Express Launches UpWest, A New Lifestyle Spinoff Brand – Forbes
Today Express announced the launch of UpWest, a new digitally-native, direct-to-consumer (DTC) fashion and lifestyle brand.
This is the first DTC brand from the Ohio-based fashion retailer, whose sales volume amassed just under $2.2 billion annually.
The new spinoff brand is focusing on retail trends of wellness, health, and sustainability, targeting conscious millennial consumers who demand greater brand transparency, diversity, and purpose-driven products.
UpWest’s product line features sweaters, jackets, lounge wear, and sleepwear, as well as wellness products such as essential oils, CBD and beauty products, and home goods like crystals and candles. Prices range from $12-$188.
The brand is helmed by Senior Vice President & Chief Comfort Officer Jamie Schisler, who for the past 20 years has worked on merchandising and product development experience for brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and UpWest’s parent company, Express.
Taking a community-building approach, UpWest plans to connect with new customers through experiential events, including a regional tour across the US that features the UpWest Cabin, a mobile pop-up exhibit featuring relaxation-focused experiences like yoga and meditation classes. Slated stops include Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, Denver and Austin.
Along with this launch, Express also announced the introduction of The UpWest Foundation, a philanthropic commitment through which the brand will donate 1% of sales up to $1 million to three charitable organizations: Freedom Dogs of America, Mental Health America, and Random Acts.
So what’s the impetus behind this launch?
Schisler says that this new brand is comfort-focused. “From the fabrications we select, to the brands we carry and the content we publish, we launched UpWest with the goal of holistically delivering comfort,” he said.
However, this launch may also be aimed at righting the parent company’s trajectory: Despite billion-dollar sales numbers, one report from September of this year showed that Express, Inc. (NYSE: EXPR) shares had cratered by 80% during the previous 12 months, due in part to lagging sales and profitability trends.
Since September EXPR shares have gone up 25% and are now trading slightly above the amount per share the company has as cash on hand, according to its balance sheet. As of today, EXPR shares were up today, fluctuating between 3-5% and trading at $4.15 per share.
Looking at the big picture, we can see how this move mirrors other legacy fashions retailers that have taken a similar approach, like GAP’s launch of spinoff direct-to-consumer brand Hill City and the Urban Outfitters spinoff brand for clothing rentals, Nuuly.
Experts within the industry have varying opinions on this approach.
Pierre Kim, Head of Apparel at Away, has 20 years of experience in the fashion and activewear industry—and he applauds this new trend of traditional retailers spinning off DTC brands.
“For years, retailers have been criticized for not evolving quickly enough to meet the demands of their customers, so what do they have to lose with this new strategy? Their core labels may be faltering, but they still have brand equity,” he said. “Why not use it to experiment and launch new businesses? At the end of the day, what do they have to lose?”
Brian Trunzo, Head of Sales for PROJECT and MAGIC trade shows, predicts that within two years, no one will use the “DTC” acronym to describe any challenger or legacy brand, as he believes it’s a misnomer.
The reason: He explained that if brands are not selling direct, they’re losing margin—and if they’re only selling direct, they’re likely bleeding customer acquisition costs and marketing dollars. Rerouting some of this spend to develop wholesale distribution—both from a revenue and partnership/marketing perspective—is what he advises.
“In my mind, legacy brands moving quickly and mimicking DTC are being smart and developing high-margin, exclusive private labels for their own distribution channels,” Trunzo said.
Other DTC-focused experts like Paul Munford of Lean Luxe, however, feel that spinoff brands from legacy retailers face an uphill battle.
“There’s baggage associated with being under a legacy retailer’s umbrella—it decreases the value of the brand to the savvy consumer,” he said. “However, execution will always ultimately be the key here. Spinoffs need to feel like their own entity, as opposed to a sub-brand of the legacy retailer.”
It will be interesting to see how the brand performs long-term and how consumers respond to the new company’s products.
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