Stylish. Relevant. Loyal. Not trendy.
This story first appeared in the May 23, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It’s how Sara Dennis, senior vice president of design, describes the Lands’ End woman.
“Our lady likes to feel pulled together. She is very loyal to our brand,” Dennis said. “When she finds something she likes from us, she wants to come back and stock up, but she also wants to get the next iteration of it.”
Dennis speaks to the popularity of the company, with favorites ranging from signature looks like Supima cardigans that were recently updated with floral prints to the new Fit Flare dress silhouette and, of course, the classic canvas tote bags that can be monogrammed and personalized, like many of the company’s products.
“We also have the heritage of boating and yachting,” added Patty Darrow-Smith, chief marketing officer, who oversees merchandising and design. “When our prints have a nautical feeling, that’s also very good for us, whether it’s stripes or dots and [nautical] colors.”
Lands’ End women’s apparel has its origins in the Seventies, when the sailing equipment and hardware company started transitioning into clothing — though at first the assortment was quite basic, with canvas totes and, eventually, polo shirts and knit dresses. The company’s DNA continues to play a role in its designs, which have remained true to the founder’s vision.
“One of the chief things we’re known for is ‘the right fit for me,’” Dennis said. “We cover a broad range of sizes and shapes. It ties back to women feeling confident when they come to us because they know they will find something that is going to enhance their figure. Whether they are tall, slim or pear-shaped, or whatever it may be, they can find their right fit.”
The customer’s needs, in fact, are always at the forefront of the design team’s process.
“One of our tag lines is ‘Guaranteed. Period.,’” said Marla Ryan, senior vice president of merchandising. “That’s a statement we stand behind. One of the philosophies we take with us is, ‘How do we always make sure we’re putting quality and the customer first?’ As we’re meeting, we’re constantly thinking about the mind-set of our customers. What would they want? Would they like these colorways? Would they like this silhouette? Would the product stand up to multiple washings? Is it something they will still like next year? We have a lot of the items year after year. We do make small tweaks here and there, but we’re a brand she can come back to.”
And as the apparel evolves, the executives take shopper feedback to heart. The Lands’ End Web site has a voting system.
“Our customer engages with us and loves to tell us what she liked and didn’t like about the product,” Dennis noted. “She is vocal and she is engaged, she tells her friends and spreads the word.…The consistency is very important to her.”
Among the top women’s categories is swimwear. For spring, Lands’ End launched the Shape & Enhance group with a new technology that knits different levels of tension control into the swimsuits’ lining — offering “fit solutions for different body types,” Dennis said. “It’s been a big success. Our woman will invest if she is getting fit solutions — from the mom on the beach with her family, to Aqua Terra for a more active-inspired person who might be paddleboating or at a water park on the slide with her kids. Our person is real, and doing real things.”
The company declined to disclose the size of the women’s division or how much it accounts for in the overall business, but the executives maintained that there is still room to grow.
“Accessories is one area that we feel is a big opportunity for us,” Ryan said. “This past spring, we added jewelry, and we have a pretty extensive scarf collection. A scarf is like jewelry to our customer, and she will pick up a couple of different colorways or different patterns. When we accessorize the look — putting on jewelry, a scarf, the belt on the dress or giving her the perfect shoe — she tends to buy the whole outfit.”
Dennis added, “We are her stylist. We are her fashion editor, and she trusts us.”
Design inspirations can be wide-ranging, from trends on high-end fashion runways to real-life wardrobe solutions. “We think about what our lady likes to do,” Dennis noted. “Is she gardening? Is she cooking, and what is she making? Is it a seasonal time where she’s gathering in her garden and making a lovely warm stew? Is is she using spices? We think of these tactile, real inspirations that are not too esoteric and very appropriate for who our muse is.”
Said muse lives the kind of life that many American women can relate to. As Darrow-Smith put it, “We’re an American brand. We give her classics, and we want to be a part of her life on a regular basis.”