Reese Witherspoon’s Southern-inspired lifestyle brand, Draper James, will launch in Nordstrom today, marking its first wholesale relationship since debuting in 2015. The collection — which will include the brand’s regular pieces, as well as some exclusives — will be available in 15 of Nordstrom’s 349 stores to start.
It’s an interesting move for the direct-to-consumer brand, that — along with its namesake e-commerce platform — has three stores in Nashville, Dallas and Lexington, Kentucky. “Draper James is all about building community and sharing the grace and charm of the South,” Andrea Hyde, the brand’s CEO, told Glossy. “After two years of a high growth, direct-to-consumer business, it was time to expand the brand into more points of distribution.”
High growth is no exaggeration — the brand secured a $10 million investment soon after it launched in a Series B round led by the early stage investment firm Forerunner Ventures, a supporter of wildly successful brands like Glossier and Bonobos.
Draper James’s latest lookbook
It’s an unexpected path, considering many brands are currently changing their tactic to rely less on outside distribution channels.
“Ultimately, they’re giving up gross margin dollars in exchange for marketing dollars — getting the brand out there among the people — and broader reach,” said Paula Rosenblum, a retail analyst at RSR Research. This could be beneficial for the company, which boasts a largely Southern clientele, as well as a range of gingham dresses and tongue-in-chic slogan tees (like one that reads, “What Would Dolly Do?”) that hold less obvious appeal in places like New York and California.
“Launching in Nordstrom projects the brand toward a new and potentially untapped audience, due to the department store’s reach and loyal customer base,” said Gil Eyal, chief executive officer of HYPR Brands, the world’s leading influencer marketing platform.
It’s less obvious whether or not this partnership will be a boon to Nordstrom, which has been famously more successful in staying afloat than other department stores and was named the country’s top retailer by Market Force for the fourth year in a row, in 2016.
“Partnering with a limited-distribution brand like Draper James allows us to drive newness and excitement in our stores and online,” said Pete Nordstrom, the company’s chief executive officer, in a press release. But that could be wishful thinking.
“Draper James is advocating ‘Southern style,’ and I’m not sure that’s a great branding idea for Nordstrom,” said Rosenblum. “There must be some recognition that [that targets] a limited market.”
One solution could be de-emphasizing the dated notion of Southern living that the brand traffics in, with lookbooks painting women as the floral dress-wearing homemakers of yore. Let the clothes speak for themselves instead, said Rosenblum.
The Nordstrom team, however, seems to recognize the brand’s niche appeal and is playing it safe, for now. The bulk of the stores that Draper James’ product will initially be sold in are in the South, including Dallas, Atlanta and Nashville.