By  on March 27, 2006

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart is gunning for a bigger slice of apparel.

Having successfully introduced Metro 7, a trend-driven contemporary women’s brand, and returned George to its modern, classic roots, the retail giant has big plans to build on those initiatives. They include:

  • The possibility of other new apparel brands, which could involve celebrity spokesmen or an established designer.

  • A repositioned No Boundaries brand in the junior category, which will hit Wal-Mart stores for back-to-school.

  • An evaluation of other apparel brands that might be in need of a fix.

  • The launch of an urban-inspired brand for men in July.
“You’ll see new concepts on a regular basis from us,” promised Karen Stuckey, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Wal-Mart product development for apparel, home, hardlines and specialty.

Asked whether Wal-Mart would go the celebrity route or work with an established designer, Stuckey replied: “It’s a very big trend [celebrities with fashion collections]. We’ve watched that evolve carefully. If and when we play in that arena, we’ll do it in a way that’s relevant to our customers. In terms of a designer, spokesperson or celebrity, we’re more apt to go the designer route because it’s more relevant. Stay tuned.”

Wall Street analysts have complained for years about Wal-Mart’s fashion offerings and the opportunity being missed. According to retail analysts, the softlines and domestics categories at Wal-Mart discount stores accounted for about $50 billion, or 17.5 percent, of the company’s total sales of $285 billion last year.

Wal-Mart clearly is trying to correct its fashion lapses. Stuckey said that Metro 7 has given Wal-Mart the validation it needs to move on in the fashion arena.

The retailer declined to give sales figures for Metro 7, but vendor sources estimate the brand could do $200 million, even with limited distribution, in its first 12 months. At a Merrill Lynch Retailing Leaders Conference here last week, Eduardo Castro-Wright, president and ceo of Wal-Mart Stores USA, said Metro 7 was so successful the company had to slow down its distribution. The plan now is to have it in 1,000 stores by April 1 and 1,500 this fall.

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