What’s that old saying about the ever greener grass on the other side? Well, for fashion retailers, the green on the other side is the home furnishings sector. Mango, the Spanish clothing brand that has had some penetration into the US market, is the latest in a long line of clothing brands to introduce products for the home. In this case, it is mainly textiles, which are only available online.
It’s almost easier to make a list of fashion brands that haven’t entered the house than the other way around. In the world of Mango (fast fashion based in Europe), he joins two of the major players, H&M and Zara, who have both been in the home business for more than a decade. H&M has opted to sell from home in its existing clothing stores, including several in the US market, in particular its Herald Square department store in Midtown Manhattan across from Macy’s. In Europe, Zara has independent stores under the Zara Home banner, but has not opened any in the US market. Both also sell from home online in the United States.
Mango isn’t the only fashion newcomer either. J.Crew recently launched its own home department, which offers both its own branded merchandise as well as bedding and textiles from Liberty, the iconic British brand. Jenni Kayne, the Californian brand that focuses on high-end staples, has also moved into the house. Earlier this year, the company opened a standalone home-focused store in New York City.
And several of Urban Outfitters’ nameplates, including its namesake division and its more upscale Anthropologie banner, have always had their homes as part of their merchandising mixes. In fact, several years ago the company said it was working to manufacture up to 40% of its assortment at Anthropologie with expanded furniture, decor, and accessory products.
Both Levi’s and Wrangler entered the domestic market through licensing agreements with big-box mass merchants, the former with Target and the latter with Walmart. Each is in conjunction with designer clothing lines in these stores.
This combination of home and clothes has been tried by various specialty chains many times over the past decades, with varying degrees of success. Victoria’s Secret once sold a collection of bedding suitable for the boudoir while Banana Republic has been in and out of the house several times – a little-known fact is that its sister company Gap at one time had a small operation specializing in bedding. furnishings called Pottery Barn before eventually selling it to its current owner, Williams-Sonoma. These days, Gap has a home line with Walmart.
The mix of homewear has also sometimes been reversed, although this is rarer. Home seller Garnet Hill has been selling clothes for years, mostly sleepwear and casual wear. And long ago, Pier 1 sold clothing in the same eclectic style as its homewares before finally pulling out of that business.
For apparel retailers, the house is a way to provide customers with a more comprehensive merchandising style, but it can also be an eye opener. Home products typically take up more floor space on the sales floor – think of a display bed versus a stack of T-shirts – and merchandise turns are significantly slower than clothing, often by a factor of half. On the plus side, they generally lack the seasonality and consequent markdowns for clothing.
Of course, selling a house online only removes some of these problems with limited inconvenience. Given the last couple of years where home shopping has skyrocketed as apparel plummeted during the stay-at-home period, it has become an attractive add-on for many retailers, with Mango being the latest.
There is another old adage that home is where the heart is. These clothing retailers are also hoping that’s where the business is.
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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor of several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and was quoted by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. Its Retail Watch columns offer in-depth industry insights into key markets and product categories.