Global Licensing Trends in Adult Fashion

July 2017

Licensed fashion permeates all aspects of apparel and footwear, cutting across all demographics and regions. Evergreen characters remain strong, while fashion, corporate brand, fashion, sports, music and celebrity licensing are all battling for a greater share. As fast fashion and athleisure drive growth, fashion house and character collaborations are reaching new heights. This report highlights opportunities beyond established categories, and strategies to succeed in a fast moving landscape.

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Adult fashion: Major licensing types – Character leads

While adult fashion is diverse in terms of licensing types, character is still one of the biggest licensing types in the industry. Adult-targeted classic characters’ appeal benefits from a nostalgia factor, and even some child-orientated franchises are marketed secondarily to adults by creating a “cool” factor around them. Fashion, corporate trademark/brand, sports, music and celebrity are among the other licensing types.

Fast fashion drives the industry

Within fashion retailers, Primark and H&M are very active players in the licensing world. Direct-to-retail, particularly, has enabled Primark to offer trendy DC Comics and Harry Potter licensed merchandise at very low prices, which it would not have been able to do otherwise. It is the largest retailer partner for Harry Potter themed products, while other collections also include Star Wars, Minions, Looney Tunes and Family Guy. In 2016, Primark was Western Europe’s third largest apparel brand, up from fourth place in 2013.

Athleisure: Defining trend of the decade

Athleisure is fuelled by consumers’ growing desire to prioritise wellbeing. The relaxation of dress codes has also played a huge role in its rise. Sportswear’s growth has intensified in recent years, recording a CAGR of 6% over 2011-2016, compared to 4% for apparel and footwear overall. The trend filters into licensed adult fashion. In April 2017, Warner Bros Consumer Products, the world’s fifth biggest licensor, partnered with Her Universe for a range of superhero-themed women’s activewear. Sportswear has been identified by the industry as a key growth area for licensed adult fashion in coming years.

Evergreen properties going strong in fashion

In womenswear, perennial franchises increasingly target leading fashion shows. Disney, the world’s biggest licensor by far, has been very active in creating a larger space for its Minnie Mouse licence in fashion. In menswear, while Star Wars fever continues to be felt with new licensed fashion collections by Columbia Sportswear and Selfridges, brought much needed excitement to formal and winterwear thanks to its partnership with Marvel and DC Comics, launching an exclusive range in November 2016.

Moschino – A pioneer in fashion collaborations

Moschino has been one of the most dynamic fashion brands, incorporating a wide range of world-renowned franchises into its designs, with collections from Super Mario, Candy Crush, SpongeBob, Looney Tunes, Powerpuff Girls, McDonald’s and Barbie in recent years.

Opportunities beyond established categories for licensing

Going beyond the established categories in terms of licensed apparel could well pay off. Relatively untapped categories by licensing, including suits and jeans, could potentially offer good opportunities for expansion and growth. Licensing businesses need to be more creative, thinking outside the box and not limiting their merchandise just to tops and t-shirts. In categories that are not traditionally associated with licensing, subtle details could be used in a garment, allowing fans to connect with their favourite characters and franchises.

Design is paramount

Being creative and unique would certainly give businesses a head start. Licensors, licensees and retailers are strongly advised to work with the best designers or well-established fashion houses to give their merchandise a cutting edge. In adult fashion, rather than the character itself, “inspired by" designs are more pronounced. Targeting adults and children at the same time could also pay off, which ties closely with the “mini-me” trend.

Private label opportunity

Recognising the dynamic growth, grocers and discounters have expanded their product ranges considerably in recent years to include licensed apparel and footwear. As a result, many grocery retailers’ collections now rival clothing specialists. According to industry sources, this is still very far from saturation, presenting many opportunities for licensors.

Millennials: Sizeable and important demographic

The global millennial population reached 1,712 billion in 2016. They have a huge influence on consumer markets, including licensed adult fashion, and around one third of household heads worldwide were millennials in 2016. Their purchasing habits differ, driven by fast fashion and, at times, nostalgia. Established franchises could certainly leverage this if they pay greater attention to this demographic. Industry sources suggest that millennials should be targeted separately from the mainstream adult population in licensed adult fashion, with relevant marketing tools, in particular social media.

Characters licensing to remain important

Classic characters have a huge advantage in adult’s fashion, and high-end fashion houses are keen to use these properties in their collections. Fashion is changing fast – four times a year – and, potentially, fashion houses could use a different character in every season.

Underwear and nightwear to be strong

Nightwear has been described by industry sources as “staywear”. As these products slowly become loungewear, their use is no longer limited to bedtime. More sophisticated and creative licensed sleepwear that allows consumers to wear it around the house would fill a gap in the market. While the licensed women’s sleepwear category is considerably bigger than that of men’s, men’s nightwear offers potential for licensors to tap into with the right marketing strategy and franchises.

Fashion house and character collaborations to continue

Partnerships between designers and character franchises are expected to continue, as these properties increasingly use designers’ credibility to enter and expand into adult fashion.


Scope of global briefing
Key findings (1)
Key findings (2)
Key findings (3)

Overview and Major Licensing Types

Adult fashion: Size of the prize
Major licensing types: Passion for fashion
2017 and beyond: Major character licensing-related film launches
Corporate trademark/brand licensing in fashion: A lucrative business
Music and sports licensing grow in importance
Celebrity licensing in fashion: One of the most dynamic

Key Trends

Fast fashion: Top trend shaping apparel and footwear
Athleisure brings further dynamism to adult fashion
Licensing dives into swimwear
Comfort is key for apparel shoppers
Millennials: A key target consumer group in their own right


Womenswear: Size of the prize
Womenswear: Top brands
Biggest per female spenders on Womenswear : Europe tops list
Evergreen franchises increasingly target fashion shows
Case study: Minnie Mouse
Minnie Mouse the fashion icon
Designer collaborations on the rise
Case study: Moschino
Moschino : A pioneer in fashion collaborations (1)
Moschino : A pioneer in fashion collaborations (2)


M enswear: Size of the prize
Menswear: Top brands
Western Europe has six out of top 10 biggest per male spenders
Star Wars: Fashion feels the force
Licensing deals gain momentum in Menswear

Footwear, Hosiery and Apparel Accessories

Apparel accessories , hosiery and footwear : Size of the prize
Apparel accessories, hosiery and footwear: Top brands
Toy Story runs with Vans
Star Wars fever steps into footwear
New collaborations bring dynamism to licensed footwear (1)
New collaborations bring dynamism to licensed footwear (2)

Recommendations and Opportunities

Characters licensing to remain important
Top three categories to watch out for: Opportunities for licensing
Opportunities beyond established categories for licensing
Design is paramount
Break the “perceived” gender mould
Private label opportunity
Athleisure: A trend to watch out for
Recommendations and opportunities (1)
Recommendations and opportunities (2)
Recommendations and opportunities (3)
Top markets to target in Womenswear and Menswear


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