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New Concepts @Nordstrom Pop-up to Embrace Black Fashion

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Jean E. Palmieri
·5 min read
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Nordstrom’s New Concepts @Nordstrom program is doing its part to celebrate Black History Month.

The retailer will today take the wraps off the 12th iteration of its rotating pop-up program, called Black_Space. The latest concept will feature five Black creatives who have each chosen designers and brands intended to speak to Black expression and perspectives. They are Beth Birkett, costume designer and co-owner of Union Los Angeles; creative director Harris Elliott; stylist Matthew Henson; stylist Marcus Paul, and fashion editor Azza Yousif.

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Black_Space will showcase several anchor brands — Armando Cabral, Bianca Saunders and Wales Bonner — along with other, smaller labels in categories ranging from sportswear to streetwear for both men and women, beauty products, footwear, jewelry and some lifestyle products. All told, 28 brands will be featured in the shop, 25 of which are new to Nordstrom.

Sam Lobban, vice president of designer and new concepts for Nordstrom, who conceived the idea of the rotating pop-ups, said that while the retailer has embraced initiatives for Black History Month in the past, this is the first time New Concepts has participated.

“New Concepts @Nordstrom has always been a platform to tell brand and product stories, with the goal to try and show the interconnectivity between fashion and culture,” he said. “In line with that, we’ve always wanted to do something which would bring together a group of creatives with whom both the New Concepts team and I have built relationships with over our careers; people who we respect and appreciate for their unique and diverse perspective. Through this process we collaboratively built Concept 012: Black_Space, ultimately with the aim to celebrate Black fashion and creativity through the lens of some of the figures who are helping to shape it.”

The five creatives who were chosen as brand curators all had personal relationships with Lobban or the store and were given free rein on who they wanted to work with. “There were no real guardrails from our perspective,” he said. Instead, the premise was to allow them a platform to tell their brand stories or the stories of others they admire. “We made the space to allow them to act as curators and tell a story, or their story, through Black fashion.”

In addition to the anchor brands, other labels that will be offered are Adeshola Makinde, Ahluwalia, Andre Walker, Andre Walker x Off-White, Art Comes First, Bephie’s Beauty Supply, Bode, Botter, Brownstone, Bryan Jimenez, Cold Laundry, Come Back As a Flower LLC, Connor McKnight, Coral Studios, Darrell Brown, Exhibit69, Full Court Sport, Haffmans & Neumeister, Le Tings, Nicholas Daley, O-Design, Off White, Sansovino 6, Spencer Badu, Wales Bonner x Adidas, Wanda Lephoto, and XULY BËT. Prices will range from $20 to $2,900, reflecting Lobban’s commitment to have “something for everyone.”

In addition to these collections, Birkett is introducing Bephie’s Beauty Supply to Nordstrom, which not only includes apparel but also beauty and wellness categories such as facial toner, moisturizer, sunscreen, tints, hand cleanser and soap, as well as a handheld mirror. Prices range from $10 to $440.

“This partnership is an opportunity for Bephies to reach a wider audience through New Concepts @Nordstrom, as well as shine light on other women entrepreneurs, empowering creatives from all over the world,” Birkett said.

Of the 28 brands, Lobban said 26 of them are Black-owned or founded.

The hope is that Nordstrom will continue working with these brands beyond the New Concepts run, especially those that have a large enough footprint to meet the demands of a large department store. But some of the labels will most likely only be available for the run of the pop-up, he said, pointing to Exhibit69, an artist who is hand-painting leather jackets for the shop, and Adeshola Makinde, an artist who also stepped out to create his first clothing collection for the concept.

Lobban said he especially likes Coral Studios, Darrell Brown and Bianca Saunders, as well as Bephie’s Beauty Supply.

Black_Space will be available online at nordstrom.com/NewConcepts as well as in 12 physical retail locations in the U.S.: the Nordstrom Men’s Store in New York City, the downtown Seattle flagship, NorthPark Center in Dallas, Pacific Center in Vancouver, B.C, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., Aventura Mall in Miami, Century City in Los Angeles, Fashion Valley in San Diego, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, Tyson’s Corner Center in McLean, Va., and Valley Fair in San Jose, Calif.

Black_Space will remain through May 3 and represents a new cadence for the New Concepts program. Lobban said that in the past, Nordstrom created six shops a year for eight-week runs. Now, there will be four rotating shops a year and they will continue for roughly 12 weeks.

“It was driven by us wanting to go deeper on the narrative and the product stories,” he said. “And this will give us more time to do that.” It is also the first shop concept since October when a pop-up devoted to the brand Noah ended.

The New Concepts pop-up strategy launched in January 2019 and has included Out Cold, featuring products for inclement weather; an Entireworld shop focused on the Scott Sternberg collection, and a Thom Browne locker room.

Lobban said that when launching the idea, the goal was to enhance customer acquisition, particularly among young people, and extend the offerings for the existing customer base. “We have seen a high acquisition rate, particularly among younger customers — 60 percent of which are under 34. And we’ve also seen a lot of engagement with our existing customer base which is looking for new ideas and narratives.”

In addition, Lobban said New Concepts draws a lot of online interest — some 40 to 50 percent of all sales come from that channel — a strategy that the company as a whole is embracing for the future.

Earlier this month, Nordstrom revealed a new overall corporate strategy that calls for expanding its digital offering from 300,000 items to as much as 1.5 million over the next three to five years and expanding its small-market strategy, from 10 urban areas currently, to 20 this year. Buying through traditional wholesale channels is being de-emphasized in favor of more private label, drop shipping and revenue sharing, the company said during an investor meeting. Over time, Nordstrom expects only 50 percent of its assortment to be bought through wholesale channels, versus 85 percent today.