When Joseph Janus joined WeSC seven years ago as chief executive officer of the American business, the Swedish streetwear brand, which is named We Are Superlative Conspiracy, was being produced and distributed by its U.S. licensee Oved Apparel Group. Like most streetwear and skate lines at the time, the brand was focused on mass distribution in retailers such as Tillys, Zumiez and PacSun.
But Janus, who has previously worked for brands including Calvin Klein, Guess and JNCO, sensed a shift coming in the market and knew he would have to slowly make WeSC more premium.
“I wanted to bridge the gap between traditional streetwear and luxury,” said Janus. “How do we get into better department stores and grow up with our consumer who is starting to mix luxury items into their wardrobe?”
In 2013 the brand bought back its U.S. license and created an independent American subsidiary and Janus was charged with growing business in the U.S. Over the course of the last few years, he’s made small shifts to get the company, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, where it is today.
Step one was slowly increasing the price points and changing the distribution from mall stores to better department stores. Janus would raise prices each season to not shock the market. For example, seven years ago a WeSC woven shirt was $48, while today it retails for about $200. And denim, which used to be a replenishment business that started at $78, is now a novelty product that retails for around $148. Janus categorizes the brand, which is sold in retailers including Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, as a contemporary streetwear brand with competitors including Wood Wood and Acne.
“Most contemporary brands don’t have roots in streetwear like us,” said Janus. “I consider our line the opening price point to luxury that’s offered in quality materials.”
One of his biggest changes was making the brand gender-neutral. Starting in spring 2018, the company presented one unified collection with an expanded size range internationally. Before that, women’s only made up 10 percent of sales and Janus believed women and men were attracted to the same styles from the line. According to Janus, this change helped cut down on production costs as he can now service everyone with each stockkeeping unit. In WeSC stores — the company has flagships in New York City and Stockholm — there is no longer a men’s and women’s section, while department store buyers are still dividing the collection between the men’s and women’s departments.
He’s attempting to maintain newness with a release schedule that brings new product to the floor each month. For the fall 2019 assortment, there are four themes: modern punk; urban commuter; reconstructed, and an anniversary collection that will be collegiate and include a limited-edition varsity jacket produced with Golden Bear. There’s also a Conspiracy collection, a line of apparel and accessories with social commentary, that WeSC releases alongside its main collections.
Janus said despite department stores’ struggles, wholesale makes up most of the brand’s sales and these retailers still have big online businesses. He also noted that because WeSC is considered trend product, it has been able to maintain a steady business.
Going forward, Janus, who was promoted to global chief executive officer in 2016, believes WeSC can become more of a lifestyle brand. The company is doubling down on the accessories category, which is becoming increasingly important for streetwear.
“Accessories have always been at the forefront of the women’s luxury space and that’s really transitioned to streetwear,” said Janus. “Your bag is front-and-center. It’s a bold statement piece. This has opened us up to retailers’ accessory sections.”
WeSC is also moving into licensing and working with Versa Textiles, which has the license to produce and distribute an underwear, lounge and sock program, and Triple Five on a kid’s collection. Opo, which is based in Scandinavia, will produce and distribute WeSC’s sunglasses.
“Most of these kind of licensing situations are for bigger brands like Calvin or Tommy, but it just shows you the power of streetwear. It’s such a powerful category and it has such a broad demographic,” said Janus.
Business has grown an average of 33 percent each year since taking the new course, said Janus, who believes streetwear will continue to be a growing category.
“I don’t think it’s a trend,” he said. “The luxury brands are buying into it because this is a new customer they want for the next 20 years. He straps a bag on himself. He likes technical fabrics. He wears tennis shoes. He doesn’t wear suits. I think we are going to see more and more streetwear companies not only become brands, but retailers, tech companies, full lifestyle brands that hit every sector.”