Has Walmart put a bullseye on Cat & Jack with its new Free Assembly Kids line?

Photos: Walmart
Oct 05, 2021

Walmart is serious about raising its fashion cred. The retailer has engaged in a number of exclusive brand relationships and has sought to up its game with its private label lines. Case and point is the launch of its Free Assembly men and women’s collections last fall. Walmart is looking to build on the momentum created by the in-house designed brand with the introduction of Free Assembly Kids.

The collection appears to be Walmart’s answer to Target’s highly successful Cat & Jack line, which has topped $2 billion in annual sales. Free Assembly Kids also appears designed to help Walmart compete for category dollars against the likes of Amazon.com, H&M, Kohl’s, Old Navy, Shein and others.

Items in this initial effort, which includes 50 different styles, are sold in sizes from 5 to 18 with prices ranging from $6 to $36. The collection features wardrobe basics with stylistic twists including plaid and bandana prints, faux Sherpa, athleisure and monochromatic coordinated looks.

“We designed Free Assembly Kids to seamlessly complement our adult collection with many of the above trends like athleisure, plaid and cropped silhouettes being explored in our latest drop for men and women as well,” wrote Deanah Baker, SVP, Men’s, Kids, Shoes, Walmart U.S. “And, just like the adult line, Free Assembly Kids is made with a commitment to sustainability — several pieces in the fall collection include organic cotton or recycled polyester.”

Brandon Maxwell, who has designed clothing for A-list clients such as Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga, was tapped earlier this year to serve as the creative director for Free Assembly as well as Scoop, Walmart’s “exclusive, elevated fashion” label. The retailer said at the time of its announcement that Mr. Maxwell’s designs would first start to show up ahead of the holiday season with his first full collection hitting store racks next spring.

Ms. Baker writes that Walmart has been receiving “great feedback” from its customers with the enhancements it has been making in kid’s fashions including the launch of its exclusive Justice line this summer.

Justice, which closed all 826 of its stores as it filed for bankruptcy last year, has rolled out items in multiple categories beyond clothing, such as bedding and bath, backpacks, jewelry, pet, shoes, skateboards and tech accessories.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think Free Assembly and other moves being made by Walmart suggest it is ready to elevate its fashion game? What retailers are most likely to take a hit if Walmart’s Free Assembly and other lines catch on with customers?

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"It’s high time Walmart revisited its apparel proposition beyond athleisure and basics and across multiple size ranges."

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11 Comments on "Has Walmart put a bullseye on Cat & Jack with its new Free Assembly Kids line?"

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Neil Saunders

Free Assembly is a solid brand and represents a sensible play for Walmart to improve its credentials in apparel. Expanding it to kidswear makes sense, especially as Walmart has an opportunity here to secure more spending from the family shopper. However while the brand looks good online, execution in stores is incredibly poor. The adults selection of Free Assembly is merchandised much like the rest of the clothing offer with little flair or imagination. And this is why Walmart won’t find it easy to steal Target’s thunder. Target does things holistically – it develops brands, creates new POS material for them, plans out merchandising, engineers a brand personality and so forth. Walmart develops a brand and, more or less, shoves it in a store.

Carol Spieckerman

It seems that the word “fashion,” when associated with Walmart, garners a backlash. Let’s just say that it’s high time Walmart revisited its apparel proposition beyond athleisure and basics and across multiple size ranges. The best news is that Walmart appears to be going for depth and presence with Free Assembly rather than spot treating its apparel opportunity with niche brands. Walmart’s apparel and accessories businesses already generate mind-blowing numbers, often seemingly by accident. Now it’s time to find out how much better it can be.

Georganne Bender

Here’s the thing: Walmart can elevate its fashion game to equal or surpass Target but that’s not enough. Target is sexy; Walmart has low prices. In order to compete with Target on a level playing field Walmart needs to up its fashion cred.

Liza Amlani

It may be too early to tell if Free Assembly and Walmart’s recent merchandising strategy will elevate its fashion game but they are definitely on the right track. Walking through the store over the weekend peaked my interest and there was not only fashion but also trend covered across men’s and womenswear. I was intrigued and even took a second look!

It would be interesting to see what the sell-through looks like as retail sales have leveled out across the industry. I’m happy to see Walmart catering to their customer and offering more than just boring basics and graphic tees.

Melissa Minkow

This definitely signals a desire to elevate Walmart’s positioning in the retail space, and across categories. Walmart is making continuous moves to demonstrate that it has a higher quality offering than it’s been known for in the past. Considering how much investment Walmart has put towards every aspect of the shopping experience, I do believe it’s primed to succeed wherever the retailer seriously wants to play.

Richard Hernandez

I hope this turns out better than previous iterations of Walmart’s label launches. Usually a lot is said before the launch and then when the product is launched, it becomes a wallflower in the Walmart apparel departments. It can be a very good fit for them.

David Spear

Richard – well said…we’ve all seen many tie-ups and acquisitions in the past by Walmart that have not ended well. And this has recently extended to other areas of their business such as their health centers, where they have placed a pause on new center development. I do hope this turns out better but, as Neil Saunders rightly points out, it’s about execution.

Lisa Goller

Delighted to see Walmart’s moves in apparel to appeal to Gen Zs and their parents. Free Assembly, a Reebok section and the glorious Justice partnership make Walmart an increasingly attractive apparel destination.

(My Gen Zs say replace JoJo Siwa with more Justice options and replace Minecraft with Roblox and they’ll visit Walmart more often.)

H&M, Kohl’s and Old Navy could face stiff competition if Walmart’s lines catch on with customers. Yet Target’s Cat & Jack remains a leader in stylish, affordable children’s clothing. As a joyous burst of color, this private label consistently delivers what kids and moms want.

Gary Sankary

Cat & Jack are successful because Target is able to cash in on decades of building credibly as an affordable fashion brand, across all their categories. Walmart has a pretty steep uphill climb to build this same credibility for their brands. I love the idea, but to really “target” Cat & Jack, Walmart will have to take a more holistic approach to their brand, starting with in-store presentation and customer experience.

10 months 12 days ago

This is the problem. The problem with Walmart is not the product. The problem with Walmart is the store operation, attitude of the people operating the store, and attitude of other customers. And in a clothing operation, these problems add up to create a bad experience real fast.

10 months 12 days ago

Walmart’s clothing program is quite good for basic clothing. Some stores from time to time will get branded items from brands that were once sold in higher priced stores as well. US Polo, Swiss Tech, Reebok. The problem with Walmart’s clothing program is Walmart’s reputation combined with poor in-store execution.

Did everyone know Walmart had a program to copy Target’s Dollar Spot for the summer? I recently found this out as throughout September the Walmart I visit has had a bunch of summer-themed Target Dollar Spot lookalike items — on the clearance aisle at $1 or 50 cents. New items were showing up every week. They evidently didn’t get the stuff out on the floor when they were supposed to so now, months later, it goes to the clearance aisle.

Hopefully they will get the clothing out on the floor at the right time and it won’t get lost in Walmart’s sea of pallets until Easter.

"It’s high time Walmart revisited its apparel proposition beyond athleisure and basics and across multiple size ranges."

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