By  on July 16, 2009

Ron Poisson, the founder and designer of Cult of Individuality, began planning the launch of the men’s denim brand in April 2008. In August, he showed his first collection to buyers at the Project Las Vegas trade show. The next month, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, marking the start of the economic meltdown. “Was it the most opportune time to launch a new brand? No,” Poisson said. “We probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to start a new business. But we didn’t know how things were going to turn out when we started.” Like Cult of Individuality, companies that were launched during better times in early 2008 all ran headlong into the recession. Those brands face difficult obstacles with cautious retail buyers wary of taking bets on unfamiliar names, as well as tightfisted consumers, a constricted credit market and minimal name recognition. However, for companies that have the funding and savvy to ride out the economic turbulence, the retail climate also provides some silver linings — such as fewer new brands clamoring for attention and stores shifting their merchandising and pricing strategies in ways that could benefit a start-up.

Cult of Individuality, for example, has found some early success despite the headwinds, and is now sold in about 100 leading specialty stores like E Street Denim, Atrium, Bill Hallman and Caruso Caruso. That’s been on the strength of trend-right, high-quality product and sharp pricing, with its jeans retailing for $135 to $185. “We always saw a niche for something priced at the lower end of the premium price scale,” Poisson said. “Fortunately, that strategy dovetailed with the economy, just as we were launching.” In addition, many high-end specialty retailers have tweaked their buying strategies and have brought in some lower-priced merchandise to cater to budget-conscious shoppers. “The silver lining in all this is that some stores who might not have been interested in a brand like ours are taking a second look,” Poisson said. “A lot of the top-end retailers only had jeans selling for $200 and up. I go in and show them the opportunity for a brand like ours, which has all the quality and style of a higherpriced product, but for a more accessible price.”

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