By  on August 6, 2013

Vanity Shops is giving a hint to its shoppers that it has something different in store with Hint, a new brand on which the retailer is partnering with Sunrise Brands LLC.

Hint was launched last month at 30 of Fargo, N.D.-based Vanity’s 165 doors. Chief executive officer Michael Feurer, who joined Vanity a year ago, is looking to Hint to distinguish the retailer from its mall competition by elevating the denim selection during the cutthroat back-to-school season. Hint is also another notch in Sunrise’s expanding belt of brands tied to specific retailers — Young & Faded for Pacific Sunwear of California, American Rag for Macy’s and ReRock for Express among them — that are part of a private-label business generating some $300 million in annual sales.

“We are very excited at Vanity about the evolution of our denim proposition for our customer, and she has been responding very enthusiastically. We are definitely a denim destination for the customer looking for the unique Vanity jean combination of relevant and interesting design, exclusivity, value and great fit,” said Feurer. “The launch of our exclusive new Hint brand is an important component of this growth we are seeing.”

As suggested by its name, Hint is designed to touch on the trends, but not scare away shoppers who might be intimidated by overly trendy merchandise. Jill Shea, chief merchandising officer at Vanity, said, “We thought it was very interesting because of how you can play with the word ‘hint.’ It’s a hint of whatever the most relevant trends are for the season. It can be a hint of shine or a hint of plaid or a hint of boho. You can really have a lot of fun with it in the stores and with the product.”

When creating Hint, Angie Lee, chief merchandising officer at Sunrise, added, “We were targeting more of a regional customer base. When you look at New York and California, they are really trendy, and it doesn’t really translate to the entire country.”

The pieces in the debut Hint collection feature destruction, chiffon, plaid, sequins and metal grommets. “Our premium jeans at Vanity focus on pocket detailing with rhinestones and crystals. This collection from Hint still has the detailing, but it is just a little more subtle,” said Shea, who noted that hanging from every pair of Hint jeans will be the brand’s signature lock and key. Keys are pictured on graphic T-shirts, too. “Our customer gravitates to an icon,” she explained.

The foundation of the Hint brand is denim, a category that Shea described as “one of the strongest contributors to our volume.” There are nine denim pieces: five pants, two shorts, one jacket and one shirt. There are 12 nondenim tops as well, including a plaid shirt with a chiffon back, sequin tank tops and a faux leather blazer, and seven accessory items ranging from bags to boots.

Market sources estimate that privately held Vanity’s annual volume is slightly more than $100 million.

Sunrise, formerly named Tarrant Apparel Group, initially developed Hint for holiday of last year, but the brand was put on hold when the Los Angeles company shifted the spotlight for that holiday season to People’s Liberation, a brand Sunrise secured the apparel license to in 2012. Vanity’s interest in a Hint exclusive helped revive the brand. “With the new ceo in place in August of last year, they really want a story for the retailer and its positioning. They felt that Hint was right for them, and they aggressively pursued it,” said Lee.

Sunrise and Vanity envision Hint as addressing a gap in the market at the junction between the young contemporary and better juniors segments with merchandise aimed at 18- to 28-year-old women whose tastes have matured beyond much of the standard juniors fare. Lee said, “As the customer gets older and more sophisticated, there isn’t much out there. That is where Hint has come in for Vanity. They have identified that white space that they want to move into.”

Shea thinks Hint will resonate with both current and potential Vanity customers. “We created a collection that had a hint of all the relevant trends in denim and sportswear that really ties into the Vanity customer, but also would invite another customer to shop with us that is more sophisticated in her denim purchase,” she said.

Furthermore, Vanity believes Hint will bolster its reputation as a place to find affordable fashion. The brand’s prices run from $19.95 to $74.95. “There is a niche in the marketplace that we feel we are really filling. We are not the Wet Seal, Rue 21 commodity store, and we are not the premium price tag of somebody like The Buckle,” said Shea. “We are in between those two, and we are going to offer designer elements at a value price. We are just trying get to get the word out, and we think Hint is a way to get some new traffic into our store and differentiate ourselves in the mall.”

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