J.Crew Turns to Other Brands to Reach Men

Discussion
Aug 18, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

Part of J.Crew’s recent success in men’s apparel is being attributed to collaborations with third-party brands such as Levi’s, Warehouse and Red Wing.

The partnerships started in fall 2007 when J.Crew began selling Red Wing boots. The list has grown to 40 partners including contemporary/upscale labels — Warehouse, Billykirk, Mister Freedom, and Superior Labor, and Barbour — and heritage brands such as Alden, Levi’s, New Balance, Sperry, Timex, and Ray-Ban.

For instance, Frank Muytjens, J.Crew’s head of men’s design, told Women’s Wear Daily that he discovered the Warehouse Japanese denim label while on a trip to Tokyo last year. That resulted in a collaboration launched this year on an exclusive men’s style selling for $300.

"It’s small and special," said Mr. Muytjens of the collaboration. "It definitely has a cult connotation to it. Not many people know Warehouse outside of Asia, so it’s unique."

On the other hand, a new line with Levi Strauss was introduced in February. Given access to the Levi’s archives and working with Levi’s staff, Mr. Muytjens developed four exclusive washes for two styles of J.Crew’s selvedge jeans and two non-selvedge styles. All styles featured the Levi’s logo along with a "Made Exclusively for J.Crew" stamp on the inside pocket.

While making only a small part of overall men’s sales, partnering with authentic labels like Levi’s and Warehouse are designed to enhance J.Crew’s image.

"We thought it was a good idea to seek brands like these out," Mr. Muytjens told WWD. "They do what they do best, and no one can copy them. It’s about heritage and authenticity."

With its newfound success solving men’s work and social occasion dress needs, J.Crew is expanding its men’s-only stores and launched a hipper Liquor Store men’s concept.

An article in Bloomberg Businessweek noted that beyond the third-party collaborations, other keys to J.Crew’s success in men’s include offering reasonable price points, focusing on favorite styles, and following the lead of Millard Drexler, J.Crew’s CEO, on the women’s side by gradually updating and upscaling the brand’s preppy look.

"Muytjens understood that men don’t want to be just one thing and then learned how to provide it," Ned Martel, editor of The Washington Post’s style section told Bloomberg Businessweek. "Anyone in an office cares about how they look, even if their sartorial position is ‘I don’t care about how I look.’ "

At the same time, the collaborations help provide what Mr. Drexler terms the "cheeseburger," or that extra flair.

"We’re trying to make the brand relevant again," Mr. Muytjens told Bloomberg. "We’re trying to be a little more edgy, a little more classic with the right twist."

Discussion Questions: What is your assessment of J.Crew’s men’s apparel business? Why do so many retailers struggle in men’s fashion?

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8 Comments on "J.Crew Turns to Other Brands to Reach Men"


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Bill Emerson
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Bill Emerson
10 years 8 months ago

Selling menswear is a tough business. In the first place, most menswear is purchased by women (mom first, girlfriend second, wife third). With a few exceptions, men are target purchasers. I need a new item, I go find an item that my friends won’t laugh at, buy it, get the hell out of the store. Relative to the woman shopper–keyword; shopper–this is a very challenging business to grow profitably.

I think this is a brilliant strategy by J.Crew. Let other companies invest the time, capital, and marketing to create fashionable product and awareness and then develop a men’s assortment that is consistent and compatible with the women’s business, which will always be the primary driver.

Marge Laney
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

When I think of J.Crew men’s, I don’t think of edgy, but authentic does ring true. These are smart moves that broaden the appeal of the J.Crew brand to a larger segment of the men’s market that has been growing nicely in spite of the downturn. Mickey Drexler is an iconic merchant with a keen eye for trends and the ability to execute even edgy fashion in a classy and profitable way. Making J.Crew a one-stop shop for guys meets other criterion of shopping for most men; if I can find everything in one store why do I need to go anywhere else?

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

I can attest to how well this strategy is working for J.Crew by the shopping behavior of my 21 year old son. He defaults to J.Crew for reliable fashion. He is SO HAPPY that he can do more one-stop shopping and pick up other brands that are authentic and relevant to his lifestyle as a college student/country club assistant waterfront manager. The partners they’ve selected are spot on to the eclectic desires many men have, and their helpful associates do a good job of providing options.

I only wish my guy would be more mindful of the markdowns and wait a few weeks for the sales to kick in before he plunks my credit card down on that checkout counter! Those new Sperry suede topsiders he’s strutting around in the past few weeks are probably on sale already….

Gary Ostrager
Guest
Gary Ostrager
10 years 8 months ago

I shop J.Crew for J.Crew product. I can shop Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom for the other apparel brands.

The J.Crew brand is unique. Why tamper with its perceived market position?

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 8 months ago

Loyalty, engagement and customer experience.

Gucci, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein (one of few who make athletic cut suits) and Hickey Freeman. The only brands that matter to me, yet I am an old loyalty guy and probably not in their target market.

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

A key learning here is that “men don’t want to be just one thing,” because I think that’s been the problem with men’s specialty stores to this point. Even, and maybe especially, the stores in Drexler’s past. Gap’s one thing, Banana’s one thing, A&F’s one thing.

But if J.Crew can nail that idea; addressing the many facets of a man’s life in one place, whether it’s with key brand names or with their own assortment or both, they’ll become the best men’s store ever. The retailers that have succeeded at this prior, like Louis in Boston, Mark Shale in Chicago, Ralph’s mansion on Madison or Barney’s have never been able to scale. But if anyone can achieve that status (a men’s store that’s not just one thing) and scale as well, it’s J.Crew. Hurry up!

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

J.Crew is doing a good job with their affiliates and getting the message out to the people who count, the female in the man’s life who does the shopping. Let’s face it. Men are generally not shoppers; they are target buyers. And then only when the need is a must have vs. “gee, that might look good on me if I ever had the opportunity to wear it.”

I do remember the last time I went shopping without my wife. I came home with two suits, a blue and a black that you could not tell apart without direct sunlight. And the blue suit was a direct match for the one already hanging in the closet. Have I heard the end of that? You guessed it!!!

John McNamara
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Mickey Drexler, while at the Gap, was the person that weaned American men off of fashion and told them it was alright to wear khakis and a polo shirt.

Now at J.Crew he apparently wants to turn back the clock and sell men fashion again.

Kind of ironic, no?

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