For New York-based fashion brand Lafayette 148, what started as a website redesign sparked a full brand repositioning.
In addition to a new website, the 22-year-old brand has launched a new online strategy in China, changed its marketing approach and brought together its internal design, merchandising and marketing teams in order to align its design strategy with its customer service and experience, in-store retail and e-commerce strategies. Since its launch in 1996, the brand has been primarily known as a wholesale label with seasonal catalog lookbooks (which previously accounted for 90 percent of its marketing budget), serving an older professional woman as its customer.
Now, Lafayette 148 is aiming younger, and bringing the benefits of its vertically integrated business model to the forefront in order to appeal to modern customer interests. It’s already playing the in-season speed game: All of Lafayette 148’s collections are designed in-house and produced at the company’s owned factory in China, meaning it can customize items by customer request, react to fast-selling pieces in a week’s time and drop new collections on a three-week production cycle. It’s collected years of first-party data based on customer trends — what’s selling and when — and can work on one season’s collection up until it drops, rather than nine to 18 months out.
But only now is it starting to broadcast that edge to customers.
“We have so much flexibility by having full control over our product, but we’ve been under the radar,” said Paul Lechlinski, vp of international retail and e-commerce. “When we started, customers didn’t care to hear about business models. But now we’re going to use that in our storytelling to our advantage: showcase our speed and agility because we own our factory. That comes alive on the site.”
Online is currently the biggest sales channel for the brand, which has 20 standalone stores in the U.S. and China, as well as wholesale partnerships with a network of boutiques and higher-end department stores, like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. The company, which said it brought in $160 million in revenue in 2017 and only saw revenue dip once in the past, had driven most of its sales to its site through its direct mail business. Now that budget is balanced at 60 percent digital and 40 percent catalog.
Personalization has also influenced Lafayette’s marketing: With partner AgilOne, it’s invested in artificial intelligence and machine learning to comb its customer database and create targeted segments for email newsletters, social media ads and its direct mail business to send out promotions and materials, based on customers’ age demographics, past purchases and search behavior.
The new targeting strategy, as well as the alignment of internal design, merchandising and marketing teams (the company recently relocated its seven-story Manhattan headquarters to one 68,000-square-foot office space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard), comes to light on the new website. Designed with the agency Firstborn, the focus was on improving checkout simplicity and product description pages, particularly for mobile, where sales are growing faster than online. But it also wanted to better showcase customer services that are unique to Lafayette 148, thanks to its owned factory.
“The brand needed to figure out who they were, and build off of that,” said Dan LaCivita, CEO of Firstborn. “We built a services hub that can schedule stylist appointments in one click, order customers swatches for new fabrics, fast-track made-to-order pieces — everything customers didn’t know they could do is now much more in their faces.”
Lafayette 148’s China factory and local office has also been an easy outlet for business there. Sixteen of the company’s 20 stores are in China, and with a newly launched local online store on Tmall, the brand sees big growth potential, as well as a roadmap for more international expansion. Right now, 20 percent of the business is in China, and 80 percent is in the U.S.
“The influence of the Chinese shopper has upped our game, upped everybody’s game,” said co-founder and CEO Deirdre Quinn. “We bring that back to the U.S., and that pushes us forward.”