LOS ANGELES — J Brand, the Los Angeles-based premium denim label owned by Japan’s Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., is setting the foundation to build a lifestyle business bolstered by freestanding stores through the hiring of key design and merchandising executives.
J Brand named Mary Bruno as head of design, Ellen Ahlbom as senior vice president of sales and merchandising for the women’s market and Tony Strippoli as senior vice president of sales and merchandising for the men’s component. All newly created positions, these appointments are intended not only to lead to the opening of its first freestanding store — possibly in 2016 — but also to boost its profitability, which underperformed in the third quarter and contributed to its parent company in July cutting the forecast for its full-year net profit.
J Brand is also borrowing cues from Theory, another Fast Retailing-owned brand, whose cofounder, Andrew Rosen, is interim chief executive officer at J Brand.
“We’re building out the structure very comparably to Theory,” said Lynne Koplin, president of J Brand. “We need to start thinking the way a retailer thinks.”
J Brand already dabbles in direct-to-consumer retail. Its e-commerce business makes up less than 10 percent of total sales, and it runs independently a year-old shop within Hankyu Umeda department store in Osaka, Japan. It is also responsible for the sales and staff at a shop-in-shop that was launched in June 2013 at Selfridges in London.
The company hopes that the addition of the three executives to the 225-person company will pave a way to new businesses. Strippolli, who most recently served as president of Scotch & Soda’s U.S. unit, also managed sales at Diesel and specialized in accessories at Bally. Ahlbom spent 24 years at Levi Strauss & Co., eventually advancing to vice president working on its global markets.
With Bruno, who oversaw 10 brands at Ralph Lauren as senior vice president of denim design and development and served as design director at both Earl Jeans and Levi’s, there is “not just a creative vision but a real understanding of the product-development side,” Koplin said. With her knowledge of branding, Bruno will maintain a broader scope than Donald Oliver, J Brand’s creative director, who left last year.
Still, Koplin acknowledged that J Brand needs some time before it starts rolling out new products.
“We need to build out what the brand profile is,” she said. “Just because you sell a pair of jeans, not every store is going to line up to buy your shoes.”