Daniel Kulle’s skill set ticks all the boxes that the new owners of Forever 21 were seeking — from expertise in e-commerce and social media to sustainability.
On Tuesday, Authentic Brands Group, which finalized the purchase of the bankrupt fast-fashion retailer last week, named Kulle, the former president of H&M North America, its new chief executive officer.
Kulle, who has more than 20 years of experience in the fashion industry, served most recently as strategic adviser to former H&M Group ceo Karl-Johan Persson and was part of a steering group for three new digital start-ups within the H&M Group.
He will relocate from New York to Forever 21’s headquarters in Los Angeles.
Last week, ABG in partnership with Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners acquired Forever 21 for $81.1 million, not including another $73 million for merchandise already purchased and other costs. Under the terms of the deal, ABG and Simon each own 37.5 percent and Brookfield owns 25 percent of the intellectual property and operating businesses.
ABG characterized Kulle as a “visionary, dynamic and inspirational executive” who was instrumental in expanding H&M’s brick-and-mortar and e-commerce presence in new and existing markets in North America during his 24-year career at the company. Under his leadership, ABG said, H&M’s North American sales grew from $1 billion to $4 billion annually, he oversaw the opening of 600 stores and developed integrated e-commerce platforms in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
As ceo of Forever 21, Kulle will be charged with drawing on his digital experience to modernize the brand’s content and social media strategies. He will also work to evolve Forever 21’s sustainability initiatives, a key initiative for the company, and will focus on revitalizing the store’s core products. He will also work to strengthen the company’s loyalty program and elevate the store experience through pop-up events and brand collaborations.
“Daniel is a well-respected, progressive fashion executive, and we are thrilled to welcome him to the team,” said Jamie Salter, founder, chairman and ceo of ABG.
“Knowing Daniel personally for several years, I’ve seen his tenacious working style first-hand. His strategic vision and experience will build on Forever 21’s heritage and undoubtedly usher in a new era for the brand,” said David Simon, chairman, ceo and president of Simon.
“Forever 21 enjoys strong brand awareness and affinity, a clear consumer set, and quick-to-market capabilities, allowing the brand to be nimble and leverage key trends and create strong value for its customers,” said Kulle. “The strong ownership structure, which combines ABG’s marketing prowess with Simon and Brookfield’s retail real estate expertise, creates a foundation for long-term growth.”
In an interview with WWD, Kulle had nothing but praise for H&M, but said the opportunity to “sit in the middle of a company” like Forever 21 and work for owners who are committed to returning the business to its former glory was too good to turn down. He’s eager to begin developing a long-term strategy for the company and then executing on that strategy.
The Swedish native said he has lived in the U.S. for 10 years and is familiar with the rise and fall of Forever 21. But he believes it is well positioned to rebound once the retail, online and social initiatives are all synced.
Salter said although there is “a lot of work to do” at the Gen Z-focused retailer, Kulle is “a hard worker who understands stores, e-commerce and sustainability — and he’s a people person, which is what you really need in retail today. He has 100 ideas a day and he’s not afraid to try new things. So don’t be surprised to see some experiential stuff and pushing the envelope at Forever 21.”
Turning to the issue of the coronavirus and its potential impact on Forever 21 and its supply chain, Salter said he is anticipating merchandise delays of two to three weeks. Even though the brand has moved much of its sourcing to other parts of the world over the past several years, China is still integral to the overall production process.
But Salter put a positive spin on the situation, saying that if fresh merchandise deliveries are delayed, it “gives us the ability to get rid of more excess inventory.” Even so, he said it is bound to affect revenues, but only in the short term and he has a long-term view of the business.
“It would be way more critical if this impacted back-to-school or Christmas,” he said. “If we can get back to normal — however you define that — within 30 days, we should be OK.”
Forever 21, which was founded in 1994, operates 448 stores in the U.S. as well as a couple hundred more around the world. The business has global sales of around $2.5 billion. Salter said there are no immediate plans to add stores in the U.S., but instead to negotiate with existing landlords to retain as many of those units as possible. “We’re not sure which landlords will say yes to our plans for Forever 21, but we’ve offered good solutions with Aéropostale and Nautica [two other ABG-owned brands] so I expect we will get a lot of them marching to the beat of our drum. But if we lose a store, maybe there is a Brookfield or Simon mall where we can add one.”