UpWest: Northern California Brand by Way of Columbus, Ohio

The brand is taking a holistic approach, addressing stress through multiple product categories.

UpWest celebrates the great outdoors.

The new line UpWest rocks a Northern California vibe — but hails from Columbus, Ohio.

Express incubated the new direct-to-consumer brand, and the ambitious UpWest is the yin to the $2.2 billion vertical retailer’s yang. While Express is associated with projecting confidence to the world with suiting for first interviews and beyond, and head-turning party dresses, UpWest is about introspection, self-love, slowing down, turning off and tuning out — even ever so briefly, to recharge.

UpWest offers cozy robes and comfy sleep sets for men and women to wear when they get home from work and change out of their Express blazers and dress pants. UpWest’s offering is designed to benefit the mind, body and spirit with categories such as sweaters, jackets, Henleys and polos for men and women; loungewear, sleep sets and separates; relaxing wellness products such as diffusers, essential oils and high-quality CBD; clean beauty products and sleep masks, and home items such as crystals, candles and coffee table books.

About 70 percent of UpWest is devoted to apparel, 20 percent is dedicated to home, and 10 percent, beauty and wellness. “That’s how we’re opening. We’re trying to be very flexible. We’re pretty fortunate in that we found some pretty great third-party providers,” said UpWest senior vice president and chief comfort officer Jamie Schisler, referring to products such as candles and CBD items. “Getting inventory will be pretty speedy.”

Schisler said the public won’t know that UpWest is related to Express. “Certainly from a consumer-facing perspective, UpWest is going to be very separate,” he said. “We’re not putting a link to UpWest on the Express web site. There won’t be a very visible connection for the consumer to see.”

UpWest was born out of consumer research and social media observations, Schisler said. Stress emerged as the culprit compromising consumers’ quality of life. Citing new research from Microsoft, where 86 percent of respondents reported issues with switching off work during their non-working hours, and 80 percent said they have trouble sleeping due to anxiety about the job, UpWest aims to help consumers slow down, and connect with themselves, their communities and nature.

“There’s been a shift from FOMO [fear of missing out] to JOMO [joy of missing out],” Schisler said. “Our goal is to find solutions. Despite feelings of stress and feeling overwhelmed, the consumers [we spoke with] are still optimistic.

“UpWest is part of the narrative that Express, after 40 years, is taking a look at the retail landscape and feels that this is the right time to do this. Express, as a legacy retailer, is trying to find new growth vehicles,” Schisler said, adding that a competitive review of the market found ample white space. “People are doing this within categories or as specialists. CBD or weighted blankets. Ours is a holistic view from not just the products we sell, but the content we’ll share and the impact we’ll have. We’re impacting the world by being a charitable brand and having a stance on sustainability.”

“The UpWest concept was already in development when I joined Express, and I believe that Jamie and the team have created something unique,” said Tim Baxter, chief executive officer of Express. “This integration of product, brand, purpose and content is a holistic proposition that we believe will resonate with its audience.”

Schisler declined to give a volume projection for UpWest, but said, “The potential for a brand, when you look at the space of health and wellness and even loungewear, is $67 billion, when you combine those areas. It’s a big business, and we’re positioning ourselves to get some share of that.

“With consumers traveling more, they want their homes to be sanctuaries,” Schisler said. “The idea is create spaces of comfort. We’re looking at the space and saying, travel is uncomfortable. How can we provide comfort there. Travel is a space that we could easily play in and provide solutions.”

Comfort trumps trends for UpWest apparel. 

UpWest apparel is relaxed and focused on comfort inside and out. “For spring, we’re doing a collaboration with a swimwear brand we’re excited about. Winter is all about bundling up, cozy and soft. Trends will influence fabrics and silhouettes. The way proportions are now, wide-leg trousers with flouncy tops, those looser silhouettes are consistent with current fashion trends.”

UpWest is building a tiny log cabin and taking it on the road to five cities. It will travel through the end of the year to Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, Denver and Austin, Tex. “We’re doing an experiential tour. We’ll offer yoga and meditation, and the cabin will also be a pop-up. We do view stores in the future. We definitely feel the brand lends itself to a strong in-store experience.”

The chartable component of the brand is the UpWest Foundation. Schisler said 1 percent of sales will be donated to three partner charities: Mental Health America, Freedom Service Dogs and Random Acts. “We want to provide help to those who provide hope,” he said.

Sustainability is a work in progress. “It’s not perfection. A very small part of the collection will be sustainable at launch, but the percentage will increase moving forward. Sustainable fibers and recycled materials will be at forefront,” Schisler said. “I don’t think we can ever declare 100 percent victory. That feels very challenging. We just want to make progress every year.” 

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