Thursday, September 27
BENNINGTON — Few things in this world seem to change as much or as often as fashion.

Perhaps this is why a fashion industry executive was chosen to kick off a local college's lecture series on change.

Paul F. Rosengard, group president of premium brands at Perry Ellis International, spoke to Southern Vermont College students about changing trends in the fashion industry and in American business.

"We are no longer in the business of filling needs," he said to a packed Everett Theatre at the college Monday about his industry. "We are in the business of creating wants."

'The Threads of Change'

Rosengard's speech, "The Threads of Change," was the first in a series of five speeches on change and leadership in the American workplace. The series, "Being Brave in a Brave New World," is meant to prepare students for their professional lives, SVC President Karen Gross said.

"What better way to teach students how to become leaders than to bring in strong leaders from the real world," Gross said at the beginning of the school year.

The next installment in the lecture series is a speech on the legal profession by Richard Matasar, the president and dean of New York Law School, on Oct. 18 at 4:30 p.m. Other speeches include one by the president of a steel company, one by a lawyer and one by a leadership consultant.

Rosengard said a fast follower, one who notices things happening and reacts quickly, is just as important as a leader in today's society. "God gave us two ears, two eyes and only one mouth for a reason," he said. "We should learn to use them in that proportion."

He then went into the three main changes currently facing the fashion industry: technology, lifestyle and value.

Rosengard said technology has sped up the production cycle, the cycle that turns an idea into a product, in his industry. Not long ago, it used to take nine months to get a tie from the planning stages to store shelves, according to Rosengard, now it only takes five weeks.

The quicker production cycle has allowed companies, like Perry Ellis, to become more responsive to the ever-changing clothing market. He said his company employs meteorologist to predict weather patterns a year in advance so they know what types of clothes to ship to different areas of the country.

According to his projected data of Vermont, which is 80 percent accurate a year in advance, Bennington is expected to have a colder January in 2008 than it did in 2007 with roughly the same amount of precipitation.

Technology has also improved the quality of clothing. Items such as wrinkle-free pants, stretch fabric and ultra-violet protection hats and shirts were all developed in the past few years, Rosengard said.

In addition to changes in the industry and in the merchandise, the consumer is also changing in what Rosengard calls, "lifestyle changes." He said people today have less time than they have ever had before, causing retailers to add entertainment to attract customers to their stores.

He cited the amusement park, Camp Snoopy, in the Mall of America in Minnesota as an example and the climbing wall in REI's flagship store in Seattle. Rosengard expects more malls to add amusement parks and other sources of entertainment in what he refers to as "mix-use" malls.

America has reached the point where supply has out grown demand, according to Rosengard, causing companies in his industry to create wants instead of supplying needs. This is the change in value relationship Rosengard refers to.

'Price trumps patriotism'

"Price trumps patriotism," he said is what America learned after companies promoting American products were beaten by companies that produced cheap goods overseas.

Rosengard said retail over-expanded in the last 30 years, and as a result, the "middle guy" is being forced out of the market.

"The little guy survives on the niche market and unique customer service," he said, "and the big guy survives on low prices and selection. But the middle guy is the one that can't compete in today's markets.

Rosengard gave examples of the "middle guy" as regional department stores, such as Filene's and Jordan Marsh in New England. Future trends in the fashion industry will include the "greening" of companies, the customization of apparel and increased entertainment in retailers, Rosengard said.

Although Rosengard handled a number of questions about trends in the fashion industry, one question from a faculty member and mother stumped him.

"How long will my teenage son wear his pants below his waist?" she asked.

Maybe, some things will never change.