In the two decades since Stacey Bendet founded the contemporary fashion brand Alice + Olivia, much has changed about fashion and the retail landscape at large. But it was the pandemic, Bendet said, that inspired her to think about the next chapter of her career. “I stepped back and said, ‘I’ve done great things in my career, I love what I do. But where do I want to go from here?” While some founders look to build companies and then sell them, Bendet decided she wanted to double down on what she was doing. “I love making clothes,” she said.
She also realized that she loved using her “brand and platform and beautiful clothes to do some good in the world.” Currently, Bendet is a member of the board of trustees of New York-based GOOD+ Foundation, which provides essentials for children in need, and a co-founder of the #ShareTheMicNow movement, which was created to help amplify Black women’s voices. Bendet believes that clothes can be used to create community and make change.
Her next big project, which launched on Wednesday, is the result of this conviction. With Michelle Tai Smyth as gm and Andrew Rosen, a longtime business partner, in an advisory role, Bendet introduced Big Feelings, a collection of pajamas and loungewear geared at Gen Z. Rosen is an owner and chairman of the board of Alice + Olivia. Bendet declined to comment on Alice + Olivia’s revenue, but shared that the brand will open seven new stores starting in the fourth quarter.
Big Feelings is launching direct-to-consumer, at Saks Fifth Avenue and with a four-month, interactive pop-up on NYC’s Upper East Side. At the same time, it’s kicking off a six-month partnership with Project Healthy Minds, which works to destigmatize mental health issues and increase access to mental health services. The brand will donate a portion of its proceeds to the organization.
Big Feelings’ debut collection comprises five fabrics, each of which will best suit a different kind of sleeper. “Pajamas are the most personal item of clothing that women choose for themselves,” said Smyth, who has experience with the category from working as chief product officer at the clothing and home goods brand Roller Rabbit.
“There are people who are matching sets people and that’s it. Then there are other people who wear an old gym shirt,” she said, noting that those who care about pajamas are really passionate and take their preferences seriously. “The people who are passionate about PJs are passionate about it to the point where they’re like, ‘I’m a hot sleeper.’ Or, ‘I move around a lot, so I don’t like pants; I like shorts.’ Or, ‘I want the waistband to be really, really comfortable because I tend to kick a lot,'” she said. To that end, the brand offers options. For example, its “Cool Feels” fabric is made from bamboo, which Smyth said keeps the wearer about 3 degrees cooler than cotton. Meanwhile, “Dreamy Feels” items are tighter-fitted, a little bit warmer and good for those who “want a little bit of structure holding you in, while still feeling lighter than air.” The brand’s hoodies are made in its “Cozy Feels” fabric, which is a proprietary modal fleece.
“Every brand in the market that was doing PJs was using the same [silhouette]: the button-down top with the piping on the pocket, with their own prints on it,” Smyth said. But she and Bendet wanted Big Feelings to offer something that felt “different and new,” she said.
According to Expert Market Research, the global sleepwear market is currently valued at $12.9 billion. It’s expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.7% to reach a value of $29.7 billion by 2032.
Big Feelings’ hoodies are equipped with what the team has labeled “bestie bands,” which are bracelets attached to the sleeve. “The bracelets are a way to bring people together. Like, you’re wearing that bracelet, someone’s having a bad day, you take it off and you give it to them. You just change their day,” Smyth said.
Bendet compared the concept to this summer’s Eras Tour phenomenon of friendship bracelets. “[Taylor Swift] has created this bracelet generation,” she said. “But the phenomenon of what she’s done, for me, is less about her music and more about the community and culture. It’s similar in concept to what we want to do with clothes. We want to use our clothes to create positive messaging and to platform great causes, and to bring people together.”
Big Feelings’ pop-up will feature a cast of carefully selected brand partners, including Rile, the recently launched gentle skin-care brand aimed at tweens. Bendet, who is a mom to three girls, ages eight, 12 and 14, said that Gen Z “wants to go into stores, but they want an experience.”
“They’re not just coming [into the store] and looking at a rack,” she said. “They want to come in and do things.” Activities offered at at the pop-up include bracelet-making, yoga and hair styling.
“It’s supposed to be a therapeutic space where you put your phone down for a little bit and just hang out — a space where you can go to find community and friendship and positivity,” she said. These activations, and creating a space that is “more than a room full of clothes,” Bendet said, “is really important to the next generation of retail.”
Though Big Feelings will have a younger audience than Alice + Olivia, Bendet hopes that it too can be multi-generational, she said. Alice + Olivia dresses everyone from 12-year-olds to women in their 80s, according to Bendet.
“The coolest thing would be if a teenager and her grandma wore our bracelet sweatshirts together,” she said.