After a two-year (semi) hiatus from the New York Fashion Week circuit, Patrick Herning is jumping into the in-person shows full swing.
The Los Angeles-based designer and fashion entrepreneur’s plus-size women’s fashion platform 11 Honoré is expanding its partnership with Nordstrom and inching toward profitability as it refocuses its attention on its own private label, starting with a show in Manhattan on Friday.
“There’s a return to joy; what the customer wants is a return to some joyous dressing,” Herning told WWD. “She absolutely wants fashion; she absolutely wants style and a point of view. And I think it’s a hybrid. We’ve gone from being athleisure for 18 months to getting dressed again. With that in mind, there is an evolution of dressing.
“Shoppers are always shopping luxury,” he continued, over the phone from his L.A. headquarters. “In the middle of the pandemic we had shoppers who were buying Carolina Herrera gowns. I think there’s always a time and a place. But I think what the consumer wants is more variety in her wardrobe and her dressing options. And that’s really what we’re giving her. And I feel like we’ve really cracked the code on what she wants and what she’s looking for from us.”
That includes lots of pinks and other brightly colored shorts and suits for spring 2022, from lead designer Danielle Williams Eke, that will be on display in New York for what Herning promises to be a “super chic, super innovative hybrid” presentation, a combination of real-life models and a short film.
The show, a partnership with Afterpay, marks the five-year anniversary of 11 Honoré — which Herning founded in 2017 as an online plus-size fashion platform, featuring a selection of high-end women’s apparel brands in sizes 12 to 24 — and its efforts to grow its own in-house 11 Honoré label.
“We started with a priority of acquiring as many brands as possible,” Herning said. “And then from there, really identifying which brands to go deeper into. But what we ultimately realized was that a lot of brands struggled with getting fit right. As a retailer that is now a brand, we’re intimately well aware of the challenges that coincided with plus-size sizing.”
Despite the hurdles — or perhaps because of them — 11 Honoré launched its own private label in 2020.
“We have a true north in our brand, the 11 Honoré collection, with fit consistency, proprietary fit technology, grading rules that we ensure for the customer when she gets it into her closet,” Herning said. “It’s where we’ve been able to enter the market with a contemporary price point. And that’s really how the business has evolved, really since the beginning of last year. Because what we don’t want to perpetuate is a frustrated retail experience for this customer.
“Now, when we look at our merchandising strategy, it’s really not about how many brands we have — it could be five brands; it could be 50 brands. It could be 25 brands. It doesn’t particularly matter,” Herning continued. “What matters is that the brands we carry have fit consistency and integrity that we put our stamp on. We will always carry third-party brands that have expertise around fit.”
But Herning is the first to admit that 11 Honorés’ evolution hasn’t been easy, especially during a global pandemic. Retail industrywide supply chain challenges and the need to downsize large numbers of staff aside (in 11 Honoré’s case, 60 percent of the staff was laid off at the start of the pandemic), 11 Honoré faced other challenges.
Even with roughly $25 million in investments to date, (from such investors Greycroft, GC1 Ventures and Nordstrom) 11 Honoré has remained unprofitable.
“Part of our challenge was that we had not been able to profitably identify our path to growth,” Herning said. “So when the pandemic hit, obviously, it impacted our business the way it impacted retail in general. But, more importantly, we had been burning capital without driving profitability.
“Where we fundamentally struggled was on our customer acquisition,” the fashion entrepreneur continued. That was partially from the need for expanded pattern grading, or simply, more sizes, and the added investments that come with that. Onboarding additional fit models, grading scales and pattern makers, Herning explained, was an added expense that many of his industry peers are still not willing to embrace.
“But in order to do it, to ensure proper fit, investment has to be made on the brand side. There’s no way around it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of prioritizing your resources to start extending your sizing. We have tested and sampled and done everything in between, on a myriad of body types across all sizes to ensure that the grade rules that we developed are ones that fit our customer. And with that came a tremendous investment.”
The strategy seems to be paying off. Herning said 11 Honoré is on track to reach profitability by Q2 of this year.
“We were unprofitable in scaling. But we decided at the beginning of 2021 that the most important metric of success for this business was proving our path to profitability,” he explained. “We are up [in revenues] from 2021 and we’re flat to 2019. But [while] we hit the same revenues as in 2019, [we did it while] spending $3-and-a-half million less. So we really, really reexamined our inventory position strategy; we reexamined headcount. And in order to profitably build your business you have to be hyper-focused on key pillars of what’s going to move the business forward. Right now, in addition to optimizing our e-commerce platform, it’s leveraging our success through our omnichannel approach.”
The company also promoted Erin Milley to the post of chief executive officer in January 2021, so that Herning could focus on the role of founder, and is launching a five-year anniversary collection in August, in addition to another celebrity collaboration rolling out later this year.
Herning wouldn’t say with whom, except that “she’s an incredible, incredible actor and it’s come together so beautifully.” He added that last spring’s limited-edition capsule collection with actress and producer Lena Dunham, which sold out, “was one of the best marketing pushes we’ve ever done. It drove an entirely new customer to the site.”
Stand-alone 11 Honoré stores are also a possibility, but not until 2023 at the earliest.
“Brands like 11 Honoré need to exist, for many reasons,” Herning said. “It’s really, really important that curve continues to show up in a meaningful way, front and center during Fashion Week, because there’s so many customers to be speaking to. And for the first time, we’re starting to see high-end designers put curve into their fashion shows. I’d like to think 11 Honoré played a huge role in that. So the more brands that get into the category, for us, the better.
“I’m just grateful, because look, we’re a small startup marching towards profitability,” Herning continued. “I’m really proud of the journey. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. And it’s taken a minute to get here, but we have so many exciting things coming out. It’s a really, really big year.”