Big changes are afoot at the house of Walmart, with the discounter rolling out a number of new apparel brands in what observers say is a bid to woo shoppers from archrival Amazon.com, as well as traditional, more fashion-forward competitors such as Target, Kohl’s and Old Navy.
The low-cost brands feature selections for women, plus-size and kids. The new brands are Time and Tru in women’s apparel, replacing the DanskinNow label, along with Terra & Sky in plus-size fashions and Wonder Nation in children’s apparel. The new brands are replacing Faded Glory, White Stag and Just My Size. The Just My Size plus-size label, manufactured by Hanes, will continue to be available online. Walmart’s George label, which had been a big success at its Asda stores in the United Kingdom but received a lukewarm response stateside, is being refocused for men only.
The new brands were unveiled during a meeting last month at corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where a slideshow declared Walmart is “launching new brands, not labels,” and, “We will cover every aspect of fashion.”
According to a Bloomberg report, if the brands are successful they can help stave off Amazon.com, which is now the second-most-shopped apparel retailer, behind Walmart. At one time, apparel accounted for as much as 11% of Walmart’s total U.S. sales, but a fashion misstep of trying to become more fashion-forward — including running ads in Vogue — backfired badly. Walmart closed its Manhattan product development office as a result.
But Walmart has once again put apparel on the front burner. It has acquired Bonobos and ModCloth, and is seeking to become more trendy going forward, with about 10% of its apparel assortment being “trend right” and refreshed every three months. Another 40% of its offerings will be “fashion basics” that will last a season, while the remainder will be “basics” like tank tops that will be available year-round.
Walmart has consistently grown its online presence, currently offering more than 60 million items on its website, compared to 20 million in 2016. The company recently asked key vendors to offer it more grocery and general merchandise items with a price tag of at least $10 to make its online merchandising efforts more competitive and profitable against Amazon. Walmart is also further growing its online presence through acquisitions and partnerships.
Last November, Walmart announced it was teaming with Lord & Taylor, a 50-unit upscale department store operating in the Northeast and Midwest, that is a division of Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company. This spring, Lord & Taylor will debut a branded flagship shop on Walmart.com and the Walmart app that will include apparel, shoes, accessories and jewelry. Lord & Taylor will own the inventory, which will be sent via free two-day shipping, and may fulfill some orders through Walmart’s dedicated eCommerce distribution centers.
“As retail continues to change, this flagship store creates enormous growth opportunities for Lord & Taylor and our brand partners,” said Liz Rodbell, president of New York-based Lord & Taylor. “Our customers trust us to deliver high-quality fashion apparel and accessories, and we will soon be able to extend the reach of that offering to new customers through this flagship store. Walmart.com is a shopping destination that reaches a wide base of customers looking for premium fashion brands. They are a great company for us to work with as we continue to grow our digital presence.”
Denise Incandela, head of fashion at Walmart U.S. eCommerce, and a former executive at both Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue, said in November, “Our goal is to create a premium fashion destination on Walmart.com. We see customers on our site searching for higher-end items, and we are expanding our business online to focus on adding specialized and premium shopping experiences, starting with fashion. We’re excited that Lord & Taylor is part of the team we’re working with as we continue to create a new Walmart.com.”
Walmart is also seeking to reform perhaps the most iconic item of all American clothing items — denim blue jeans.
Blue jeans are made by a process developed in the early 1920s where natural indigo dye is applied to the fabric using harsh chemicals. The process requires using thousands of gallons of water to rinse the chemicals out of the clothing.
The Walmart Foundation, through the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, has supported a project at Texas Tech University where researchers are using a foam indigo dying technique on cotton fibers. According to Texas Tech, this method, which uses a frothy foam dye designed to penetrate the entire fiber, eliminates the use of harsh chemicals and reduces water and energy use by nearly 90%.
“This innovation could be a game changer for denim manufacturers by lowering costs and reducing environmental impacts,” Walmart noted on its website.