LOS ANGELES Bldwn’s has received acclaim for its Midwestern aesthetic, but scaling the label into a global brand through a combination of new design work and retail is the current challenge.

The company most recently nabbed former Rag & Bone U.S. director of retail Stephen SaeOng, to head up its own retail strategy. His hire is one of a number of steps the company’s taken over the past year or so to remake itself beyond its regional and denim roots.

“I joined the company about a year and a half ago, and when I came on I was tasked with taking the brand that, at the time was more Kansas City, Midwest and regionally focused, and growing it to a national, global level,” said president Johnathan Crocker.

Since Crocker’s hiring, the brand was renamed from Baldwin to Bldwn, with a North Star that draws its inspiration from American design. The creative team, branding and marketing relocated to Los Angeles last April and a new women’s design team was established. Matt and Emily Baldwin, the company’s founders, continue to sit on the company’s board and remain in Kansas City where functions, such as finance, human resources and operations reside.

The efforts of the new design team were revealed just this past week with the spring 2019 collection, which is the first full representation of the Bldwn brand.

“That’s definitely evolved. The main shift of the brand in terms of position and product was evolving the brand past the perception of being premium denim,” Crocker said. “Nobody was interested in just creating another denim line, so we have a phenomenal design and production team and what you can see in spring 2019 is a proper ready-to-wear collection. Denim still remains a core offering; it’s still fundamental to the brand, but we really are rounding out the brand with more categories.”

That will help as the company turns its attention to brick-and-mortar retail with the help of SaeOng.

Bldwn counts seven stores nationally, with a door on Melrose Place set to open in the next few months. The opening is seen as significant for the company because the design and merchandising will reflect a new direction for Bldwn stores moving forward. The company, Crocker said, will then evaluate its existing store fleet and which ones should remain open and what markets are best for the company to operate in.

“We’re looking at this really as what are currently the opportunities that exist in our retail stores,” SaeOng said of the process and the performance of the existing stores. “We are growing and I think there’s a question to be answered later about what that success looks like a year from now.”

SaeOng said the stores will focus on bolstering relationships with customers coming through the doors and pressed the need for creating experiences.

“It’s a combination of multiple things, introducing a new offering and a fresh perspective for your customer,” SaeOng said of what the store experience looks like. “It’s touching different senses and it’s creating a real conversation about life and personal style. So it’s not necessarily just having more technology to offer, but it’s creating something more unique when you enter that store environment.”

All of that goes back to execution of Crocker and the team’s vision of making Bldwn into a modern American fashion label.

“Retail has and is always going to be highly competitive,” SaeOng said. “There are a lot of great brands to shop and there are a lot of great, new brands that are always going to come into existence. For us, the challenge is really standing alone and feeling unique and special to the consumer.”

Bldwn’s identity and what the executive team craft it into will be key.

“When you look at the fashion industry, it’s so incredibly cluttered and competitive,” Crocker said. “Every brand is looking for one degree of separation of why we’re different from our competitors. The whole position of modern  American fashion for us really begins with redefining and reconsidering what it means to be American.”

That sent the team into pulling references ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry to Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“We’re still working on this, but as much as it’s about our product and our collection,” Crocker said, “when you walk through our retail doors, my vision is to provide a place to tell the story of American design.”

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