retail watch | Oct 29, 2020 |
Talbots is the latest fashion brand to give home a spin

You can always tell when the apparel business is bad and brands are looking for ways to pick up a few bucks. How? They start a home line.

Talbots, the classically preppy womenswear retailer, announced this week it is launching a new brand, called Haven Well Within, which includes a home furnishings collection. The line is heavy on the soft textiles, with a smattering of housewares and kitchenware products.

CEO Lizanne Kindler announced the news in a letter to Talbots customers. “There has never been a better time for us to launch this brand,” wrote Kindler, who has helmed the company since 2012. “Today, more than ever, we believe in the importance of enhancing our lives by taking time for ourselves and thoroughly enjoying every moment of life at home.”

Left unsaid is the other reason that the timing is advantageous—which is that the apparel business has taken some serious hits during the pandemic, as many people work from home in jeans and loungewear rather than in tailored tops and bottoms. Meanwhile the malls where most Talbots stores are located have mainly been devoid of customers for the past eight months.

The collection includes towels, bath rugs, throws, pillows, duvet covers and weighted blankets. Among the houseware offerings are a charcuterie board, cookbooks, food canisters, carafes and water bottles. There are apparel and personal care items available as well. Prices are unknown at this point but will likely be consistent with the brand’s upper-mid-range offerings.

With this launch, Talbots joins a long line of similar fashion brands that have ventured into the home business, usually with textiles or tabletop as the initial foray. Most end up being footnotes in the decor sector, never to be heard from again.

Of course, there have also been long-running successes, from Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan to Vera Wang. But for every success story, there are twice as many failures. Once upon a time, upscale fashion brands like Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior had licensed bed and bath programs—all in the past tense.

Retailers have fared no better. Remember the Banana Republic home collection? Didn’t think so. How about when Victoria’s Secret had a line of bedding, including oh-so-cheesy satin sheets?

Gap went even further in trying to move into home. At one point, the brand owned an entire home specialty chain that theoretically synced up with the company’s casual lifestyle. However, they eventually unloaded it to new owners, who have since done a pretty good job with it. (It’s called Pottery Barn.)

Some fashion retailers have made the home side work today. Sister brands Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie have well-developed hard and soft home assortments; in fact, the latter is working towards a 50/50 merchandising mix. On the fast-fashion front, both H&M and Zara have home programs, though only the former offers it in U.S. stores. Elsewhere around the world, each has freestanding home furnishings stores—H&M Home has 16 (in addition to being carried in 394 H&M stores), while Zara Home has 408 outposts in 44 countries. Even some online resale sellers like Poshmark and Mercari have started selling home merchandise on consignment.

So, will Haven Well Within be a success, or will Talbots end up as the latest in a long line of fashion brands whose home-world forays went the way of Banana Republic’s? It’s impossible to say just yet, but one consistent factor in making it work has been to have a wide offering in home, not just a token collection.

They say home is where the heart is. For fashion brands these days, it may also be where the money is.

Homepage photo: A Talbots store | JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock.com

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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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