Liz Muñoz, the company’s former president and a former Lucky Brand Jeans president, has quietly taken up the top spot at Torrid, succeeding Kay Hong, as she looks to take the company through its next evolution.
Torrid is already a sizable business with $1 billion in annual sales and a workforce of 6,800 across its 579 stores and Industry, Calif., headquarters. The business launched in 2001 by pop culture-related retailer Hot Topic, which went public in 1996 and was then acquired by Sycamore Partners in 2013. Two years later Torrid LLC became its own separate operating entity. Last July, it filed for an initial public offering with an aim to raise $100 million, but did not move forward with those plans.
Muñoz, speaking with WWD late Tuesday after just landing in London for market work before heading off to Lisbon and Barcelona, is looking at a number of variables for the business moving forward all driven by the Torrid customer experience. Within that framework could mean enhancements to the fitting rooms, continued improvements to the Torrid web site, hiring and the linking of online and the physical stores. The retailer, on that last point, is also backing the importance of its brick-and-mortar.
“We believe in opening more stores for sure,” Muñoz said. “We think it’s an important touchpoint for the customer to really have an experience that’s transformational.”
The company, which doesn’t disclose specific financial details beyond the annual revenue figure cited in its press releases, does not have a target for store openings annually or a longer term total it would like to hit with Muñoz saying each opening moving forward would need to be “meaningful in its own way.”
Torrid’s store footprint averages about 2,800 square feet, a size Muñoz said the company has found to be productive, with discussions had internally about whether the stores could even benefit from being larger.
“I think it’s something to learn and understand, but the model works really well,” she said. “The challenge for Torrid is Torrid is a miniaturized department store. We carry everything this woman needs head to toe in that space.”
That’s largely the product of a dramatic transformation that took place a few years ago helping solidify a point of view in Torrid’s merchandise assortment.
“Between 2010 and 2013 that wasn’t an evolution; that was a revolution,” Muñoz said of the changes that took place at Torrid. “We were doing kind of run-of-the-mill, strange fashion-y product that didn’t fit great. We went to random sources to get it. We didn’t build our own product. We didn’t design it. In 2014, we decided to start delivering product.…I think what changed the most was Torrid didn’t have a core part of its business. I don’t like running a business that lives and dies by fashion. I think that’s really, really hard.”
Since that time, Torrid has built out its own denim business, featuring a denim wall in stores. It now has a core black pant business, intimates, activewear and expanded its dress assortment. Earlier this week it launched the Studio by Torrid workwear collection consisting of mix-and-match blazers and bottoms in fabrics such as ponte. The business previously offered sizing from 14 to 24 and now ranges from 10 to 30, accommodating what Muñoz said are just real body sizes.
“We’re a brand that really fits real women and not strictly plus-size women, but we’ve got a huge core opportunity,” she said.
Part of that’s being fueled by an industry and social movement around messages of body positivity that didn’t exist when Muñoz first joined Torrid. That acceptance has naturally led to an influx of new entrants into the curvy or plus-size market, along with existing brands now wanting to expand their own size offerings.
With more contenders, what’s Torrid’s pitch of differentiation to the marketplace? It’s all in the fits, Muñoz said.
“We tend to look at every new brand that comes up in the space and really get an understanding for what they are and are not doing well,” she said. “What I tend to find across the board as a customer, who puts these things on, is that fit remains an extraordinary challenge for people out there and it’s a challenge on a million different levels. Our biggest claim to fame is we’ve spent eight years really focused on fit.”
The company, when it decided to go vertical and begin designing and delivering its own product to customers, went deep into the fit researching process. Muñoz would spend 40 hours a week in the fit room fitting anywhere from 150 to 175 garments a day, aiming to perfect Torrid’s pieces and establishing what Muñoz called building blocks for the brand.
“Our fit model is size 18, 250 pounds. Where do you get the visual of what that dress can look like?” Muñoz said. “There is no magazine that shows you that. There is no TV show. There is no actress. You have to have the vision and the know-how to conjure that vision in your head to make it real….We broke every rule I knew about fit and we established an arsenal and a history of fits and I wear it every day.”
Muñoz is a self-described “big girl” and came to Torrid and Lucky with a background in patternmaking. That was the original goal for herself after all.
“I’ve taken a couple of right-hand turns in my life,” she said. “My intent was to be a patternmaker. It’s what I loved and it’s what I did for the first chunk of my career. Because I worked at blue jean companies, fit and design were inherently more connected than other areas.”
Dialing the clock back even more, patternmaking was something that’s been a part of her since she was a teen.
“By the time I was 17, I was sewing most of my clothes and I was sewing most of my clothes because God help you if you were 17 and plus size in the Eighties. Plus size was an industry developed for aging women.”
Rather than wear out-of-date, unfashionable clothing, Muñoz designed her own wardrobe, making even her wedding and prom dresses.
“I just loved it and maybe I found a very personal connection,” she said of patternmaking. “I really understood shape, proportion, how to really get in there and flatter a body, how to deal with curves.”
She moved farther away from those roots as she evolved in her career, but Torrid presented an opportunity to come back to that and it also presents the opportunity for the business, she said.
“The most important thing about this brand is the focus on fit and the passionate focus on the customer, and not the customer as an ends to a mean,” she said. “This is what we believed in our bones matters.”