JC Penney Increases Fashion Quotient With New Ryegrass Brand
Retailers that cater to budget conscious consumers have improved their clothing offering with better design and better quality materials. Walmart recently hired as Creative Director Brandon Maxwell, who designs an eponymous favorite New York Fashion Week collection, to inject style into several of its house brands.
Of course, Target Corp.
Penney’s in-house design team worked overtime to update their existing brands and reimagine their fashion business as a somewhat elevated version of their old personality.
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As Kohl’s pursues consumers with athletic wear, Penney’s is launching Ryegrass, a clothing collection that flirts with the feminine aesthetic of designers like Jason Wu and luxury brands like Chloe.
“We knew we could create more fashion brands, but we weren’t allowed to do it yet,” said Michelle Wlazlo, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for JC Penney in an exclusive interview. “We had to fix the foundations first. Ryegrass is happening because of all the hard work we’ve done. We have brought our brands, like Worthington, to a very solid place, with strong positioning and solid sales. This has earned us the right to launch a higher brand. You cannot do this unless you have shown that the other marks are in order.
“We love our client at Penny’s so much,” said Wlazlo, who was previously an executive at Target. “Customers told us that as we put more fashion into our brands, she liked it. At the same time, if we take a client who is more style conscious and hasn’t thought of JC Penney for fashion, that would be great, but it’s really for our client.
Ryegrass is launched today in 400 of the 672 JC Penney stores.
Wlazlo said JC Penney’s clients love overtly feminine styles. “She wants to have this beauty,” she added. “She cares about her style and wants to be avant-garde. She shouldn’t have to invest [a large] amount of money. I’d be happy if she bought Ryegrass from head to toe, but she might want to mix with our other brands. “
Penney’s is once again donating to all of its private labels and has launched several new brands in addition to Ryegrass. The stylist, a leisure brand and three swimwear brands are new additions to the portfolio. Penney’s refined the giant Arizona brand for juniors and men.
“We have work with men and children to come, but we focused on women first,” Wlazlo said. “We have also launched several brands in the region of origin. We have over 10 high volume brands all of which are designed by our in-house design team We have already launched some brands and have a few more to come We are consolidating the brands we have to offer more than choice in our portfolio. “
Wlazlo said she wanted Ryegrass to be designed in-house so that Penney’s could control every element of the brand. “We wanted it to be very special,” she added. “The fabrics we use, the pimpled borders and French seams are things that we generally don’t do in our own brands. We use the know-how of the seamstress. “
Additionally, Ryegrass items feature satin, crepe satin, metallic jacquards and lace. “There’s real leather, and it’s like butter,” Wlazlo said. “We had to use fabrics that define romantic luxury.”
The details are also very important, hence the covered buttons, micro-pleats and gathers. “The intricate details go back to the dressmaker’s craftsmanship,” Wlazlo said. “It’s higher, but still accessible with the right value proposition. It’s more expensive, but still great value. These brands operate through our strong partnerships with our national brands. In most physical stores, we position Ryegrass alongside ANA and Levi’s. ”
Ryegrass will be launched through JC Penney’s social media channels, online channels and in-store items. These have been improved with the use of tables and more mannequins. “Presentation and storytelling have improved at JC Penney,” Wlazlo said.
JC Penney will strategically use a fully digital marketing approach to launch Ryegrass. “This brand is not something you usually think of as JCPenney and we felt it was important for the brand to show off authentically,” said Wlazlo.
The retailer hired a group of influencers whose “handsome and feminine style matched the woman who would be interested in wearing Ryegrass,” she said. “We allowed them to select their favorite pieces so they could touch, feel and experience the quality and detail firsthand, allowing them to tell the brand’s story for us on their social platforms.”
Ryegrass will also be featured on JCPLive, the retailer’s live shopping experience that takes place every Friday. The segment will be hosted by influencers, Carol, @caroldemauro and Sabine, @thebstinger on Friday, May 28 at 11 a.m. PT. JCPLive airs simultaneously on JC Penney’s Facebook and YouTube channels as well as JCPenney.com/Live. Ryegrass is also featured on TikTok with editorial style photos and videos that will stand out from the rest of JC Penney’s assortment, Wlazlo said.