The Collected Group is coming together.
The company — home to Joie, Equipment and Current/Elliott and formerly called Dutch LLC — survived a painful systems switch, came under the wing of private equity giant KKR and is now ready to hit the accelerator to try to grab share in a shaky market.
James Miller, a former Ted Baker and Ralph Lauren Corp. executive, took the reins as chief executive officer in 2017 looking to hone a “new American fashion house.” The plan was to build a multibrand platform with a shared back end and drive revenues by investing in the existing businesses and acquiring or building new brands.
But that dream was delayed when, just after Miller arrived, a change to the company’s enterprise resource planning system that had been in the works for two years went off the rails.
The switch — to what from a tech perspective is the company’s central nervous system — crippled operations for over nine months.
And Miller, stepping into his first job as a ceo at 32, found himself in charge of a fashion company that could make product and get it to the distribution center, but couldn’t then get it to customers. There was no single reason, but 1,000 things in the tech integration that needed to be stripped down and put back together, he said.
The snafu hit cash flow hard and control of the firm quietly switched last year from TA Associates to KKR, which was a lender to the company and Miller said has been a supportive owner.
“We needed liquidity in order to fix the structural issues in the organization,” the ceo said. “We got that through KKR.”
Now the business — which is said to drive $300 million in revenues, although Miller declined to cite specific figures — is ready for the next step.
Joie, which he described as “a joyful feminine brand,” is the firm’s largest business in terms of sales. Current/Elliott is getting back to its laid-back California roots and branching out with collaborations, recently with The Vampire’s Wife.
And Miller said Equipment “is the fastest growing animal right now,” building off its heritage in silk and expanding into new territory — including a new gender-fluid collection that is very of-the-moment and also shows a certain savvy consideration of where the market might be in another decade.
“This is, for me, a bit of a passion play for the organization to say, ‘What are we going to do that’s going to make a difference?’” Miller said.
The brand is working with The Phluid Project for the line and Miller said it has been a learning experience, from how to pitch the collection — whether to men’s or women’s buyers — to how to approach the category generally.
“I don’t ask anyone’s permission to go out and design a dress for a woman, but apparently, I’ve got to ask permission to design something for a customer who doesn’t conform to being male or female,” he said. “I understand the kind of skepticism based on authentic behaviors.”
Miller now has the breathing room to take on a project that, while seen as a small revenue contributor right now, could be more important down the line.
The three brands are all working with a shared back office, but have independent design teams. And the portfolio is broad enough that the brands don’t have to contort themselves to chase every trend.
Now the mission is to keep expanding and diversifying.
The Collected Group has 35 U.S. stores, but is still driven by wholesale. Miller said there’s room to expand on both fronts, building overseas with wholesale partners and working to bring more of an international retail approach to the U.S.
“I don’t look at the U.S. as being the single-handed greatest economy for retail in the world anymore,” Miller said. “I look at other formats and other practices. From a retail perspective, I’d say the Asia model that’s existed for a while is based on what we’re trying to replicate.”
That means smaller stores and shorter leases that last just two to three years.
As for the trouble at retail generally, Miller said The Collected Group is already battle-tested.
“The headwinds for the market don’t necessarily exist for us in the same way,” he said. “We had enough headwinds going into 2017 and so what’s happening in the marketplace now, that might be cultural and macroeconomic. But if I think about the world we faced, we had our D-Day in 2017 and the beginning of 2018.”