Change is possible in fashion, necessary even, but that doesn’t mean it’s quick or easy.
Quarterly updates from Tapestry Inc. (formerly Coach Inc.), Under Armour Inc. and Hanesbrands Inc. — each of which is building on prominent histories as U.S. wholesale players — underscored just how much they have all been transformed and are still changing.
The wholesale businesses that built the companies are still there, but they’re smaller, more focused, healthier for the underlying brands and nowhere near the be-all, end-all they once were. They’re also supplemented by big e-commerce pushes, brand-specific stores and sprawling international operations. At Hanesbrands and Tapestry, other brands have been acquired to help bring in new shoppers and spread the risk.
Gerald Evans, chief executive officer of Hanesbrands, told analysts on a conference call, “Several years ago, we began a focused strategy to diversify beyond being simply a U.S. business with a global supply chain to becoming a worldwide business that fully leverages the power of our global supply chain.”
Hanesbrands has bought 10 companies in the last five years — most recently a $500 million deal for the Australian firm Bras N Things, helping to lessen its dependency on U.S. wholesale accounts while opening more avenues for growth. The company’s also worked to sharpen its wholesale brands; for instance, focusing more advertising attention on Bali.
The details are different for Tapestry ceo Victor Luis and Under Armour chief Kevin Plank, but the hopes and dreams are the same.
But it’s a long and grinding process.
Coach once had the accessible luxury handbag space to itself and soared to great wholesale heights, only to have to pull back as department stores started a years-long struggle for relevancy that’s still going on. The Coach brand has regained its footing, supporting Tapestry’s quarter, and now its new corporate sibling, Kate Spade, is going through much of the same process.
“We have taken significant steps to position the [Kate Spade brand], building a foundation for solid and sustainable growth,” Luis said. “We will continue to significantly curtail promotional impressions by reducing surprise sales and pulling back on wholesale disposition.”
Under Armour hasn’t added other brands, but it has been restaffing and reworking its namesake business to focus on the consumer athlete and grow rapidly beyond its traditional U.S. wholesale core. Global revenues grew 6 percent last quarter, with a 17 percent rise in the company’s direct to consumer business and a 27 percent increase in the international division. (Business in North America was relatively flat).
The brand is cutting lead times, sharpening its focus directly on customers and making some marketing noise with the help of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Zoe Zhang.
Under Armour has found that to keep up with the market, it has to make changes within, while also keeping true to its core.
“There’s a reason why in our industry, there’s only a couple or a few companies that have made it through this $5 billion level,” Plank told Wall Street analysts, referring to the company’s revenues last year of $4.98 billion.
“It’s because the force of nature, force of will that sort of gets you this moment means that process and structure and systems are what must become a part of the way that we operate and how we do business,” said Plank with a nod to still-new president and chief operating officer Patrik Frisk. “But I wanted you to know that the DNA that got the brand to where it is today is something so very much a part of what and who we are.”