Wal-Mart’s New Style: Out With Kathie Lee, In With Trendier Looks

Wal-Mart is bidding adieu to its Kathie Lee label, marking the end of an era and the start of a new apparel department. Here are the details.

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"Brands have a life cycle just like fashion trends," said Merrill Lynch analyst Daniel Barry, pointing out that Gifford’s relevance has ebbed. "She’s no longer a public figure — at least not in the way she was when she was on a daily television show."

Also to be ushered out: Bobbie Brooks, a Kellwood-produced misses’ collection of stretch-waist pants and oversized blouses, and McKids, a licensed kids line that uses the Golden Arches on a red tag. With national attention on childhood obesity and increasing scrutiny of fast food restaurants, McKids seems an obvious choice for the chopping block.

Reducing brand count is part of Clancy’s overall effort to declutter the department and focus on brands with meaningful identity. Clancy — who peppers short, focused responses with phrases like "make it happen" and "passion for success" — is part of the team leading Wal-Mart’s charge into more trend-relevant and better quality products throughout all softline categories.

The company is already one of the biggest apparel retailers in the world, capturing between 12 and 14 cents of every dollar spent in the U.S., according to industry sources. The company does not break out apparel revenues, but sales are estimated at $25 billion for apparel and accessories in Wal-Mart stores. Add in Sam’s Club and the number surpasses $30 billion. During the back-to-school sales period alone, the company sells five million girls’ socks, according to a company spokeswoman.

Yet it’s estimated that a significant percentage — perhaps as high as 50 percent of customers — don’t buy its sportswear. That means that, despite already being one of America’s largest apparel retailers, Wal-Mart still has a mammoth opportunity for growth.

But Clancy envisions a future in which Wal-Mart’s apparel leadership hinges not just on sheer volume, but on value, quality and appeal of its merchandise, as well. And she’s building a team to accomplish that.

"The most rewarding part of this is watching my team and my buyers grasp an idea like Plus One [a quality initiative] or what George will mean to their mix," she said, sitting in her tiny office at Wal-Mart’s headquarters, a converted warehouse, surrounded by goals and charts on the wall. "They’re making it happen to serve the customer. And they have the opportunity to make it happen on a big scale at a young age."
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