By  on July 18, 2014

Kellwood Co. is going a little bit country.

The apparel manufacturer is set to launch an e-tail store called Mason & Belle, a country-inspired fashion brand and Web site slated to go live in early August.

Mason & Belle is geared to the country girl’s point of view, combining junior fashion with a down-to-earth attitude. The site was conceived, developed and will be managed by Kellwood’s in-house e-commerce team led by Elton Graham, vice president of e-commerce. The site took six months to develop and provides Kellwood with the opportunity to connect directly with the consumer from brand conception to product delivery. Graham, who joined Kellwood in November 2012, previously headed e-commerce for Nasty Gal and held e-commerce roles at James Perse, Shopzilla and Wet Seal.

According to Lynn Shanahan, chief executive officer of Kellwood, the launch of Mason & Belle is a great opportunity to capitalize on Kellwood’s fast-fashion capabilities, digital expertise and experience in brand marketing, with such brands as Rebecca Taylor, XOXO and Sam Edelman, a young contemporary line that launches at retail in August. The company didn’t renew its licensing agreement with David Meister, the high-end eveningwear and dress company, this spring.

Mason & Belle’s new e-tail store is the first in a series of anticipated moves by Kellwood to reach niche consumer segments.

“Mason & Belle is 100 percent digital, and is an online venue that communicates directly with a customer who identifies herself with country tastes, tones and values,” said Graham. The target customer is a woman aged 18 to 28. The collection includes dresses, tops, denim shorts, bottoms and outerwear retailing from $29 to $89. The site will also sell jewelry and boots. Masonbelle.com will be the only place where the line will be available.

Key looks include embroidered rope-stitch skinny jeans, peasant tops, overlay lace tanks, Aztek tops, Aztek babydoll tanks, cargo capris, belted ruffle top dresses, Navajo open-back tanks, embroidered peasant tops and rope-stitch jean shorts. The collection is produced in Asia and designed by Kellwood’s in-house team in City of Industry, Calif.

Graham noted that with the growth of technology, consumers are searching out and discovering things on their own. “We can test and build this concept without operating stores,” he said. After conducting consumer research, the company found thousands of women on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sharing this country lifestyle, but no one was directly talking to them. “That’s how we formulated our concept of Mason & Belle. It’s a country lifestyle-inspired young women’s apparel brand,” he said.

One element of the site will be strong visuals of apparel and inspirational photography reflecting the country lifestyle. Everything on the site is shareable. “It can’t just about sharing products, but sharing the conversation,” said Graham. Masonbelle.com is designed to look “very blogger-esque” and is taking a non-traditional digital approach. Graham said they went into the communities online so see what these girls are blogging about. “We researched what they thought was valuable, their tastes in music, in fashion, what artists they were following. We want to reflect that back to them online,” he said. Mason & Belle launched its own blog this week. The site won’t play music, but might link to embedded music, said Graham.

The way they came up with the name, Mason & Belle was to capture the aspects of two distinct personalities. One is Mason, who is more tomboyish and enjoys sports and the local bar on the weekends and the other is Belle, who is the softer side of that woman and more romantic and loves a sense of adventure, said Graham.

New products will be delivered monthly, and the site will be refreshed weekly, said Shanahan. The site will launch with 250 styles. Fulfillment will take place in City of Industry. Currently the site is domestic only, but it has the capability to go international. She declined to give a first-year sales projection.

Graham said the company plans to work with the blogger communities for the launch and will have a full digital media buy.

Mason & Belle is operated at Kellwood Western Region, the company’s largest operational unit based in City of Industry. That unit is headed by Marc Babin, who joined in April as president. Previously he was senior vice president of strategic sourcing and product development at Destination Maternity, and earlier was senior vice president, product development, sourcing and production for Aéropostale. Babin, who reports to Shanahan, is responsible for Kellwood’s global supply chain including technical design, strategic sourcing, production, customer service, logistics and distribution management. Kellwood is an affiliated portfolio company of Sun Capital Partners Inc.

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