By keeping its eye on its brand message, this retailer has successfully expanded its global presence. Most retailers wouldn’t use the words light and airy to describe a denim lifestyle, but 7 For All Mankind isn’t most retailers. Founded in 2000, the Southern California-based company functioned as a wholesale denim manufacturer until three years ago, when it decided to try out a direct-to-retail approach.

By the end of 2010, 7 For All Mankind will have 39 US retail locations (31 full-price stores and eight outlet stores), and each functions as a physical incarnation of the company’s brand: an intersection between art, architecture, and commerce using modern, sophisticated, light, and airy materials that bring the outside California sunshine and blue skies indoors. 

Aaron Battista, vice president of retail, said the exciting part about translating 7 For All Mankind’s brand into brick and mortar retail locations is how the layouts showcase the denim lifestyle. “We’ve done some beautiful things to complement our brand through store design and aesthetics that tell the story of our Southern California roots,” he said. “We brought in greenery, and we’re using some beautiful woods and stones to give a warm feeling to the stores.”

But the Southern California culture isn’t all about fun and sun; 7 For All Mankind is making strides to incorporate the artistic side of the culture into its stores as well. To launch its 2009 spring collection, for example, it held several Art + Fashion: 7 For All Mankind events where shoppers previewed the newest styles, sipped on champagne, listened to music by a local DJ, and viewed exclusive artwork created by local artists. 

For 2010, the company stepped it up a notch by building art gallery space into some of its locations to blend and elevate the art, architecture, and fashion pieces of its brand message. “All of our stores showcase our products and put them center stage by surrounding them in a light and airy environment,” said Battista. “Altogether, the retail merchant, retail design, and visual teams are bringing the 7 For All Mankind story to life.”

Collaborative expansion

7 For All Mankind is also making strides in spreading its Southern California message beyond the US. The company has 100 stores around the world, concentrated mostly in the Asian, European, and US markets. In 2011, the company will launch stores in Canada as well. 

In bringing its brand to colder climates, the company had to expand beyond its warm-climate mentality and focus on developing what Battista calls a cold-weather philosophy. For its Fall 2010 campaign launch, as the brand celebrated its 10-year anniversary, 7 For All Mankind photographed its newest products in California and used international fashion photographers Mert and Marcus to bring a more complex story to life. 

“We added a lot of outerwear, knits, and sweaters, and we expanded globally, so we are focused on making sure we have a comprehensive product assortment for all seasons,” he said. In addition to expanding its denim line with new cuts such as the trouser, a tailored denim fit with a wide leg, the company launched a sportswear collection for men and women and licensed footwear and eyewear collections. 

Again, the approach has been collaborative, with the design and marketing teams working closely together to gather and monitor feedback from each market. They also focus on finding strong local retail merchants to work closely with to regionally merchandise the business and play to each market’s tastes. 

“Our approach to Asia, Europe, the US, and soon to be Canada is focused on giving each markets what it needs,” Battista said. The company picks partners on a global basis, whether merchandisers or licensees, and Michele Lee, divisional merchandise manager, and Leilani Augustine, VP of marketing, work with them to make sure they understand the brand’s DNA. 

The biggest challenge, said Battista, is becoming a leading global retailer and destination for a denim lifestyle collection while expanding 7 For All Mankind’s product assortment. “Customers know us for denim, so we have to make sure our stores educate the consumer that we’re still a leader in fashion denim and that our new lines support our leadership. Our brand DNA starts with having a strong denim foundation and a strong brand message that’s illustrated through our aesthetic and culture.”

Perfect translation

Although the expanded product assortment and store footprint have been positives for 7 For All Mankind, keeping up with the growth behind the scenes has been somewhat challenging. The company made sure it has the right team in place to execute and deliver to its stores what’s needed to make a mark in their regions.

When the company started its global expansion in 2007, it put together a very small team of highly skilled, talented people that could develop and support its growth up to its first 100 stores. Now, parent company VF Corporation has stepped in to support 7 For All Mankind’s growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel through capital infusions. 

“VF is supportive of us strengthening our DTC approach, not only our retail footprint, but also our e-commerce presence,” said Battista. “VF has given us a great deal of support in putting our stores’ portfolios together by developing a message that talks clearly to the brand and what the brand is.” 

The company has approached its growth with thoughtful consideration. Although it came at an economically shaky time, Battista said the benefit of the economic swings is that 7 For All Mankind has been able to open in areas where others haven’t. “We work with a real estate group called Dallimore Co. and its principal, Simon Dallimore,” Battista said. “Together with VF, we’ve ensured we’ve put the right stores in the right place at the right time.”

Battista continued to say that 7 For All Mankind wants to make sure the growth it’s had during this time is strong enough so that when the economic rollercoaster stops, it’s got a solid retail footprint and strong brand positioning. “It’s not been easy just from a forecasting and historical perspective because these last few years have been difficult to predict,” Battista said. “But the good news is we’re still growing.”

The strength of where 7 For All Mankind sits today comes from the success of what came before. Although the company is 10 years old, its retail approach only began in 2007. But it’s the strength of the brand and how it’s translated through the company’s stores and products that Battista finds truly remarkable. 

“The beauty of where we are today is that we’ve got this adolescent that we’ve added to the business,” said Battista. “Our focus now is positioning our retail presence to excite the customer and tell the brand story.”