Blog Post

The Renaissance of Mall Brands

November 21, 2022
Table of Contents

Who else is following the J.Crew AND Banana Republic renaissance?

These mall brands had been struggling for a while. (Flash to J.Crew filing for bankruptcy in May 2020.) What remains are boutique labels with hyper-specific, trend-focused offerings. But the tides are shifting. These classic mall brands are gaining traction again. Now, more and more articles surface, like TikTok Is Obsessed With Banana Republic’s Bag. Even terms like “hypebeast” are associated with J.Crew.  

So, how did this come about – and what can marketers learn?

J.Crew appointed Olympia Gayot as the head of women’s and kids’ design, and she’s bringing a modern, Jenna Lyons-level boost.

Olympia has 95k Instagram followers, and TikTok searches for her name have reached almost 1 billion. J.Crew is capitalizing on her influence with a moodboard-style page carefully adorned with Olympia’s favorites. It’s reminiscent of smaller bloggers (hello, Ashley Kane) who position themselves as tastemakers rather than affiliate link factories. And it works. 

They aren’t ignoring their male audience anymore – J.Crew hired Brendon Babenzien in 2021 as creative director.

Brendon’s resume oozes cool, underlined by its feature in Hypebeast. Not only is he an environmentally-conscious men’s label founder, former creative director at Supreme and one of Pharrell’s brands – but he also worked at a surf-skate shop as a teenager. Talk about a head turner. His hire alone created extraordinary buzz for J.Crew. 

His influence continues making waves. Cue the article The Skaters in the Boathouse and all of his latest and greatest collaborations. The cherry on top is his transformation of J.Crew’s menswear, turning it into something that consumers actually want to buy. 

Banana Republic reinvents itself…by going back to its roots.

In September 2021, the company released a campaign called Imagined Worlds that pays homage to Banana’s early beginnings as a travel/safari/adventure apparel maker

This campaign was supported by a Fall 2021 collection, showcasing luxe materials like leather, suede, merino, silk and cashmere. It became a thesis for elevated, new product stories and experiences in physical and digital spaces. 

Notably this overhaul included a website design refresh (check out the before and after). While it’s undeniably beautiful, some consumers weren’t thrilled with the change, which calls into question its functionality and resulting conversion rates. Nevertheless, the updates gave Banana Republic a much-needed boost, delivering its third consecutive quarter of growth in 2022 while other companies struggled.

DTC brands are taking some serious hits, creating space for legacy brands to pounce on market share

It’s no secret that DTC brands have struggled with profitability for a while. In March 2022, DTC brands lost billions in market cap, but numbers turned for the better in Q2 – for a price. Brands made drastic changes to make numbers work, including sweeping layoffs. 

While the pandemic brought an unexpected opportunity for DTC brands to focus on aggressive growth, it also caused supply chain issues, worker shortages, and slow shipping that hurt brand reputations. Consumers began prioritizing basic customer service and product availability, which legacy retailers could provide much more readily. Once consumers returned to pre-pandemic habits, these companies got hit with rising inflation. As if that wasn’t enough, advertising on Meta has tripled in cost, making a previously efficient acquisition channel more expensive for DTC brands. Not to mention the IOS14 changes that further complicated paid social. 

For retail giants, this was a stroke of serendipity. They had already spent time investing in more DTC-like tactics to gain ground back. As Fortune says, “With retailers across the board switching to this DTC strategy, DTC brands no longer have that special, sparkly effect on shoppers that they once did.” It doesn’t help that most DTC brands look the same. (Thank you, Bloomberg for coining the term “blands” to describe them – it’s a masterpiece.)

Learnings to apply to your fashion brand and business

Power Digital specializes in close relationships with clients at the intersection of marketing, consulting and data intelligence – helping with high-level financial goal decisions, market positioning and more. Here’s our take on what fashion companies can learn and apply from the resurgence of mall brands:

  • Create a strong and future-proof brand identity. J.Crew and Banana are seriously elevating every customer touchpoint. They honed back in on who their customers are, adapted to appeal to who they want their customers to be, and doubled down on brand image. They could only do this because they identified who they are and why consumers should buy from them again and again. Meanwhile, DTC “blands” are getting lost in the dust because they look the same and their USPs (unique selling propositions) aren’t unique anymore.
  • Customer experience is critical. As consumers return to a more holistic customer journey, it’s hyper-important that brands leverage every single touchpoint to tell consumers who they are, why they should buy from them and why they should keep buying. Apply this to in-store, website, social and anywhere else). Optimize your website to prioritize ease of use to maximize conversion rates. Elevate the customer experience with perks like free shipping and returns, dialed-in customer service and specialty options like styling consultation.
  • Rethink growth goals. Only focusing on ROAS is limiting to say the least. Thriving brands look at their LTV to CAC ratios. Why? The right ratio covers brands from every angle by ensuring new customer acquisition at a rate that matches growth goals, while doing it profitably. 
  • Brands need a diversified portfolio. Yes, Facebook ads have gotten more expensive, but they’re still effective. However, brands face a massive problem if they only rely on Facebook ads. Today’s market requires a full-journey, multi-channel approach customized to target audiences,  including but very much not limited to Facebook.

Ready to elevate your brand presence? Discover our digital marketing services, and read up on client success stories like this one with Good American. When you’re ready, send us a note

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