On a quick weekend trip home, my first stop was, of course, my hometown mall. A little retail therapy was needed as the semester was quickly coming to a close.
I have a ritual when I go to my mall. I park in almost the same spot, walk the same route — although the store I cut through recently closed, so it has changed — and walk into my favorite store, J. Crew.
As I was shopping the sales racks last time, I noticed that the racks were fuller, the store was clean and the promotional material included top notch tables scattered with catalogs as if we had entered a store from the ’90s. And then I thought – have we entered a retail renaissance?
Many retailers, such as my closet staple, J. Crew, were at death’s door as the pandemic was beginning. Just five years ago, J. Crew filed chapter eleven bankruptcy protection, Abercrombie and Fitch was on the downturn in sales and closed many of its flagship locations abroad and GAP and Banana Republic closed a total of 350 stores in 2020 alone. Lastly, Coach was on no one’s radar.
However, while the threat of online sales has been known for many years, it seems as though the pandemic might have changed peoples’ thoughts on how sacred human interaction with a sales associate actually is.
Many of these stores have come back from the ashes. Abercrombie has had surging popularity with not only shoppers but also stock holders, having one of the most successful social media rebrands in recent retail history. Now targeting an older demographic after having once served teenagers, Abercrombie has expanded sizing selections and proudly displays a wider variety of well-crafted items.
Coach has become the hottest handbag maker on the market, creating new thoughtful designs such as the pillow tabby and reviving some greats from the archive. The brand has truly had a comeback, especially with younger consumers. Coach has become a lively brand on TikTok and has embraced making the Earth greener by launching a new brand of bags, Coachtopica, made exclusively from recycled materials.
Banana Republic has created a whole new image by harking back to its past, using warm tones, exploration imagery and heritage pieces such as Explored Vest. Similarly, J. Crew has launched its 40th anniversary campaign, reminiscing with celebrities over the catalogs of the past and reviving and releasing a limited amount of its classic roll neck sweaters from the archives.
So what is happening? Is it the nostalgic marketing of Banana Republic and J. Crew that is bringing back consumers of the past? Have brands finally understood how to appeal to Gen Z as they are able to make their own fashion decisions? Or have we missed social interaction and are embracing the shopping mall again?
Brands are expected to adapt to ever-changing consumer habits and trends. Some brands easily adapt and evolve time and time again. Others are victims of fast trends and quick deaths. The threat of fast fashion and online sales have pushed classic brick-and-mortar brands to evolve, and some are doing it better than the fast fashion pioneers that nearly killed them.
While all of my questions have surely come into play, one thing is certain – many mall brands have entered their own renaissance to compete with fast fashion and are doing it very well.