Walmart launches Free Assembly’s spring collection, created by fashion designer Brandon Maxwell.
As shoppers gear up for spring, Walmart is launching fashion-forward new apparel to try to appeal to consumers looking for style on a budget.
The big-box retailer unveils spring collections from Free Assembly and Scoop, two of Walmart’s exclusive apparel brands. The marks are the first from Brandon Maxwell, a fashion designer and judge on Bravo’s “Project Runway.” Maxwell has its own luxury brand and a history of dressing famous women from Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga. Walmart hired him as creative director of brands last spring.
The new collections include apparel and accessories and will be rolling out to its website and select stores in the coming weeks. It’s part of Walmart’s ambitious push to brand itself as an affordable fashion destination — not just the go-to supplier for socks, t-shirts and other staples.
Nearly 60% of Walmart’s annual revenue comes from groceries, but clothing, home decor and other general merchandise drive higher profits and can increase the number of items in shoppers’ carts.
Maxwell said customers will notice high detailing — including metal studs, certified vegan leather and unique denim washes — in tops, dresses and other items. Spring collection items range from $8 to $75.
“I hope people feel the quality, which we’re really proud of,” Maxwell said. “Clothes are an intimate experience, and it’s about how you feel.”
Denise Incandela, executive vice president of apparel and private labels for Walmart US, said Maxwell’s unique and colorful pieces will help the retailer take a bigger share of customers’ closets.
In addition to Free Assembly and Scoop, Walmart has two other exclusive and refined brands: Sofia Jeans, a line developed with actress Sofia Vergara; and Eloquii Elements, a plus-size women’s line inspired by the acquired brand Eloquii. It also added more national brands to its website and stores, including activewear from Champion and girls’ clothing and accessories from Justice.
Walmart declined to share apparel sales growth or revenue figures, but there are signs that its strategy is paying off. During last week’s earnings call, CEO Doug McMillon said apparel was one of the strongest categories in the holiday quarter.
Walmart has hired Brandon Maxwell, a fashion designer who has dressed Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama, as creative director for two of its high-end clothing brands. He started his first collections with the big-box retailer.
As spring collections roll out, Walmart is using its stores and website to promote private labels.
Free Assembly’s spring collection has nearly 500 pieces of clothing for men, women and children. The collection will be carried by 1,000 stores, twice as many as last spring, and about 20% of the retailer’s more than 4,700 U.S. stores.
“It’s honestly one of the best ways to get brands out there – by increasing the number of stores – because people see it in stores and then they buy it online and in stores,” said Incandela.
The Scoop collection for women will be offered in 500 stores and on Walmart’s website. It includes 56 pieces, ranging from denim items and skirts to shoes.
The company’s push into fashion has inspired Walmart will acquire Zeekit, a virtual dressing room start-up with technology that can be integrated into the website.
Walmart is also experimenting with the appearance of merchandise in stores. It revamped a store near its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., to feature national and Walmart-owned brands. Improvements include widened aisles, lighting and additional mannequins, with branded sections at the front of the store.
This design format will be used in more stores, according to Incandela. “We wanted to make the product the hero and remove the clutter so the customer can see the quality and style of the product – and it works. The customer is looking for an inspiring shopping experience where they can browse and discover,” she mentioned. .
Walmart doubles the number of stores carrying Free Assembly, an exclusive brand of clothing for children, women and men.
‘A basket booster’
Last year, industry-wide apparel sales in the United States surpassed pre-pandemic levels in both dollars and units. Sales reached a record $246.2 billion last year, up 9% from 2019 and 33% from 2020, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm.
But comparisons this spring will be tough as apparel retailers face the 2021 season when Americans spend freely on freshening up their wardrobes after receiving vaccines and expecting more social activities, Kristen Classi-Zummo said. , fashion apparel industry analyst for NPD.
She expects clothing sales to be weaker in 2022, with some shoppers splurging on luxury pieces and others looking for deals.
Incandela said shoppers want vibrant pieces as the weather warms and they seek a sense of normalcy. She said value is also important as prices rise for food and other basics.
“Both collections will allow people to be happy and joyful and to express themselves in a modern and new way and at a great price because people are aware of inflation,” she said.
Michael Baker, retail analyst for DA Davidson, said Walmart’s sleek offerings can help “a more moderate-income shopper to trade in a bit.” While shopping or running to the store for a light bulb, she may also see a blouse to buy, he said.
“I don’t necessarily see him as a traffic driver,” he said. “I see it more as a basket booster.”
The fashion push is also a competitive move, after Amazon has overthrown Walmart to become the nation’s top clothing retailer during the pandemic, according to research from Wells Fargo.
Customers can switch to Walmart for outfits, as the conflicting dynamics of inflation and the reopening of the economy strain their wallets and the omicron peak recedes, Baker said.
“These headwinds and tailwinds can combine to be positive for Walmart,” he said. “You have a demand – maybe these people want to go out and refresh their wardrobe – and then you have the market share potential for Walmart because the consumer is going to feel a bit pinched somewhere else.”
Baker said Walmart was following the playbook of Target, a big-box retailer that launched successful private fashion brands, made brands a focal point of its stores and earned a reputation for inexpensive chic.
Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer, is still flexing its muscles for fashion and learning how to showcase clothes in stores, he said. Yet, he continued, selling trendy groceries and clothing has one thing in common: a short shelf life.
“The big risk for fashion is markdowns,” he said. “Fashion is a perishable commodity.”
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Bravo and CNBC.