As part of its ongoing all-are-welcome strategy, JCPenney has recruited Prabal Gurung for a collaboration.
The New York-based designer is vocal about the importance of inclusivity, and the retailer is counting on that reputation to resonate with shoppers nationwide. Offered in 25 sizes and retailing for less than $100, the iMPower by Prabal Gurung collection is meant to appeal to a wide range of shoppers — including new ones. It will debut online and in 300 of the retailer’s 660 stores on March 2 at midnight CST. The vibrant limited-run of dresses and jumpsuits is meant to convey a get-it-while-you-can sentiment with shoppers.
In an interview Tuesday, Michelle Wlazlo, JCPenney’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, spoke of how Gurung shared values with the retailer. The company decided to work with him due to his “sought-after designs and mission to embrace an inclusive world, celebrating the beauty in all women,” she said.
Gurung commitment to inclusion has long been engrained in his work and not in a check-the-box type of way, Wlazlo said. To highlight inclusivity, Norman Jean Roy photographed six enterprising women for the collection’s imagery — model and actress Shalom Harlow, volleyball player Natalia Bryant, singer and songwriter Varsha Thapa, Thirteen Lune founder Nyakio Grieco, Prados Beauty founder Cece Meadows and Sara Happ’s namesake founder. Along with presenting powerful women, the images also showcase different body types and ethnicities. During the shoot, the talent each responded to designs in the collection that would enhance their own wardrobes, according to Wlazlo.
Each model selected a charity or cause that JCPenney is donating $10,000 in honor of Women’s History Month. A donation of that amount is also being made to Gurung’s preferred charity, the Shikshya Foundation Nepal, an education-driven organization that the designer helped establish in 2011. Gurung was not available for an interview.
The campaign also touts three founders of beauty brands that are available through JCPenney including its anchor one, Thirteen Lune. Rolling out new beauty departments with a mix of mass, prestige and emerging founder-led brands is one of the objectives that JCPenney chief executive officer Rosen has prioritized. The company has introduced more than 100 beauty brands including 70-plus ones that are female or BIPOC-led [Black, Indigenous and people of color].
Earlier this month, the Simon Property Group, which acquired JCPenney in 2020, flagged that the chain’s 2022 sales had been hampered by inflation and reduced consumer spending. But as the pandemic appears to wind down, some shoppers continue to buy dressed-up styles, which the retailer had continued to offer throughout the shutdown and had seen solid interest in, according to Wlazlo.
With a social media reach of nearly 1.9 million, Gurung stands to potentially boost JCPenney’s connection to the digitally minded — another priority for the company. As of last fall, 25 percent of the company’s sales were generated by online purchases. As for how much of a factor Gurung’s social media following was in JCPenney’s decision to work with him, Wlazlo said his design talent was the driving force. (With 2.8 million followers on Instagram alone, Bryant brings her own social media might to the equation, as do some of the campaign’s other models.)
Although JCPenney’s radical modernization a decade ago fell flat, the company is edging into elevated offerings on occasion such as the Gurung collaboration. Four years into her tenure at JCPenney, Wlazlo said she was enthusiastic about the Rosen-led regime and the company’s future.