The J.Crew-owned womenswear brand Madewell is branching out.
Today, Madewell launched its first menswear collection, featuring 38 men’s pieces, with launch partner Nordstrom. The collection is available in 31 Nordstrom stores, Nordstrom.com and Madewell.com.
The rollout comes after speculation around Madewell’s first menswear line began in August, when J.Crew CEO Jim Brett mentioned the upcoming move in an earnings call with investors. But the Madewell men’s collection has been in incubation for around two years, with teams working to come up with an identity for the men’s collection that is distinct from the brand’s womenswear but still recognizably shares the same DNA.
Madewell will not sell men’s clothes at any of its own brick-and-mortar stores, keeping them purely for its popular women’s lines. Nordstrom will act as the sole physical seller of the men’s clothes. The decision to offload the work of selling the men’s collection in-store to a partner is consistent with Madewell’s brick-and-mortar philosophy of being meticulous and intentional about when and how to change strategy.
“You have to be careful today,” said Madewell president Libby Wadle, in a podcast interview with Glossy in June. “You have to be really thoughtful about where you open stores. We’re deliberate. We can’t overdo it. We have to [make sure] it’s differentiated. The stores are the most meaningful point of entry, but we have to be purposeful.”
But, to support the launch and cater to customer relationships, Madewell will host its own multi-day pop-up shop in Brooklyn from September 14 to 16, where customers can get first dibs on the new pieces.
The move to create a Madewell men’s line comes at a time when the brand is outperforming its beleaguered sister brand, J.Crew. As Madewell has seen sales surge – up 17 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, according to earnings released in March – J.Crew has been in a slump, with sales down 7 percent in the same period. Combining those dismal numbers with major debt and the resignations of CEO Mickey Drexler and creative director Jenna Lyons last year paints a depressing picture of J. Crew’s fortunes.
In an effort to right ship, J.Crew recently rebranded with a new look that Vox noted is suspiciously “Madewell-esque.” The biggest delineator between the two brands before now was Madewell’s laser-focus on women and denim. Now, with Madewell diving into menswear, the distinctions between the two on a brand level are thinner than ever. The real question for J. Crew is: If Madewell is doing everything that J.Crew does but better, why does the J.Crew brand even exist?
For Madewell, the reasoning for expansion is clear. If you start selling to the other half of the consumer population, you’re boosting your bottom line.
“As we expand the Madewell point of view into new categories, men’s was a logical step for the brand,” Wadle said in a statement. “After two years of incubation, we’re excited to bring our denim expertise and laid-back design sensibility to a new customer, where there’s an opening and need in the market for premium quality jeans at an accessible price point.”