Target Corp.‘s biggest apparel brand launch of 2018 is also its most democratic.
The retailer during the first week of February will unveil Universal Thread, a women’s denim lifestyle collection with more than 500 items, including jeans, shorts, tops, dresses, accessories, jewelry and shoes. Universal Thread embraces all sizes and body shapes and will be priced up to 10 percent lower than the existing Mossimo denim, which is being phased out. The denim component of Ava & Viv, a plus-size lifestyle collection that Target launched in 2015, will migrate to Universal Thread.
Target saw a void in the market for a denim lifestyle brand that spans several product categories and delivers newness every month. Universal Thread is one of the retailer’s arsenal of new brands that began rolling out last year.
Last February, the retailer said it would introduce more than a dozen labels in 18 months as part of the reimagining of its apparel and home businesses. Ten brands bowed in 2017, including Goodfellow & Co., men’s wear; A New Day, women’s apparel; Project 62, home decor, and JoyLab, ath-leisure.
“We’ll have more brands later this year in apparel and home,” a spokeswoman said. “We have more than 12. Universal Thread will be the 11th brand we’ve launched since we announced the broader strategy.”
“Universal Thread is one of our largest brands and it has a really wide reach,” said Mark Tritton, Target’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, adding that “$1 billion [in annual sales] is one of our aspirations, and I think it can hit that mark. It’s the art and science of brand management and how we’re applying that to the new brands.”
A New Day, which launched in August, includes more than 2,000 items; however, a spokeswoman said the majority are accessories and jewelry, with apparel consisting of 700 products.
Target took a risk when it decided to phase out stalwarts Merona, for women and men, and Mossimo, men’s wear. “It’s not a like-for-like replacement,” Tritton said of Universal Thread. “Denim existed under Merona and Mossimo. Merona has moved out. We kept some elements of Mossimo relevant in denim until we could bring Universal Thread to life.” Mossimo will be phased out over the next year.
A key element of Universal Thread is its all-embracing approach to sizing and body shapes. “It’s inclusivity for all women and all body types,” a Target spokeswoman said. “There’s a variety of different rises, pant lengths, cuts and fits, such as straight or curvy, as well as extended seams.”
While a percentage of A New Day extends to size 26, Target is going further with Universal Thread. “The guest response to A New Day’s full sizes was tremendous,” Tritton said. “One of the big differences of Universal Thread is that for the first time, 100 percent of the assortment will be offered in sizes 00-26W/XS-4X. The online guest trusts us with size. Now a lot of our stores reflect the work we did last year to display apparel on size-inclusive mannequins.”
Guest research was part of defining the white space. “We engaged with nearly 1,000 guests to create a brand rooted in their research,” Tritton said. “We held fit clinics with 24- to 40-year-old guests and talked to guests. They tried on 240 pairs of jeans, from size 00 to 26. They voiced their opinions on the styles they loved and the fit experience.”
Many of the focus group members said they dreaded shopping for denim. “We’re meeting the needs of existing customers and have the opportunity to attract new guests. We looked at specialty denim and quality fits. You’re going to find your reliable core jeans and update your wardrobe with new fashion pieces,” Tritton said, citing a cropped pant with wrap waist and tuxedo trim.
About 40 percent of the brand consists of denim, including pants and shorts in both forward styles and staples. The balance is made up of pants, tops, shorts, dresses, accessories, jewelry and shoes. Universal Thread is using the latest denim technology including shape technology, no-fade black jeans and stain-repellent white jeans.
Jewelry, accessories and shoe styles for spring 2018 include backpacks, dusters and baseball caps; mules, fashion slides, sneakers and flatforms, and hoops and statement drop earrings.
“While we’re quickly developing these brands in-house, we’ve also been able to share in the learnings from the brands we’ve already launched,” Tritton said, citing merchandising and creating in-store and online experiences that mirror one another. “We’re changing the way we present products. A New Day and Goodfellow & Co., are being shown in their own environments. It’s a 360-degree experience, whether in a store or online. The power of that has been phenomenal. Guests have really responded.”
In addition to the brand-shop approach, accessories and shoes will also be sold within their own product categories.
After realizing that its low-price message was lost on consumers, Target last year made price adjustments on thousands of core items to reflect consistently low prices, an initiative the retailer calls “priced right daily.”
“Universal Thread is priced on average 10 percent below our regular prices,” Tritton said. “We’ve been getting good market share growth in bottoms, and gaining share.”
Universal Thread price range from $5 to $39.99 for apparel, accessories and shoes. Everyday denim is priced from $24.99 to $36.99, with premium denim, $34.99 to $36.99. Tritton said comparable products sell for upwards of $200.
Universal Threat supports Target’s goal to achieve responsible sourcing and sustainable design by 2020. “We listened to the guest,” Tritton said. “Sustainability is a key factor. We’re using core denim fabrics, high-quality post-consumer cotton, and for pocketing details, we’re using Repreve, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. We’ve made a real effort to engage with quality manufacturing.
“While we’re a really big organization and these are really big brands, the team is thinking like entrepreneurs,” Tritton said. “We’ve been able to quickly bring these ideas to market. We designed this in-house, created the branding and concept, did the material staging in knits and denim. That’s a very different way to how mass merchants worked in the past. We’re thinking like a specialty retailer and we’re able to bring a very unique perspective.”