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Private Affair: Walmart, JCPenney and More Put Money on Exclusive Brands

With inflation on the rise, private labels are having a retail “moment” as consumers look for value-minded fashion to get the most bang for their buck.

In-house lines are big business for retailers too, when merchants get them right. And the labels can serve as a point of differentiation, especially when stores everywhere are selling national brands that tend to show the same merchandise. Even better, private labels offer retailers a high-margin edge.

Macy’s Inc. has talked about growing its power private labels INC, Style & Co., Charter Club and Alfani to $1 billion in annual revenue. Target too is investing in owned brands to join the 10 it already runs in-house that each generate $1 billion or more, with four at $2 billion. The mass retailer’s athleisure label All In Motion needed just one year the lap $1 billion.

Kohl’s made a concerted push into activewear and casual apparel with the March 2021 launch of FLX. The retailer wants to get the athleisure and activewear categories to 30 percent of its business, from its 20 percent share in 2020.

Private label lines tend to thrive when the economy doesn’t. Many consumers who gravitated towards in-house brands during Covid’s early disruption have turned into label loyalists.

Intel from Dataweave, an e-commerce pricing technology, suggests inflation tends to benefit private labels, which see their share and penetration expand when the going gets tough for the consumer’s personal finances.

In the grocery channel, Meijer last month launched Tranquil & True, a label offering comfortable intimates and sleepwear designed for women at its 258 supercenters and grocery stores.

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“We know that finding intimate apparel that fits well, is comfortable and reflects a woman’s inner style is not always easy so that’s why we designed Tranquil & True. We think that all women, whatever their size or shape, will find pieces they feel effortlessly great in,” Annette Repasch, Meijer’s group vice president of softlines, said. The company was the first major retailer in 2016 to do away with its plus-size department and place XS-3X on the same rack and at the same prices.

Walmart, JCPenney, Hudson's Bay and grocery chain Meijer are adding private brands and limited collections to their merchandise mix.
Looks from Kindly’s new loungerwear line, available at Walmart. Courtesy Photo

Also on the intimates front, Kindly is in expanding its reach. Gelmart International, maker of the first-ever plant-based bra cup sourced from Brazilian sugarcane, added maternity, cotton and loungewear options to the sustainable undergarments’ brand’s lineup, with prices ranging from $11-$23 at Walmart’s 3,300 stores and on its website.

Maternity options include a bralette with clips for easy access when nursing. The shorts in the line have a thick band with a “cross-cross fold.” Loungewear includes pullover sweatshirts, color blocking and tanks that are low-cut to show off the bralettes underneath.

Walmart also launched the Love & Sports active and athleisure label. Denise Incandela, executive vice president of apparel and private brands at Walmart U.S., said the line was created in partnership with fashion designer Michelle Smith and superstar indoor cycling instructor Stacey Griffith of SoulCycle fame.

Love & Sports is starting off with activewear while swim will drop next and footwear and accessories are slated to arrive in the fall. Priced at $12-$42, the line has activewear in XS-XXXL, with swimwear from XS-XXL. Seamless sports bras, bike shorts and leggings, as well as nylon jackets, strapless one-piece swimsuits, and bikini tops and bottoms all feature in the new private label.

Over at The Bay, the retailer is launching Hudson North, a collection of over 200 wardrobe staples for Spring-Summer at Hudson’s Bay stores. “Hudson North features quality, foundational pieces that are versatile and can be worn on their own. These elevated essentials will quickly become go-to staples this season, and well beyond,” said Laura Janney, The Bay’s chief merchant.

The Hudson North assortment for women and men include dresses for women, tops, wide-leg pants, shorts, denim, loungewear and knits in neutral tones.

And JCPenney rolled out the Everyday Marilyn capsule collection featuring a 12-piece assortment of essentials inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s off-screen wardrobe. Pieces include capri pants, crisp shirting, and full-skirted sundresses in sizes XS-3X available at jcp.com and in 300 JCPenney stores, The Spring-Summer color palette incorporates black, white, coral and navy blue, with prices averaging $49, though dresses are higher.

“Inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s effortless style and fashion legacy, this exclusive capsule collection provides customers with clothing they’ll feel both comfortable and stylish in,” Val Harris, JCPenney’s senior vice president of product design, trend and brand management, said.

“Marilyn’s fashion legacy continues to influence today’s styles, and these crisp, clean designs really capture the essence of her off-screen persona,” added Dana Carpenter, executive vice president, entertainment at Authentic Brands Group, owner of the Marilyn Monroe Estate.