By  on October 15, 2007

NEW YORK — Macy’s Inc. is unleashing the latest weapon in its private label arsenal: Field Gear, a revived outdoors-inspired men’s brand that will hit stores next month. 

The label had been used at the company’s former Marshall Field division for many years but has been dormant since Macy’s bought Field’s as part of its acquisition of the May Department Stores Co. two years ago. 

“When we purchased May Co. we knew we were going to do something with Field Gear,” said Stuart Goldblatt, senior vice-president and GMM of men’s for Macy’s Merchandising Group, in an exclusive interview with DNR last week. “There’s a real void in the market for traditional product in the better zone that reflects an outdoor, athletic aesthetic.” 

And so, beginning Nov. 1, product will begin trickling into 295 stores. By Nov. 15, shops are expected to be installed in 75 top doors with signs and fixtures calling out the collection in another 100 units. Key items will roll out to the remaining doors by that time, Goldblatt said. 

Macy’s, which operates more than 800 department stores around the country, has been gradually increasing the percentage of private label offered, particularly within the former May Co. stores. When those stores were converted to the Macy’s nameplate a year ago, their private label penetration was 13 percent; it was only 7 percent at Marshall Field’s. The legacy Macy’s doors were 18 percent private brands. 

In men’s, the company currently offers seven private labels: Alfani, American Rag, Club Room, I.N.C., Material London, John Ashford and Tasso Elba. Field Gear is the first private brand introduction since Material London debuted two years ago. “Seven years ago we had only Club Room, Alfani and Savile Row,” Goldblatt said. 

“But the brands we offer today all fill a lifestyle niche and are part of our good, better, best strategy. And all of these brands are segment leaders,” he noted.

Although Goldblatt declined to cite a volume projection for Field Gear, he said: “We don’t do anything unless it will be big.” 

That being said, Macy’s is looking at the first season as a learning experience. “We start small, but the goal is to make it as big as possible as quickly as possible. We will learn a lot this fall and next spring, but based on the focus groups we’ve had and the initial reaction, I’m very enthusiastic about the prospects.” 

Next fall, Field Gear will share floor space with the upcoming Timberland apparel collection, which is being produced under license by Phillips-Van Heusen. That collection, which will be designed, sourced and marketed in North America by PVH, will debut in fall ’08. 

“We’ll be a year ahead of them, but we’ll be able to create critical mass by balancing our business with a powerful brand name,” Goldblatt said. “It will give us a lot of credibility in that zone of business very quickly. We have a lot of confidence in the PVH Sportswear Group and what they’ll accomplish with Timberland.” 

Nevertheless, Macy’s expects Field Gear to gain a following as well.

“Field Gear was a very well-known and highly regarded name at Marshall Field’s,” Goldblatt said, but the thrust of the collection has been changed. 

When Macy’s Inc. CEO Terry Lundgren revealed plans to revive Field Gear at the annual shareholder meeting in April, he said the company loved the name, but “it was on inexpensive sportswear.” He said the Macy’s Merchandising Group, which spearheads the company’s private label initiatives, would refocus the brand as “extreme sportswear” that would be “right for product in our stores.”

Goldblatt said the “inspiration” behind the new Field Gear is “comfort fabrics—natural fibers, organics and eco-friendly. We’re trying to keep it very basic in its appeal, while giving good quality and value.” The initial delivery in top doors will be 75 SKUs. 
All of the product features bilingual hangtags—English and Spanish—that provide information on the performance details of each piece. In fact, Macy’s has even trademarked some of the terminology, including Hydrobreath, a nylon that is waterproof but breathable; Mediapocket for the interior pockets on its jackets; Zeroproof for its fleece; and Function X, a catchall phrase that describes the performance attributes of the collection. “All the products have been tested for adaptability,” Goldblatt said. 

This fall, over 25 percent of the product will be organic, with the goal of being 100 percent organic or eco-friendly within 12 months. Macy’s is working with “an organic partner,” which Goldblatt declined to name, to obtain the proper certifications for the products. For example, he said the Field Gear T-shirts use organic cotton, vegetable-dyed prints and a biodegradable, soy-based sticker on the garment. 

In addition to T’s, offerings include woven shirts with outdoor-inspired performance features such as zippered pockets, mesh linings and pieced sleeves. There’s a woven with a roll-up sleeve, bellows pocket and grommeting. There are also cotton slacks and lightweight outerwear. Another key piece is a nylon jacket in the Hydrobreath fabric with a mesh lining, interior pocket and Velcro closures. “We wouldn’t suggest climbing K2 in it,” Goldblatt said, “but it’s directed to the guy doing recreational hiking or camping, or just going to his kid’s soccer game.” 

Buttons on all products sport the Field Gear name and there’s a logo—which incorporates a tree and a mountain in a blue-and-white graphic—as well. The fit will be full, or “democratic,” as Goldblatt put it.

Sport shirts will retail for around $50 and lightweight outerwear for under $100. Graphic T’s offer such sayings as: If money grew on trees, we would all be tree huggers, and will sell for $30. Bottoms are “a small percentage of the total,” Goldblatt said, and are basic khakis with some bells and whistles such as stain resistance, extra belt loops, and pockets that close with Velcro rather than buttons. Pants will retail for around $52. 

Key items that will be offered in every store are the Zeroproof fleece 1/4-zip jacket, the Hydrobreath jacket, the woven shirt with the roll-up sleeve and the T-shirts. “The collection is very understandable and well priced,” Goldblatt said. “It’s technical without being excessive.”

For holiday, gifts such as compasses and radios will be offered, and in the future, Goldblatt said, the plan calls for adding bags and shoes as well. 

“We see it as a brand that we can lateralize,” he said. 

Although Field Gear is only men’s wear at this point, Goldblatt said it could one day be extended into other categories such as kids’ wear. But there are no definite plans at this time. 

He said he expects the label to be especially popular at the former Marshall Field’s stores and the other units in the Macy’s Midwest division. “They’ll be big users,” he predicted. Marketing will be “localized,” he said, “with a focus on the Midwest.” No national advertising is planned. 

Although Goldblatt acknowledged there are several “strong players in this category,” including Columbia, “it’s clear from our customers that they want exclusive product.”

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