very cheap teen stores. Only difference is that Forever 21 is a little closer to current trends than those other stores. Low quality stuff on the whole and tailoring is poor.

Uniglo- not as fashion forward as H&M and if I remember correctly, it's a little more expensive. It's definitely in the H&M category though.

Old Navy is pretty blah, but can be good for basics since it's cheap. caters to all ages.

Zara and JCrew are the highest quality of this group.
posted by superfille at 6:51 PM on October 27, 2011

Oh and I wouldn't compare the Limited to Zara or Mango. The Limited is much more staid and definitely not very fashion forward. I would equate The Limited to Ann Taylor Loft.
posted by superfille at 6:53 PM on October 27, 2011

Speaking from experience trying to find affordable menswear in slimmer/smaller sizes that are also decent quality:

Gap's durability is for the most part abysmal, styling is generic. Good for simple garments like sweatshirts- anything else is disappointing after it comes out of the wash. Generally the fit is good.

Banana Republic is a "higher end" quasi-yuppie Gap and for the past few years has milked Mad Men style. Absurdly overpriced and poor fit/quality.

Old Navy is the friendlier, family oriented arm of Gap.

Express is edgier, with some percentage of spandex in everything so it stretches and comes across as more "tailored".

Uniqlo is the Japanese version of Gap, if Gap didn't suck- cheap selvedge denim, chinos, and decent quality button-ups- all well fitting and slim. If you don't live in NY you have to rely on eBay or proxy services. I've heard quality has reduced recently. Great price-to-quality-to-fit ratio, nonetheless.

H&M and Zara are low-ish quality clubbing clothes, disposable, shiny, slim. Lots of synthetic fabrics. Zara is more expensive/better quality, but still.

J Crew hews closely to the menswear zeitgeist and has good marketing. They give off an aura of cachet but it's still a mass market mall-brand and quality is just ok- in my opinion overpriced. Competitors (and outright imitators) include Lands End Canvas & LL Bean Signature. Ralph Lauren Rugby & Club Monaco are sort of similar demographic, even Brooks Brothers has a slim fit line to court the younger set. All this is a part of the sort of prep/heritage/americana revival in menswear.
posted by maishuno at 9:30 PM on October 27, 2011

Urban Outfitters is more 'hipster' - small, strangely-fitting clothes, and expensive retro-themed accessories.

Topshop is, or at least was, seen as a cheap shop for teenagers. It's since gone for an older, more fashion-forward market, and prices have risen, but the quality and cut is pretty much the same (ie. you need to be shaped like a teenager to fit into many styles). This happened after lots of fashion magazines started featuring it on their pages in the early 00s. So it used to be fast-fashion, but while it still has a lot in common with those chains (smaller sizes, enormous turnover in stock, not always made to last a season) it's in a different price bracket. If you have a big bust, nothing is very likely to fit (I speak from experience) and their clothing seems mainly to be made in a UK10 or UK12 rather than bigger sizes.

I don't know some of these chains as I'm in the UK, but Uniqlo is very popular in London and where you go if you want the same T-shirt in 18 different colours. Quality is decent for me, anyway.

Gap is relatively expensive in the UK. They are one of the few places that do jeans that nearly fit me as they do a lot of different shapes and cuts.
posted by mippy at 6:54 AM on October 28, 2011

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