Target Collective is the name of a new program launching on the discounter’s Web site on Sunday featuring six men’s brands that are made in America and represent style, authenticity, quality and craftsmanship.

This story first appeared in the March 12, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The nearly 90 items in the collective from brands such as Billykirk, Owen & Fred, Taylor Stitch, Duluth Pack, Locally Grown and Terrapin Stationers range in price from $10 to $270, with most items under $100, although this is still relatively high for Target.

The Target Collective handle is flexible by design, sounding neither masculine nor feminine, and applicable to any number of categories. “What excites me about this program is that we’ve curated a collective of brands we think our guests will love, and we had the chance to work with them to cocreate products that will be exclusive to Target,” said Kathee Tesija, the retailer’s executive vice president and chief merchandising and supply chain officer. “As an umbrella program, Target Collective has endless possibilities and could go in any number of directions. However, to launch, we’re focused specifically on men’s brands and making these high-quality products easily accessible on

“Our focus, to begin, is on,” Tesija said. “We think the guests who will be attracted to this assortment are already shopping heavily online and like to research products before they buy. Additionally, this is a new program, and, by its nature, allows us more flexibility to test and learn.”

In addition to being sold online, Billykirk in May will be available at 160 Target stores that, according to the company’s research, have a preponderance of customers who tend to buy a lot of apparel and style products.

“This is a new area for us,” a spokeswoman said. “We haven’t done anything like this for men. Based on research, men seem to be more of the early adapters of the Made in the U.S. movement. We’re testing and learning at this point. If it seems as if it’s something our guests want more of, we’d be open to looking into home or women’s. We continue to evolve our style assortment.”

Target Collective may be the retailer’s first umbrella concept geared to men, but it’s been doling out style to women under different conceptual guises for years. Go International featured up-and-coming talent; Designer Collaborations focused on established types such as Alexander McQueen and Anna Sui, and The Shops at Target sold exclusive merchandise created by a handful of small shops and boutiques from around the country. After discontinuing Go International in 2012, Target started one-off collaborations with designers such as Jason Wu, Proenza Schouler and Joseph Altuzarra. The next one-off will be a collection in partnership with Lilly Pulitzer, debuting on April 19.

Chris Bray, cofounder of Billykirk, which makes leather and canvas goods, said, “We have this opportunity to show our design aesthetic and what we’re all about. We’re hopeful this will bring more exposure to our brand.” His brother, Kirk, praised Target for “getting behind the maker movement. It’s a billion dollar business now. It’s viable, relevant and makes sense. People appreciate craft and something that’s going to last.”

Each of the brands was chosen to complement one another while avoiding duplication. Brooklyn-based Owen & Fred makes leather luggage tags, You Dirty Dog soap, concrete and cedar soap dishes, notebooks, pens and leather coasters; Tailor & Stitch designs men’s shirts in limited numbers and manufactures them in California; Duluth Pack since 1882 has been making duffles, scout packs and luggage at its factory in Duluth, Minn., while Des Moines, Iowa-based Locally Grown sells T-shirts at local farmer’s markets, food co-ops and like-minded boutiques. Terrapin Stationers is a 100-year-old hand-embossed New York stationer.

All of the brands with the exception of Duluth Pack worked with Target’s product development and design team to give the merchandise “that Target nod and twist,” the spokeswoman said. “Our design team is able to do that. We’d look at the offering, and say ‘We’d love to do something like this in another color.’”

“Once we got on the same page of the vision of what we wanted to do and loosened their purse straps a little bit,” the process was painless, Chris Bray said. “Not much was changed from anything we proposed. They liked what we came up with.”

Mass giants such as Wal-Mart and Target have learned the value of engaging with small manufacturers. The former has discovered innovative products at its vendor open call days such as taco plates and trash bag converters, while Target has uncovered unique designers.

“These are really small manufacturers,” the spokeswoman said. “They manufacture in smaller runs than we would typically do. It’s sort of one of those things that you have to do — work in a new and different way with these brands and learn to be more nimble.”

Part of the Target Collective experiment involves gauging consumers’ interest. “We’re starting with enough product to take us to early July,” the spokeswoman said. “If it does really well there’s potential for it to go into the fall or indefinitely. It’s semi-limited edition. There’s certainly the potential for it to live on. It depends on how people engage with the products.”

Tesija said Target Collective will answer several questions, including how much consumers are willing to pay for well-made products. “We’re constantly testing different initiatives in our stores and online,” she said. “With this program, there are a number of elements that make it a good fit for — we’re introducing new brands, extending to categories we haven’t offered in the past with our men’s assortment and pushing into a higher price point. We’re eager to see what our guests think and will be monitoring both sales, as well as buzz and social activity. These brands, and the fact that our team cocreated original product with them, bring a cool factor to our existing assortment, and I’m excited to see how our guests respond.”

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