This morning, some recruiters from a popular 90s mall brand* came to talk to my draping class about internships. The reps were excited to talk to us, very apparently having had positive experiences with the company. I respect that, and I respect them for doing their jobs today.
But I also think it is important to make the conversation about their past failures as a brand.
Several years ago, their (former) CEO made some pretty inflammatory statements about who their customer is.
“I don’t want our core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing our clothing."
"A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong."
I was never a fan of the brand to start with. When I was a teen, just walking by their poorly lit stores made me want to gag (mostly because of the intense cologne smell emanating from the entrance). When people I knew got clothes from there, I wondered how they could even stand being in the store.
These statements (and there are plenty more) were so gross, it was hard for me to forgive or forget them. I was never in their demographic style-wise, but then when the CEO went on record as basically saying “ugly” people couldn’t wear these clothes, I knew I would never condone shopping there for any reason.
This morning, the recruiters were trying very hard to engage conversation. I decided since no one was speaking up, that I would question them: this company has a history of non-inclusive sizing. What, if anything, is brand updates you're implementing doing about this?
The response was, sadly, as I expected. I got a run-around answer about from a merchandising standpoint that if they included XL they would need to include XS, and that wasn’t a size that was profitable. Bigger sizing wasn’t their customer.
In so many words, their brand identity has remained the same as it was with the previous CEO.
Brand exclusivity may have worked in the 90s for mall brands, but inclusivity is all the rage 20 years later. People want brands that have inclusive sizing. People want things that make them feel good, no matter their size. They don't want to feel excludED.
Not only that, but the world is changing. People buy more and more online every day, and trying to force merchandising in-store isn't going to increase sales. E-commerce is the future, and brands need to look forward to brick and mortar stores supporting online sales rather than being the primary source. Here is an article I read just last night that talks about this in depth.
Experience is important. If I go to a store, I want the environment to enhance my experience, not hinder it.
I asked the recruiters about their recent brand reimagining in their attempt to attract an older audience (presumably those who wore their clothes in the 90s). I made my fellow classmates laugh later on because I was very frank about their brand to their faces. I believe I used the words "smelly" and “dark" when describing their 90s aesthetic.
They had some thoughtful answers about this. Well…as thoughtful as designers and recruiters can be public facing that is. We must remember is that their literal job is to talk about how great working there is. They don’t want to focus on the negative. However, I hope that my questions gave the recruiters pause to make sure they were committed for the right reasons.
Apparently the brand is working on launching some new store models with a smaller footprint and a more image-conscious employee. Translation: older sales reps. These are some positive steps in the right direction, but considering their decay, this new model may be too little, too late.
Transforming a brand that had such a strong identity 20 years ago is an immense challenge. Much like Blockbuster, they seemed too big to fail until one day, they just did. Their sales have been steadily declining year over year, and changing into something new is going to be a difficult undertaking. I am not convinced that they are going to stay above water.
*I am not going to name name this brand publicly, but a simple google will yield their name if you are curious.