By Charles Sharf For apparel makers and importers, there are two big trends that I believe will significantly impact the industry in 2013: - A focus on branding - The need for being ahead of the curve While these are two factors that most of us in the business have been dealing with for many years, there will be a hyper-focus on brands and being ahead of the curve in 2013. There is no question that the apparel industry is label-driven. In 2012 we saw brands and retailers working more closely than ever before to co-brand their products, and in some cases rebrand them (i.e. Target and Neiman Marcus’ high-low retail collaboration). In 2013 these branding and business moves will continue to be popular. The increased importance of brands means that companies need to focus on building a brand experience for their products. This helps to secure shelf-space at the top retailers and even creates a market for discounters (i.e. Marshalls and TJ Maxx), who prefer branded products to non-branded ones. If developing a brand is not in the cards, then licensing an existing brand can do the trick. Additionally, just like most industries, being ahead of the curve is key in the apparel market. Despite the increased focus on being a part of a brand, if you have a product that is being worn on the streets and fills a void on the shelves, you have a product that is able to speak for itself, with or without an association to a specific brand. Niche, cutting-edge products ensure that your business and your products will be wanted by savvy retailers.