Aéropostale has been flying quietly beneath the radar for the reason that teen retailer was acquired by Authentic Brands Group, Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties in 2016. But now, the 500-plus-unit chain is working to lift its profile.
The upcoming back-to-school season will see an up to date vogue route focused squarely at Gen Z, together with a louder message of range and inclusivity.
This technique has been given the inexperienced gentle from the retailer’s proprietor, SPARC, or Simon Properties Authentic Retail Concepts, a partnership between ABG and Simon that additionally operates Nautica, Lucky Brand, Forever 21, Brooks Brothers and now Eddie Bauer. General Growth offered its curiosity within the enterprise to the opposite companions and is now not concerned.
Marc Miller, now chief government officer of SPARC, was an 11-year veteran of Aéropostale and had served as chief working officer when it turned a part of the bigger company as a part of the $243.3 million buy of the retailer out of chapter in 2016.
The plan early on was to rescue the corporate from liquidation and “return it to its former glory,” he mentioned. One of the primary orders of enterprise was to construct a “top-notch team,” he mentioned, and the primary rent was Natalie Levy as president and chief merchandise officer. Levy, a veteran of The Children’s Place, Ann Taylor, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, was charged with “taking what was a once-proud teen brand and revitalizing and evolving it to connect to today’s Gen Z customer,” Miller mentioned.
Since her addition, Miller credited Levy, who additionally oversees Nautica and Lucky, because the architect of Aéropostale’s repositioning.
“We’ve made tremendous progress over the last four years,” she acknowledged. “When I joined the brand in 2017, it was selling logo T-shirts and fleece. The first thing I recognized is that there was no core business and also no bottoms business. We also weren’t appealing to the Gen Z customer any longer. Our customer had gotten quite young and there was a negative approach to the brand.”
So the corporate did a deep dive into buyer analysis in 2018 to “understand how we wanted to evolve and become relevant again to the Gen Z consumer,” Levy mentioned.
That resulted in Aero Oneness, a platform launched for vacation 2019 centered round unity, inclusiveness and the celebration of variations — points that spoke on to the goal buyer. “Gen Z really responded positively to that,” she mentioned.
Miller mentioned Aéropostale has traditionally attracted a extra various buyer than a few of its opponents, however “we never really spoke to it.” But the impression of Aero Oneness has been measurable, Miller mentioned, and proves that the messaging has hit residence.
On the merchandising finish, Aéropostale set its sights on denim, “the go-to bottom for the Gen Z consumer,” she mentioned. “We wanted to make that a signature category for the Aéropostale brand.”
Levy employed a head of design and constructed a workforce targeted on providing the most recent silhouettes and material choices, and denim is now the model’s number-one class total and is “critical going into the back-to-school season,” she mentioned. “Year-to-date it’s been explosive and up 50 percent over 2019. There’s a lot of newness and innovation that our customer is really responding to.”
The denim assortment additionally showcases the corporate’s sustainability initiatives, or Aero Impact. “We need to protect our environment and the earth,” Levy mentioned, including that this has translated into the usage of Repreve, a recycled polyester fiber, in a lot of its denim assortment, in addition to hemp denim. Organic and recycled cotton can be a key a part of the model’s total assortment.
In addition, Aéropostale has homed in on its clients’ quest for “active, lounge and comfort,” she continued. “Even before COVID-19, we were focused on really growing the whole active and lounge area for girls and for guys. And COVID-19 just accelerated that. We’ve literally doubled our business in sweatpants and leggings this past year.”
The third large push has been a quest to turn into “more relevant from a fashion perspective,” Levy mentioned. “We were known for basics, logo, heritage.”
But by recognizing the rising significance of TikTok, the place sure merchandise had gone viral on the platform, “our business has exploded,” Levy mentioned. “This was all organic, we weren’t paying celebrities to promote our brand. We have seamless tops that are featured on TikTok and we saw traffic being driven to our stores and our site with people asking for this product. And it also happened with our mom jeans. So as a strategy, we’re doubling down on both TikTok and our Instagram presence.”
Levy mentioned Aéropostale is now working with 75 creators and greater than 300 influencers, however these are actual individuals who join extra with the Gen Z buyer than celebrities.
Overall, Aéropostale, which really began as a males’s personal model at Macy’s in 1987, now counts ladies as 60 % of the client base at its 504 shops. Some 75 % of these shops are in malls, with the rest in outlet facilities.
It’s no secret that malls have been challenged lately, however Miller credited the builders with working arduous to reinvent their properties, a technique that has positively impacted Aéropostale.
“The growth that we’re seeing over 2019 is significant double digits,” Miller mentioned. “With 500 stores, we’re at the right level of penetration. At our peak, we were over 800 stores and we think that was too many, but we do believe there are 500 great malls where our customer is shopping us. There’s a consistent demand by teenagers in the mall and we’re committed there. Malls have become very innovative by bringing restaurants, entertainment, gyms — there have been some creative partnerships by our owners and other mall operators that help — but there’s still a core customer who likes to shop bricks-and-mortar.”
The firm has additionally prolonged its attain outdoors the U.S. and operates some 600 shops or shops-in-shop internationally with the most important distribution in Mexico, India and Canada.
“All of our partners buy from our designed line — sometimes they manufacture it on their own — but they’re also seeing strong response to the new fashion and the evolution of the brand. And season-to-date, they’re over plan and over 2019, which is great to see,” Levy mentioned.
When Aéropostale was acquired in 2016, it was a $1 billion enterprise, with $800 million coming from the U.S. Miller declined to offer a present determine, however mentioned: “The business has grown nicely since 2016 both domestically and internationally.”
Miller mentioned he sees extra alternative in Western Europe and key Asian markets to develop the Aéropostale franchise and likewise expects development in Mexico, Latin and South America.
In addition to the brick-and-mortar presence, Aéropostale has a powerful e-commerce operation. And though the executives additionally declined to say how a lot of the general enterprise that represents, Levy mentioned it “has definitely outpaced our store growth, and year-to-date is up significantly. We think there’s continued opportunity on the e-commerce side of the business to grow that at a faster rate.”
Miller mentioned enterprise is up over 2019 and “we still believe there’s plenty of runway for us to grow our penetration.” At the identical time, Levy mentioned, the gross margin enlargement is outpacing total gross sales, there are greater common unit retail gross sales and better sell-throughs.
“This is a tribute to Natalie,” Miller mentioned. “When she started, the three biggest challenges were that we were too logo-based and we needed to reinvent what our assortment stood for from a margin and AUR standpoint. We had migrated to too promotional and too low a price, and we knew that for the business model to be successful, we needed to improve our gross margin and AUR rates, which she has done and we’re now at record levels. And we also needed to get the tops to bottoms ratio more in line and we’ve executed against all those of those objectives.”
On Thursday, Aéropostale hosted an occasion in Industry City in Brooklyn to showcase the b-t-s assortment and its new advertising marketing campaign: Back to Free. With college students getting ready for a return to in-person studying this fall, Levy and Miller and anticipating a powerful fall season for Aéropostale.
“They haven’t had a lot of fun in their lives,” Levy mentioned of their goal buyer. “And we think it’s going to be a very good back-to-school season.”
Back to Free additionally references the model’s latest material in denim, Free Fit, that has extra stretch, is lighter and extra comfy. Also launching lots of different match, significantly on the women facet.
“We’ve been very overpenetrated in jeggings, but the proportions are changing and we’re going into our mom jean, which has been strong all year, we’re adding a ’90s baggy, straight leg and skater jeans. We think all these alternatives we have for the girls side of the business are going to represent 40 percent of the business. That’s a huge shift from last year. And it’s not cannabilizing anything on the jeggings side of the business so it’s just 100 percent incremental growth.”
Levy pointed to Aéropostale’s skill to extend its velocity to market, which has allowed the corporate to extra successfully chase tendencies. “This market changes so quickly,” she mentioned, and the corporate can now design and produce scorching merchandise inside 16 and 20 weeks, even in gentle of all the present disruptions within the provide chain. “As we move to more fashionable assortments, that’s necessary to make sure our fashion bets are right.”