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Fashion focus on a dime


In some ways, the mass retail market has become a popularity contest with everyone trying to outdo the competition by pairing up with some of the hippest designers in the fashion industry. Kmart is proving the exception to that rule. The retailer has stayed true to the sound principles of focusing on basic, timeless fashion while appealing to the discount customer’s penchant for low prices.

While the jury is still out as to how successful this strategy has been of late, there are distinct signs that at least some things are working. In women’s apparel, for instance, the company reported an increase in 2Q sales that served to offset at least a portion of the overall 3.8% drop in quarterly corporate comps.

“We’ve been very focused in the last few years on bringing women back to Kmart,” mentioned Lisa Schultz, evp of apparel design at Sears Holdings. “We know they’re the principal shoppers. They buy for themselves, their kids, their husbands and their boyfriends.”

By offering private brands like Jaclyn Smith, who has been with Kmart for over two decades, the company has been zeroing in on product assortment. In addition to the recently launched denim line, Jaclyn Smith is scheduled to release in October an extensive line of costume jewelry that debuted during New York Fashion Week. Other private labels are making a stir as well by focusing on trend-right styles that are rooted to basics.

Thanks to more than 200 designers in its New York Soho office, who are constantly striving to learn about the consumer, Kmart has been using its research to create garments that incorporate the important aspects of fit and fabric into the design.

“We take pride in understanding who they [the customers] are and what they want,” Schultz told Retailing Today. “We’re extremely focused on pleasing them. That consideration is enhanced by the expertise of our in-house designers and the extensive research they undertake to combine the best of what’s in the industry with what our customer wants and needs.”

By understanding the best mix for the consumer, Kmart has been merchandising in tiers, meaning it offers fashion basics with a dose of real fashion. As a result, Kmart can address how the female customer lives her life and create apparel accordingly, whether it be a wardrobe for a dinner out or a shopping trip to the supermarket. “Understanding why she’s getting dressed is an important consideration in design,” added Schultz.

The apparel industry is no longer limited to high-end labels when it comes to dressing fashionable and trendy. People can embrace style without spending a wad of cash—and that’s where Kmart is trying to create a niche. The company has an advantage by marketing stylish apparel at low cost, allowing customers to stock up on very trendy items that may only be ‘in vogue’ for one season.

“The brands are more focused than ever,” Schultz concluded. “We’ve been working hard to improve the quality of our merchandise as well as the assortment overall. We’ve been able to deliver greater value each season.”

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