GlobalData Plc
  • Why menswear needs a note of colour

Colour blindness affects 1 in 12 men, and yet many major menswear retailers appear totally unsighted by the problems that this causes them. Just naming the colours on the label would give those with the genetic condition the confidence to make purchases, but H&M, Next, TK Maxx all fail to do so, and are missing out on sales as a result.

Bottom image is a simulation of how someone with deuteranopia-type colour blindness sees the top image. Source: GlobalData/Colour Blind Awareness

For those with perfect colour vision, colour blindness is a difficult condition to comprehend. Essentially it means that some colours can be difficult to identify and get confused with others. Of the seven male analysts in GlobalData’s UK retail team, two are colour blind (it is far rarer in women, affecting 1 in 200). They report often confusing greens, browns and reds, losing snooker matches through aiming at the wrong ball and one claims that, from the top down, traffic lights look orange-orange-white.

These complications continue when clothes shopping. Even though the colour blind perceive colour differently, they still want to know which colour others perceive it to be, or what the accepted ‘official’ colour is. For instance, one colleague recalls buying a jacket at the age of 16 which he thought was navy, but ended up getting so much stick from friends for what they saw as a very odd shade of purple that he ended up dying it black.

Knowing the actual colour of garments also helps in terms of putting outfits together, as when shopping the colour blind are not looking for a certain shade to go with an existing item, but a defined colour that they are assured will work. Without colours named on the item, they are just gambling.

By adding the name of the colour of the item on the price tag (though the garment’s label would be preferable as then they would have a permanent record of its colour), the colour blind are given immediate reassurance, and have the confidence to buy. Without this simple bit of help, they have to find a sales person, explain the problem, and ask them the colour. Often there are no staff available, or they may not want to have to explain, or they may want to know the colour of many items in the store which would require constant help as they browse, when many want to be able to shop independently.

Such stores force the colour blind online. Buying on the internet is easier, as websites tend to state the colour, though it is unhelpful when the way to search by colour is by clicking on a colour rather than its name, or the retailer has chosen monikers for individual products like ‘volt’, ‘lava glow’, ‘coral’ or ‘fuscia‘. Both menswear market leader Marks & Spencer and John Lewis are guilty of the latter approach.

There are signs that awareness of the condition at retailers is improving. The Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI), which represents brands such as Adidas and Nike, said last November that it planned to highlight the issue to its members in conjunction with the non-governmental organisation Colour Blind Awareness.

Next is the largest menswear retailer which fails to identify colours on any of their tags. With around three million people in the UK affected, such a simple addition would make a major difference to a substantial proportion of its target market. Until then, many of the colour blind will decide it is easier to shop elsewhere than play colour blind clothes roulette.

Comments provided by Patrick O’Brien,Content Director, Retail, GlobalData.

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