“It’s a way for us to have some fun, be a little playful, and test the waters,” said Aaron Battista, vice president of retail for the California-based wholesale manufacturer. “There’s an international presence, it’s a great college town, and there’s an established fashion customer in the city. It ties in perfectly with our retail expansion plans and our overall vision of growing the company through five key strategies.”
Wash House, which will only be open for six months, also ties into 7 For All Mankind’s desire to be an industry leader in the way it services its customer. From its founding in 2000, the company has positioned itself as a global luxury denim lifestyle brand, sitting in the center of the premium denim and contemporary apparel industry.
“Our vision is to be the world’s premier brand of luxury denim lifestyle products focused specifically on innovation in design, fabric, finish, and fit,” said Topher Gaylord, president. “We’re focused on building products that make modern consumers feel sexy and sophisticated.”
Back to denim
7 For All Mankind began with a single style (its boot-cut NY dark wash for woman) and has since expanded its denim line to include 16 fits for women, nine for men, and fits for boys and girls. In keeping with its denim lifestyle focus, the company expanded beyond jeans into new product categories—another of its five key growth strategies.
“Two or three years ago, we launched a contemporary apparel sportswear line for men and women,” said Gaylord. “So, in addition to growing our core, our first growth initiative, expanding into new product categories has led us to our third growth initiative: licensing.”
Gaylord said part of building a global denim lifestyle and fashion brand is having an array of products that go beyond apparel. Following this logic, 7 For All Mankind licensed out a footwear brand with Schwartz and Benjamin, which held the license to Yves St. Laurent for more than 30 years. It also licensed out an eyewear line with Modo. Additional product possibilities include accessories, fragrance, small leather goods, and handbags.
“Denim is the core of our business,” said Battista. “Any direction we go and anything we design will relate back to denim, and our marketing team works closely with the design team to make sure the feel and vision of our brand gets across in every product.”
Into the light
The company’s fourth and fifth growth drivers go hand in hand in many respects as 7 For All Mankind looks to continue expanding its presence internationally and in the direct-to-consumer marketplace. After only nine years in business, more than 35% of the US-based company’s business is outside of North America. But 18 US stores and 15 international stores are no longer enough, and the opportunities for growth are numerous.
“Developing more of a direct-to-consumer footprint enables us to tell our brand story and put a lifestyle in place within the retail world,” said Battista. “Retail stores allow us to give the consumer the environment and atmosphere, as well as to put in place our visual aesthetic, our shopping environment, and our full collection of sportswear, footwear, and accessories.”
The retail strategy also includes 7 For All Mankind’s e-commerce push and a revitalization of its outlet business, but the biggest capital push is in its flagship retail stores. Bythe end of 2009, the company plans to add nine stores to its 18 existing stores in the US, bringing the total to 62 retail stores across 18 countries. Gaylord said he considers the retail initiative a launch pad for the company brand to continue developing across the world.
“The retail initiative is a perfect way for us to share our brand positioning,” he said. The retail locations will be designed with zebrano woods, Italian marbles, and textured fabrics. When shopping for denim, the trend is to be dark and heavy, with piles of jeans stacked everywhere. 7 For All Mankind wanted to take a step away from those dark days and move its retail presence into the light.
“We wanted the consumer to come into a little bit of a juxtaposition,” said Battista. “You might find yourself in this luxurious environment, and we’re selling denim.”
The retail stores are also a great way for the company to share some of the new styles and trends its addressing, such as its boyfriend fit, skinny jeans, and what 7 For All Mankind terms the second-skin jean, which fits even tighter than a skinny jean but is built out of a double-knit fabric similar to leggings.
“Our female customers love the style because it gives them extreme comfort but still gives them a great fashion-forward look,” Gaylord said.
Prior to 7 For All Mankind launching in 2000, Gaylord said the world of premium denim in its current incarnation didn’t exist. There was little denim priced over $100, and what did exist lived in the world of designer labels.
Since 2000, much has changed in the world of denim, but 7 For All Mankind’s legacy as the first to create what is defined today as luxury denim (jeans priced between $150 and $250) remains. “We focus on superior fit, the finest quality fabrics we can find, and manufacturing right here in Los Angeles to ensure the ultimate in creativity, efficient speed to market, and the opportunity to address the most fashion-forward trends in a very rapid way,” said Gaylord.
A major factor in continually accomplishing that goal is having the right behind-the-scenes culture. When looking for associates, colleagues, and employees to add to the team, Gaylord said he looks for individuals who are passionate about fashion and the denim industry. “I hire for attitude and train for aptitude,” he said.
Also important is an overall emphasis on creativity in the workspace and the way the business is approached. As part of the VF Corporation, a $7 billion organization, 7 For All Mankind has financial and operational leverage behind it. Creatively, both Battista and Gaylord said the offices that house the washhouse, pattern makers, seamstresses, cutting rooms, and headquarters are a designer’s dream. “A lot of collaboration takes place between the design team, the retail group, and the marketing group to align where we take our denim next,” said Battista.
“We foster an entrepreneurial, passionate, and creative workforce and environment,” said Gaylord. “Our workplace is as inspiring for our employees as our retail locations will be for our consumers.”