Nic + Zoe is sticking to its knitting while embarking on a major retail expansion with the goal of operating a 30- to 50-store chain. The company is also introducing a new higher-priced collection, a dress collection and relaunching its web site.
With its headquarters in Boston, Nic + Zoe might have once been under the radar, but high-profile advertising campaigns starring Coco Rocha, Hilary Rhoda and now Karen Elson, raised its profile and stoked demand. Retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus Direct, among others, currently sell the brand. Nic + Zoe launched an e-commerce site three and a half years ago.
“We’re at the point where the brand is exploding and healthy and growing,” said Susie Mulder, chief executive officer. “We’ve been experiencing double-digit growth. We want to hit $100 million in sales and that’s in our sights.”
The company put a toe in the retail water last year with a pop-up shop at Copley Place in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood, which was followed by a flagship at the Mall at Chestnut Hill, 10 miles from Nic + Zoe’s offices and designed by Kramer Design Group. Nic + Zoe in the fall plans to open units at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y. and King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania.
“We’re looking at a retail rollout of a 30- to 50-store chain,” said Susie Mulder, ceo. “We’ll do both malls and high streets. We’re excited to go to the South, West Coast and Midwest. We know we have national appeal.”
Mulder added that New York City is Nic + Zoe’s number-one market in terms of online sales.
The brand has a European sensibility that Mulder plans to take overseas. “We recently had interest from department stores and the U.K. International expansion will be an important part of the strategy in 2017 and 2018.”
Dorian Lightbown, who founded the brand in 2006 and named it after her two children, Nicholas and Zoe, previously worked at Sigrid Olsen, and it shows. For example, a Bold Strokes top with a woven body and knit sleeves has an artisanal brush stroke print inspired by the painter Milton Avery. An Artisan Block top comes in a stretch crepe fabric with an artistic block print pattern.
“Dorian’s vision is a little bit left of center,” Mulder said. “Not being in New York, we’ve been attracting people from the Rhode Island School of Design,” or Manhattan dropouts who want a change in lifestyle. They’ll definitely get it at Nic + Zoe. “We have things like pajama day,” Mulder said. “Dorian has a farm in South Dartmouth, she brings in eggplant and fresh eggs.”
Lightbown, who also worked with Leslie Wexner at the Limited, decided that working women lacked stylish, packable clothing that wouldn’t wrinkle on business trips and was machine-washable. The company is majority-owned by Boston entrepreneur Kent Spellman. Two private equity firms have minority positions. Mulder spent 15 years at McKinsey & Co., “helping people think through how to grow brands,” she said.
Both Lightbown and Mulder are hands-on, to the extent that they still receive an e-mail notifying them every time an order is placed.
Nic + Zoe has other knitting needles in the fire. The web site will be redesigned and relaunched and additional product categories are in the offing. “Dorian designed a new special edition collection for spring that’s priced about 30 percent above the core Nic + Zoe brand and features leather details,” Mulder said. “We’re looking to launch a dress collection. We’ve been approached to design handbags and shoes. We’re looking at those things. With our stores, we want to dress her from head to toe.”
Mulder said she’s not ruling out an initial public offering. “As we develop an aggressive growth plan, what’s next to fund the business’ growth? Something will happen in the next few years,” she said. “People ask why we’re not in Macy’s. Private equity wants growth, but we want to find a promotional cadence and adjacencies that are right for the brand. We’ve been selective in our wholesale partnerships. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a dog fight out there. Our [retail] customers are under pressure.”
In an everything-comes-full-circle moment, Mulder said that Zoe, the little girl whose name is still on the label, got married last year on Lightbown’s farm. Still an inspiration for Lightbown, the special-edition collection features pieces such as the long skirt Lightbown wore to Zoe’s wedding, which her daughter might wear to work with a white T-shirt.