The “affordable” luxuries: ‘bridge’ brands see fashion searches grow to outstrip designer labels

Luxury labels largely saw their search volumes fall as consumers seemingly seek affordable alternatives but cost of living concerns potentially disrupted brand loyalty across the fashion industry last year.

The UK’s fashion shoppers are swapping high-end for affordable luxury if the latest research in search volumes are anything to go by – with the country’s ‘bridge’ – or mid-range – brands seeing more than 34 million searches in 2022, twice those of their luxury counterparts.

The latest annual fashion report from search agency MediaVision has named Birkenstock the industry’s largest grower in search volumes – as those for the brand grew 60% year-on-year in 2022 to hit more than 3.7 million, with Cos growing in searches by 32.7%. Phase Eight, which topped the ‘bridge’ brand chart with almost 5.3 million searches last year, saw a 5.6% growth.

The data, from MediaVison Metis technology platform, reveals these ‘bridge’ brands saw enough growth in volumes to overtake high-end fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Dior, indicating that luxury shoppers are seeking affordable alternatives amid the cost of living crisis.

While Louis Vuittion saw the highest number of searches among the traditional luxury fashion houses in 2022, at 4.6 million, this was a drop of 4.1% year-on-year. Second-placed Gucci (4.2 million) saw a 6% dip in the number of searches last year compared to 2021. Coach was the only luxury brand to see comparable search growth with bridge brands, MediaVision found, growing by 30% (1.34 million).

Louis Venter, CEO at MediaVision said: “At a time when every penny counts, consumers who have traditionally bought designer labels are rethinking their fashion purchases, demanding aspiration plus value. Search data shows that the brands that are benefiting most from this new mood and behaviour are those that operate at the intersection between aspiration, quality and affordability, effectively tapping into a growing desire for ‘affordable luxury’.

“There has never been a better time to be a fashion brand operating in this part of the market as a cohort of luxury consumers faced with the reality of growing financial demands either abandon or buy fewer designer labels and look for alternatives.”

Brand loyalty disruption

The report revealed that across all fashion brands within MediaVision’s research, mass-fashion retailer Shein topped the charts, at almost 27.5 million searches, a significant year-on-year growth of 68%. Primark and Moss Bros completed the podium for 2022 fashion searches, though at 16.2 million and 10.7 million searches respectively were significantly behind the front runner despite an annual growth for both brands.

Across 2022 searches for specific fashion brands as a whole actually fell by 6.7% compared to 2021. In contrast, non-brand searches (those for specific types of clothing or accessories) grew by nearly 16%.

MediaVision concluded that the research indicated a disruption to brand loyalty hitting the industry, a common phenomenon of tightening consumer spending.