Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Strategy: We visited Ann Taylor's new store for the 'ageless generation' and discovered how H&M and Forever 21 are blowing a huge opportunity (ASNA)


Ann Taylor's new brand may seem like millennial bait, with jumpsuits and dressing room mirrors branded in hashtags. But, Lou and Grey is much more than that.

In 2014, Ann Taylor announced it was launching a new active wear-centric brand called Lou and Grey.

"Age doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about a mind set, how you feel and approach life, not how many years you’ve been on the Earth," Austyn Zung, creative director of Loft and Lou & Grey, told LA Times at the time. "But when we look at numbers, we are pulling in a younger clientele, while not alienating 40- and 50-year-olds."

While Zung's answer may seem like a marketing spin, there may be more to his words than some clever PR-speak. Women in their 40s and 50s are the new "ageless generation," The Telegraph reported. They feel they have a "younger attitude" than their mothers' generation at the same age, identifying more with their daughters' fashion trends and social media habits than dowdy stereotypes of middle aged women.

A significant portion of fast-fashion brands push to market exclusively to millennial shoppers, with more revealing garb and teen-dominated marketing. After all, there's a reason that Forever 21 is named after the legal age where one can drink in the US.

However, with Lou and Grey, Ann Taylor seems to be taking a different track — wining over younger customers while also selling items that a trendy middle-aged woman could see herself wearing. Eager to see if the brand could succeed, we decided to visit on of the brand's 12 retail locations.

If I hadn't known that the store, located in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood, was owned by Ann Taylor, the exterior wouldn't have given me any clues.

Inside, the space is open and airy.

"Our team curated a mix of apparel and third party partnerships that reflect the brand's sensibility while capturing the energy and spirit of New York," Ann Taylor's CEO Gary Muto said in a statement when the store opened.

Source: New York Business Journal

These partnerships mean that Lou and Grey sell more than just clothing, featuring local jewelry, skincare, and accessories from smaller vendors.

I had come to Lou and Grey expecting Lululemon-esque activewear.

Instead, what I found was something closer to leisure than athleisure. While Lou and Grey does have a workout wear section, even most of those items seem more geared toward lounging around than sweating.

In general, Lou and Grey's aesthetic seems to be "millennial loungewear" — outfits that are perfect for people who prioritize comfort, even as they try to keep up with various fashion trends.

It was an angle that I initially found suspicious. As a cheap fast-fashion fan, I balk at spending $60 on drawstring cotton shorts that aren't particularly flattering.

However, I quickly discovered that Lou and Grey — much like Loft — has a substantial sales section, every bargain hunters dream.

Even better, I found Lou and Grey's enormous pink dressing room — perfectly lit to encourage shoppers to take the plunge on potentially questionable fashion decisions.

I am, for example, a longtime jumpsuit skeptic. But Lou and Grey pushes them hard and ended up winning me over. The store's huge mirror — complete with the #LouAndGrey branding at the bottom — which allowed me to snap selfies I could send to friends soliciting feedback.

Do I need a one-shoulder, green, corduroy dress for the summer? Probably not! But, thanks to a sale and employees' enthusiastic encouragement, I bought it anyway.

In some cases, the retailer bets on trends that don't exactly work. I found this $98 hooded vest incredibly intriguing, but I could not think of any circumstance in which I would wear it.

However, the retailer balances out these misses with basics, such as a solid line of denim for under $100.

Lou and Grey isn't trying to compete with Lululemon. Instead, it's aiming for vaguely quirky comfort, presented in a way that can win over skeptics of all ages. The material is typically higher quality than what you'd find at a Forever 21, and the cuts aim to be practically modest, instead of daringly low-cut.

Basically, it's a brand that makes you to feel vaguely trendy, while remaining comfortable. It allows Ann Taylor to compete with fast-fashion brands like H&M by adding some trendier styles, without having to dedicate resources to churning out fresh from the runway looks that may not win over customers of all ages.

As the tyranny of discomfort reigns supreme in fashion, from restrictive jeans to sky-high heels, there's something to be said for insisting comfort is in. And that's something that, I think, appeals to shoppers of all ages.

from pulse.ng - Nigeria's entertainment & lifestyle platform online

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