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Kmart Looks to Build Fashion Cred

The retailer is aiming to flip the negative stereotypes about its business.

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NEW YORK — Kmart is aiming to flip the negative stereotypes about its fashion business.

The discounter, which is owned by Sears Holding Corp., is building on the initial success of its Website, Kmartdesign.com — which launched late last year — to teach consumers about the product and personalities behind the store’s labels.

The site was inspired by Kmart’s design center, a full-floor space on Varick Street in New York that is home to 240 of Kmart’s apparel, footwear and accessories designers and its color and fabric specialists, who have come to the retailer from across the industry, including high-end labels.

“When people talk about Kmart and Sears and think of design, they probably say ‘Oh, that must be boring,’ or even worse, ‘It doesn’t exist,’” said Steve Weston, VP of footwear design. “They don’t see the carefully planned strategy and care we’ve put into the design.”

“We knew that if consumers could see us and how we work, they would trust us,” added Lisa Schultz, EVP of apparel design.

The Kmart Website profiles the designers, their backgrounds and their inspirations, and encourages consumers to keep up with the team through a blog, video diaries and Twitter. The site also will eventually allow consumers to purchase items through interactive product videos and segments.

For Weston, it’s a particularly exciting time to talk about the store’s footwear brands, which include Attention, Route 66, Jaclyn Smith, Thom McAn and I Love Comfort.

The footwear business, which for years was operated by Meldisco, was brought in-house about three years ago, and with a design team of eight, the category is steadily growing.

Women’s product makes up about 55 percent of the footwear business, Weston said. Though he declined to give specific numbers, Weston said the category is a “substantial” part of the business.

“Now that the footwear has transitioned to be in house — and it wasn’t an easy transition — the design center has been pivotal in bringing the ready-to-wear and footwear together,” Weston said. “To have all our brands showcased here and to be able to make footwear an integral part of those brands is the beauty of this office.”

Weston said that while the site is helping fuel excitement around Kmart’s and Sears’ footwear brands, the economy has also provided an opportunity.

“Consumers from mid-market retailers are coming down to our price point,” he said. “It will be tough for them to go back to that previous level, if they can get quality and trends at a lower cost.”