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Target’s Jose Barra on the Virtues of Partnership

In the beauty executive's view, the equity of a brand is not defined by channel — as has been the practice in the past.

For as much as Target is touted for its designer partnerships — ranging from Jason Wu to Proenza Schouler — beauty brands have been slow to come on board, declared Jose Barra, senior vice president of health care and beauty at Target. Over the last decade, Target has struck more than 80 limited-time partnerships, with only two — namely Calypso St. Barth and Missoni — encompassing beauty products as well, he said.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“The biggest challenge is getting some of your brands or some of your stores to think about Target differently. There is still that perception that Target is the big box that is going to squish about everything that gets in its way,” said Barra. “We provide a great infrastructure and we have the ability to scale it up very quickly. And our partners provide that unique point of view….That’s the secret to our success.”

Target kicked off the strategy more than a decade ago by linking arms with makeup artist Sonia Kashuk in beauty and architect Michael Graves in homeware.

Barra said, “Target and Sonia shared a visionary idea to continuously deliver the most innovative, affordable beauty products to a wider audience without compromising professional quality. Sonia’s brand remains a cornerstone of our beauty business and it continues to deliver a prestige, one-of-a-kind collection that’s only available at Target.”

Target has a fairly enticing track record when it comes to designer partnerships. Barra noted Missoni marked its largest exclusive designer collection to date. It included 400 items ranging from beauty products to scarves, and even included a bicycle. “The six-week collection sold out in six hours,” said Barra.

“Exclusive partnerships, like the ones we had with Missoni and Jason Wu, offer our designer partners the perfect platform to elevate the stature of their prestige brands in the market place,” he said. “In fact, the launch of Missoni and Jason Wu alone generated billions of consumer impressions for their brands through earned and paid media and it elevated their iconic stature in homes across America.”

In Barra’s view, the equity of a brand is not defined by channel — as has been the practice in the past.

This year, Target expanded its partnership strategy to include smaller retailers for a concept it calls The Shops. The first phase, launched earlier this month, included a body care collection created in collaboration with the Aspen, Colo.-based beauty boutique Cos Bar. “It’s only been a week since we launched Cos Bar at Target, but the results have been fantastic. And we are only getting started,” said Barra. “It’s a new reality. Consumers are calling the shots.”