After two years of refocusing, relaunching and adding new private brands, J.C. Penney is at it again, this time introducing its first men’s denim lifestyle collection, called Mutual Weave.
The Mutual Weave private brand officially launches Tuesday on jcp.com and is rolling out chainwide initially with 600 stores followed by the other 50 Penney’s stores next year.
Private brands help retailers fill the “white space” where there are product voids, provide exclusivity, and generally generate wider margins than market brands, but require months of design and development and in-house talent.
In denim alone, Mutual Weave has six fits, 34 washes and 59 sizes. The collection also offers sun-washed slub fabrics, curved hem shirts, oxford shirts, chambray shirts, vintage fleece hoodies, jackets, accessories and footwear, and comes in regular, big and tall, and adaptive sizing. There are nearly 300 items in the collection, which is priced between $20 and $60 except for a few higher-priced items.
It’s a laid-back collection with workwear-inspired items, a lived-in feel, and a mix geared to appeal to men whether they’re prone to contemporary or traditional styling.
Penney’s officials claimed the brand has a multigenerational appeal, and is suitable for multiple occasions. In the stores, Mutual Weave is being merchandised next to Levi’s, Lee and Arizona, which Penney’s considers its “powerhouse” jeans brands.
In denim, “We have amazing national brands and some private brands but we really never had a dedicated men’s private denim lifestyle brand. This does fill a void and round out our offering,” Michelle Wlazlo, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, told WWD. “Whether it’s the slug Ts or chambray shirts, there is so much more than just the denim but denim is the forefront of it.”
Wlazlo said Mutual Weave provides “a strong opportunity” to attract a wider range of ages and men with varying style preferences than other collections at Penney’s. “It really bridges a young-minded Arizona customer and a more established customer shopping St. John’s Bay,” the chief merchant said.
“When men come to J.C. Penney, we really do serve all of their needs,” said Wlazlo. “Mutual Weave is the perfect piece of the puzzle that makes it really fulsome for him. This will be one of our larger and more important brands for men and it will have the space to reflect that.”
In the store displays, “You will find a lot of inspiration, showing how to wear the product,” with mannequins, signs, denim on the back walls, and table displays. “Mutual Weave will also be in our big and tall shop, where it will be one of our more important brands,” said Wlazlo.
Mutual Weave sustains Penney’s inclusive sizing efforts seen across the brand portfolio, including in men’s J. Ferrar, Stafford, St. John’s Bay and Arizona. On jcp.com, there’s a “find your fit” tool enabling customers to see all fits and sizes in jeans and help them figure out what fit might be best.
Despite some tough times over the past decade or more, Penney’s has kept its private brand development going.
In May 2020, the retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and in December that year, Brookfield Asset Management and Simon Property Group purchased Penney’s retail and operating assets, lifting the company out of bankruptcy, for $800 million in cash and debt. Penney’s first-lien secured lenders, many of whom supplied debtor-in-possession financing, took over the 160 real estate locations and six distribution centers the company owned. A vast amount of debt was erased from Penney’s books through the transfer of ownership.
The Authentic Brands Group, which owns several retail and fashion brands — among them Brooks Brothers, Lucky Brand, Barneys New York, Nine West and Forever 21 — is a strategic partner in Penney’s with Simon and Brookfield, and will be a big factor in feeding merchandise to Penney’s and hopefully, fueling sales. ABG’s Juicy Couture and Forever 21 labels have been added to the assortment.
Penney’s has a long track record of developing some enduring private brands, notably Arizona, Stafford, a.n.a, and St. John’s Bay.
“What is so important is we are not just launching brands to say we are launching brands. That’s a dangerous thing that can happen,” Wlazlo said. “We are really being thoughtful about where we need to fill a white space, or bring in an additional brand. Much of the work we have done in the last two and a half years is relaunching beloved brands and giving them clarity. If you look at a.n.a, St. John’s Bay, Liz Claiborne, Home Expressions, J. Ferrar or Stafford, those were relaunches.” So was Xersion for activewear. “The brands were here. They just needed more attention to detail as to who they were serving and why, and needed to stay within their proper lanes. You don’t want to force a brand to serve a need it’s not supposed to. It’s confusing and not good brand management.
“From there, we said now we need to add some private brands.”
Last July, Penney’s launched Thereabouts for kids, and earlier launched Stylus men’s and women’s; Ryegrass for an elevated approach to women’s fashion; Hope & Wonder, which revolves around products for cultural moments and celebrations like Black History Month and Valentine’s Day, and Linden Street for home.
In the aftermath of the expiration of its contract with Sephora, which is now at Kohl’s, Penney’s has been rolling out new beauty shops offering a combination of household names, cult favorites, indie brands, brands owned by people of color and minority-owned beauty brands selling makeup, hair care, skin care, styling tools, fragrance, nail care, and bath and body.
About 50 percent of Penney’s overall assortment is private or exclusive brands, and about 50 percent is national labels. However, Wlazlo said, “Of late, we have had more penetration of private brands, because of filling in some white space opportunities.”
Wlazlo said the name Mutual Weave stems from Penney’s research into apparel machinery, techniques, and the history of denim weaving. The private brand was designed and developed by the in-house Penney’s team.
“Mutual Weave represents the true intention of this denim-based brand to craft rugged products that get better after every time they’re worn, wash after wash, for all men,” said Wlazlo. “The name and the product are so connected.”
Penney’s Mutual Weave private men’s brand.