Modcloth on Monday released an eight-piece dress collection created in collaboration with designer and New York Fashion Week regular Anna Sui. It’s among Modcloth’s first noteworthy moves since being acquired by Walmart for between $50 million and $75 million in March 2017.
“Walmart has given us the opportunity to take a breath for a second and really focus on what we want to do to amplify our voice,” said Modcloth vp Nicole Haase. “We’re doing things we never would have been able to do before, which are helping solidify our dedication to our community and doing right by [our customer].”
The Modcloth x Anna Sui partnership, initiated by Sui’s team nine months ago, marks the most expansive size range to date for Sui designs — each style is inspired by a look from her decades-spanning archives and is available in sizes 0 to 24. Modcloth has carried a selection of Anna Sui collection pieces, ranging from $499 for a blouse to $755 for a shift dress, since 2012. The new collection offers a mirroring, vintage-inspired aesthetic, with pieces priced $150 to $225.
“Historically, [Sui’s] pieces have been out of reach for our average customer, whether that be due to sizing or price point” said Haase. “This [collection] reflects what we’re focusing on from a branding perspective: inclusivity.”
The branding play is one that’s shared by many in Walmart’s growing portfolio of exclusive direct-to-consumer fashion brands, including Bonobos, acquired in June 2017, which has launched campaigns challenging traditional, narrow notions of masculinity, and plus-size women’s brand Eloquii, scooped up in early October.
Modcloth’s collaboration experience to date includes a denim line with Wrangler, released in March last year, and a collection with U.K.-based pin-up-inspired brand Collectif, spurred by customer feedback that pieces Modcloth carried by the company were ill-fitting.
The Collectif collaboration was the first initiated after the Walmart acquisition — other activations since March 2017 have included the Say It Louder campaign celebrating inspiring women like rapper Lizzo and musician Kacy Hill. In addition, Haase said Walmart has enabled Modcloth opportunities like closing on Black Friday in favor of donating to Dress for Success and using marketing to promote causes like hurricane relief.
Sui is also no stranger to collaborations, having relied on them to a Virgil Abloh degree to expand her brand’s reach since its launch 38 years ago. Partners to date include industry-spanning brands, from Starbucks to Samsung to Macy’s to Mattel.
“My concept has always been to create a total world,” Sui said. “It’s interesting to imagine incorporating my DNA into other designer products. It’s a challenge, but it’s fun to think outside the box. I will always be looking for new [collaborations].”
Haase said she worked with Sui’s team to avoid overlap with the designer’s existing collaborations, which include a “more urban and street” collection with Urban Outfitters, as well as Modcloth’s head of design to pinpoint Anna Sui styles customers have loved in the past. She then shared Modcloth’s inspiration for the season with Sui’s team before traveling to New York to meet with Sui to review archive looks and discuss how to make them work for Modcloth.
Haase said Modcloth’s plan is to sell through the collection and create demand, and if customers bite as expected, the collaboration will likely continue in a new form for at least another season. Sui, for her part, said she’d be into a longer-term partnership.
To promote the collaboration, Modcloth set up a “coming soon” landing page, where it collected email addresses of interested parties to notify them on Monday’s launch. It also partnered with six influencers, set to wear and tag their choice dress this week. In addition, Modcloth will be relying on promoted Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as Instagram Stories featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the collection’s photoshoot.
Though Modcloth initially faced customer backlash for selling to Walmart, Haase said the deal hasn’t affected the company’s direction — and since, the company has been thriving. “We’re seeing growth, and we’re seeing new women participate in the brand,” she said. “And I don’t think that could have happened had the acquisition not occurred.”
Next, Modcloth will be expanding its size assortment, building on the swim category and opening more Fit Shops, now open in San Francisco; Austin, Texas and Washington D.C. “It’s a way for us to really create connections with our shopper,” said Haase, of the inventory-less Shops, allowing customers to try-on styles. “She wants beautifully fitted garments that allow her to feel her best and live her life. We’re hyper-focused on making sure that’s what we’re serving to her.”