Willis & Walker is planning a full-court press for September.
The men’s big and tall brand has entered into an undisclosed “equity partnership” with Marcraft Apparel Group, its tailored clothing licensee and is planning a runway show in New York City during Fashion Week.
The Willis & Walker brand has been around since 1988, primarily focused on premium denim. But earlier this year, co-founder and designer, former NBA star Kevin Willis, decided to expand into a full lifestyle collection, offering everything from suits, sport coats and dress shirts to knitwear, nondenim bottoms and shoes.
To achieve these goals, Willis, who is no longer associated with his former partner Ralph Walker, turned to Marcraft for its apparel industry expertise. They will work together “to develop the overall strategic development and brand positioning [of the brand] and explore growth opportunities both domestically and internationally,” the companies said.
“We met about a year ago and had discussions about the changes in the tailored clothing market,” said Gary Brody, president of Marcraft. “Younger guys are wearing suits, and everybody is getting bigger. Yes, there’s the obesity issue, but the countertrend is fitness. The customer who is buying clothing as a general statement is a more fit guy.”
As a result, Willis & Walker sees an opportunity to bring well-proportioned apparel targeted to the fit man 6 feet 3 inches and over. “There’s slim pickings for guys that size,” Brody said. “Not only are they not fashion-right, they also can’t find clothing fit to their scale.”
Marcraft worked for six months to rejigger the existing patterns to properly fit the target customer. A normal suit has a 6-and-a-half-inch drop, but the Willis & Walker suits will have an 8-inch drop.
Willis, who is a trim 7 feet, said the “whole feel and drape [of the Marcraft product] is totally different.”
“Trim-fit suits are nearly 40 percent of all suits sold over $200,” Brody said. “And it could be 50 percent of suit separates.”
Although the anchor item for Willis & Walker will be suits and suit separates, sportswear will be an important component of the collection as well, the partners said. Most of that product will be produced by licensees with the exception of the denim, which will be produced by Willis & Walker.
Willis and the Marcraft team will co-manage the line and it will be shown at the Marcraft booth at the MRket show in Las Vegas later this month. The target distribution will be high-end department and specialty stores such as Boyds, Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus, which can sustain a business with off-the-rack suits in the $1,000 range.
To further raise its profile, the brand is planning a fashion show at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City on Sept. 13. Willis is expected to include some current and former NBA players, including former Knick Allan Houston, or men he refers to as “brand ambassadors,” in the show.
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