Walmart taps designer and Project Runway judge Brandon Maxwell to improve its fashion labels

Walmart has hired Brandon Maxwell as the creative director for its upscale fashion brands.

Walmart

Walmart wants to make a name for itself in fashion. It has approached Brandon Maxwell, a designer who dresses celebrities from Lady Gaga to Michelle Obama, to improve his reputation.

Maxwell will oversee the discounter’s leading brands, Scoop and Free Assembly, as Creative Director. The 36-year-old designer lives in New York City. He was a judge on Bravo’s Project Runway and is designing a luxury label sold by retailers like Neiman Marcus with items that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each.

However, by working with Walmart, Maxwell said he could allocate more budgets and reach more buyers – including friends and family in his hometown of Longview, Texas. Its first full collections will be available in spring 2022.

“I’m not someone who believes fashion is just something on the surface. I think it’s a way of telling the world, ‘This is who I am,’ and that has power,” he told CNBC . “Having this for as many different people and communities as mine that I grew up in has always felt like the goal to me.”

In the past few years, Walmart has expanded beyond the basics of clothing. The retailer has acquired established clothing brands such as men’s fashion retailer Bonobos and launched its own. Nearly 1,000 national names have been added to the website, including Champion, Levi Strauss, and Free People. And a deal was signed with ThredUp, a seller of used clothing, shoes and accessories High-end brands on a budget.

The retailer has launched four exclusive, upscale brands: Sofía Jeans, developed with actress Sofia Vergara; Eloquii Elements, an oversized women’s line inspired by the acquired Eloquii brand; Free Assembly, a men’s and women’s everyday fashion brand; and Scoop, a trending brand that revived Walmart.

However, the world’s top-selling retailer is known more for low prices than high fashion. The national presence of more than 4,700 stores is mostly concentrated in suburbs and small towns rather than fashion centers like New York City and Los Angeles. Much of the fashionable clothing is only available online.

Denise Incandela, executive vice president of apparel and private label at Walmart, said that is changing. After testing and selling private label brands online, she said shoppers will see them in more brick and mortar locations. This spring, Sofia Jeans will be available in 1,000 stores. Free Assembly will be available in 500 stores, Scoop in 250 stores and Elloquii Elements in 100 stores.

She said the retailer plans to sell more national brands in stores and make clothing displays with mannequins and creative pictures more attractive. In addition, Free Assembly and Scoop will be expanded to include a children’s line.

Walmart has 13 general merchandise retail brands with annual sales of $ 1 billion or more. Three of its private clothing lines are brands valued at $ 2 billion. The company declined to disclose the brands.

Stacey Widlitz, retail advisor and founder of SW Retail Advisors, said Walmart needs to prove to younger, style-conscious shoppers that its stores and website are a place to store not only the refrigerator but also the closet.

“The challenge for them is to really make it clear to consumers that they are becoming a fashion destination,” she said. “It’s not an overnight solution. It [Walmart] is food. There are different bases. Walmart isn’t synonymous with fashion at this point. “

She said it lags behind Target, its smaller big-box rival, which established itself as a cheaper, chic retailer with sleek, converted stores and popular private labels.

Free assembly men lifestyle

Source: Walmart

However, she pointed to Walmart’s Free Gathering Line, introduced last fall as a sign of progress. She said Walmart needs to accelerate the pace with private label products.

Walmart’s US e-commerce sales rose 79% in the past fiscal year as more shoppers sent home purchases or picked up online orders in the parking lot during the coronavirus pandemic. Sales in the same store increased by 8.6% compared to the previous year. The company hasn’t figured out how much of that sales growth came from general goods like apparel.

With some mall staples like Macy’s and JC Penney losing their hold, Walmart and other off-mall stores have an opportunity to gain credibility and market share in general merchandise categories like beauty and apparel.

According to Incandela, Walmart wants to be a convenient place where consumers can find more choices for their wardrobe, from t-shirts to flashy outfits. She said the retailer will continue to experiment with ways to make an impression, from showing off clothes on its website to advertising to customers on TikTok.

“We are at the beginning of this journey,” she said. “We have a lot to do.”

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Bravo and CNBC.

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