Walmart puts its fashion storytelling skills to the test

Discussion
Photos: Walmart
Feb 23, 2022

Celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga have worn Brandon Maxwell’s designs. Now the question is whether Walmart’s customers will do the same — and maybe even some of Target’s.

Walmart has announced the debut of spring 2022 collections under its Free Assembly and Scoop brands. It marks the first full collections to be released under Mr. Maxwell, who serves as creative director for the two private labels.

Mr. Maxwell called working with Walmart the realization of a personal dream when his deal with the retailer was made public last March. The designer, who was born and grew up in Longview, TX, said the local Walmart “was the destination for everything.”

The celebrity designer said he worked with Walmart’s design team and its partners to create a single “design story” for each collection. He said, “The storytelling that surrounds any brand is just as important as the product.”

The Free Assembly collection includes 500 pieces in women’s, men’s and children’s departments.

“Silhouettes are designed to work together and there are coordinated options for the whole family,” said Mr. Maxwell. “We explored fresh but timeless trends that would last and be seasonless, including stripes, gingham, eyelet, spring fleece, color blocking and printed denim.”

“When I think about Scoop, I think about play and an easy lightness to the clothes. They are more trend-driven than Free Assembly, but still timeless,” said Mr. Maxwell.

The Scoop line, which prominently features denim, uses more “bold, vibrant colors and high energy prints” than the Free Assembly brand.

Mr. Maxwell said he was excited about working on developing overarching stories and cohesive brand messaging for Free Assembly and Scoop. His goal, he said, was “to bring each brand to life in its own unique way.”

Free Assembly’s new spring collection includes pieces priced between $8 and $48. Scoop’s prices range from $18 to $75.

“One of my goals when I started my fashion brand was to create beautiful clothing for everyone,” said Mr. Maxwell. “This partnership allows me to fulfill that dream on a larger scale.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the new spring collections from Free Assembly and Scoop create buzz around Walmart as a fashion destination? What else will Walmart have to do to complete the story that Robert Maxwell is trying to tell with the two brands?

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Braintrust
"Target launches new designers with brightly lit, beautiful boutique-like displays. Let’s hope Walmart does the same."

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17 Comments on "Walmart puts its fashion storytelling skills to the test"


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Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Success of Brandon Maxwell’s collections for Walmart will have a lot to do with how the fashions are displayed on the sales floor.

Walmart’s apparel departments tend to be pretty utilitarian; displaying the collections on utility racking in and around tables of $1.99 tank tops won’t cut it. Target launches new designers with brightly lit, beautiful boutique-like displays. Let’s hope Walmart does the same.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This is all directionally correct and Walmart is making strides in fashion, no doubt inspired by what Target has accomplished over the past few years. However while this will work well online, a great deal more thought needs to go into how this is executed in-store. I know Walmart is working on elevating the experience but in too many stores all of this good and interesting new product gets lost in a sea of badly merchandised product. It is a shame and something that Walmart needs to remedy if it is to grow its audience and customer base.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
5 months 24 days ago

Neil, I think some of the new format stores being tested will certainly begin to elevate this experience. In the home department they have styled room settings being rolled out, much like the vignettes you see at AtHome stores. This feature was for their Queer Eye Collection launch. In apparel they’ve added more mannequins and display banners that look fairly similar to Target. It’s certainly going to be a significant undertaking to refresh their large store count.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

There’s definitely been a democratization of fashion that has made consumers interested in buying clothing from a wider variety of retailers. Just as Amazon is becoming more of a destination for fashion, there’s less and less mental hurdles for consumers to shop at mass merchants such as Walmart for fashion as well. If the collections are on-trend, which I’m sure they will be, I would bet they’ll help Walmart become more of a fashion destination.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
5 months 24 days ago

Walmart’s online marketplace model also has sneakily expanded brands in their online offering. It was only a matter of time before this expanded to in-store as well. It was a smart and long-term strategy to ease the consumer into associating the company as a destination for more name brands.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Walmart will see modest gains in the new fashion brands, but it won’t blow it out the door, primarily because Walmart doesn’t create unique, high profile store-within-a-store experiences. They put a sign up or bring a new table in, but rarely do they renovate an area for a total immersive experience. In Mr. Maxwell’s new deal, I hope he successfully contracted for the design rights to the square footage he will be given for his displays, including build out dollars. If he did, then these new brands have a real shot at driving some serious revenue but if not, then don’t expect huge gains.

David Slavick
BrainTrust

Walmart is America. The sheer volume through their sales channels and buying power make them the most formidable retailer servicing the needs of the masses. Just like Target did many years ago with Isaac Mizrahi bringing hip style and fashion to its valued customers, this merchandising strategy is a solid winner, so long as it stays on trend season by season.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
5 months 24 days ago

Also Zac Posen at Banana Republic. This is a continuation of the trend in former Project Runway judges influencing mass brands. Not to mention the Project Runway home collection previously at Big Lots.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Designing and selling with a story has been mostly successful for marketers. The descriptions in the discussion suggest very appealing lines. As Georganne pointed out the story must include the in-store presentation. The presentation must be different from the traditional Walmart presentation.

In the end, success will revolve around price expectation. They must focus on two “wows.” The first is the upscale appeal of the design, the second is Walmart pricing.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

A year after Walmart’s announcement of the deal with Mr. Maxwell, the company is rolling its spring collection under Free Assembly and Scoop. With a year to plan, coordinate, and prepare both product range and marketing campaign, all eyes will be on the celebrity designer’s ability to push Walmart’s fashion beyond existing boundaries.

Steve Rowen
BrainTrust

Will there be any – any – mention of sustainability in any of this storytelling? We all keep saying “it’s long overdue,” and we all keep waiting for someone to take the lead here and by, all accounts, Walmart has done quite a bit in the “ecoworld” whenever it can save them money (trucking, supply chain, etc). But the question is, if sustainability is important to them (and it’s rumored that there are people high within the ranks for whom it is), and storytelling is something the brand aspires to do more of, will this be a chance to tell even the slightest fraction of that bit as a story?

Why not combine the two? It would be epic.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
5 months 24 days ago

I have seen a lot more recycled products and packaging callouts across Walmart stores. The Wrangler apparel collection at Walmart is very heavily assorted with products made of a blend of recycled materials and I also spotted some kids plush made of recycled bottles. Packaging is likely to be the largest notable change coming.

George Anderson
Staff

Free Assembly plays up the sustainability angle including its use of “mostly organic cotton.” It also notes that its washing techniques reduce the consumption of water and that merchandise is produced in LEED certified facilities.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

It’s not the same Walmart as it was the last time it tried going into fashion — so I think the chances are pretty good. Mr. Maxwell gets some good exposure through Project Runway, which helps.

As Georganne said, store presentation must be strong, but website presentation is equally important. I don’t expect the goods to blow out the way Missoni and others have at Target, but it could be a great start.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
5 months 24 days ago

This has to be looked at in the full context of Walmart’s strategies. This isn’t the only major name attached to an initiative. Gap Home, Queer Eye, Justice Girls and Bonobos all had somewhat recent launches. All of this activity is certain to catch the attention of a broader customer base for Walmart. I already purchased some items from their new Bonobos collection that just launched. The quality was impressive, especially for Walmart. At the sharp price points, there is limited risk and an incentive to overcome any potential stigma for a new consumer to try out a brand at Walmart.

Katie Thomas
BrainTrust

Consumers cross-shop and most consumers, regardless of income, love feeling like they are getting a good price – which makes Walmart broadly appealing, especially during this inflationary period. While they need to elevate the in-store experience, including merchandising, they run the risk of alienating core consumers if they look too “fancy”. Perhaps partnerships like this one are better to be led online?

Lucille DeHart
BrainTrust

I have lived through the softer side of Walmart, the move to NY, the move out of NY, the acquisition of intimate brands, the return to basics, blah, blah. Walmart should NOT try to become Target. I know they see fashion as a new frontier, but do they really need that? Similar to Amazon, who has yet to crack the fashion code, Walmart needs to focus on what they do best. A competitive marketplace, membership and same day delivery are where they will continue to excel. Focus on need-based and low price merchandising.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Target launches new designers with brightly lit, beautiful boutique-like displays. Let’s hope Walmart does the same."

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