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Kmart Making Push for Women’s Apparel

Financier Edward Lampert appears to be investing in Kmart at last — and women's apparel could be the first to show the effects.

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Financier Edward Lampert appears to be investing in Kmart at last — and women's apparel could be the first to show the effects.

Lampert has come under increasing fire in the last few months for his apparent lack of a strategy for the discount chain and its sister retailer Sears, which combined to form Sears Holdings Corp. Now the investor is beefing up the team at Kmart to jump-start lagging profits and sales. Former Tommy Hilfiger executive Stephen Donnelly joined Kmart Holding Corp. on March 24 as vice president and general merchandise manager overseeing women's apparel. Kim McClaren, senior vice president of Kmart apparel, previously worked at Forth & Towne and before that, Gap Inc. Theresa Strickland, who held management positions at Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma, is leading a new team for the home area of Kmart and Sears. They aren't the only ones to come from a major specialty chain. Lisa Schultz joined Kmart four years ago as executive vice president of apparel design at Sears Holdings. A 14-year veteran of the Gap, where her last position was executive vice president of product development and design, Schultz was charged with improving the apparel offerings at the mass merchant. She has had her work cut out for her.

"Women's apparel at Kmart looked like a big bazaar," Schultz recalled, noting buyers sourced products from many vendors with little attention paid to duplication. "We didn't think of them as individual brands."

And while Lampert has been slashing capital spending at Sears Holdings and cutting marketing budgets, Schultz insists that Lampert, who bought Kmart stock when the retailer was in bankruptcy, is "investing money in the stores." Kmart emerged from bankruptcy in 2003. Two years later, Lampert merged Kmart and Sears into Sears Holdings.

The company is even spending on advertising again — and fashion is a focus. A print ad campaign carrying the tag line, "Kmart. Smart style, revealed. New for spring," with the image of a matte jersey dress from the Attention line, ran in April in In Style, Glamour, O, The Oprah Magazine and People, and for the Spanish language market, in People En Español, Latina and Cosmopolitan.

Kmart on March 9 launched the "Style Showoff Contest," a national search for the customer with the best fashion sense. The winner will be crowned Kmart's "fashion ambassador" and appear in an ad campaign. Footage of contestants trying on Kmart clothing, although it's not identified as such, and their reactions can be seen on the retailer's Web site. Contestants said they thought the apparel came from stores such as Barneys New York, Forever 21, Banana Republic and Hennes & Mauritz, among others.
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