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Penney’s Pushes Ahead With Private Brands

·3 min read

J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s efforts at honing its private brands took another step forward Thursday with the extension of its Stylus label to include men’s apparel and accessories, complementing the Stylus women’s apparel assortment introduced last fall.

Men’s Stylus includes T-shirts, polos, jogger pants, chinos, hoodies, bomber jackets and shoes that can be mixed and matched for “an effortless, put-together look,” Penney’s said. Stylus men’s is being rolled out and will be in 551 of Penney’s 672 stores and on jcp.com, beginning Thursday.

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“As our customers begin to establish new routines for work and life, the all-day versatility of the Stylus collection delivers on comfort without sacrificing style,” said Michelle Wlazlo, J.C. Penney‘s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, in a statement.

The collection has soft fabrics, pima cotton yarn, is wrinkle-resistant and has anti-pilling technology and stretch wovens. Sizing is inclusive, ranging from S to 5XLT.

Last April in an interview, Wlazlo told WWD that efforts at introducing new private brands and refining existing ones continue “at a controlled pace.” With much work already done in women’s and men’s, newness in kids should be apparent this month and into July for back-to-school selling.

Last week the Ryegrass private collection of blouses, dresses, skirts, denim, shorts, vests and jackets was launched, providing what Wlazlo called a “more elevated, on-trend look at tremendous values.”

Earlier this year, in private brands, Xersion activewear was relaunched for clarity; three women’s swim brands — Mynah, Decree and Sonnet Shores — were introduced; Loom + Forge home was introduced for a “modern” approach to indoor and outdoor decor, bedding, bath, window coverings and tabletop, and Fieldcrest was added to the home assortment.

There’s roughly a 50-50 balance of private to national brands at Penney’s, and according to Wlazlo, there are about 25 “meaningful private brands across our portfolio of home, apparel, accessories and jewelry.…This year alone you will see launches or significant relaunches involving 13 private brands,” Wlazlo said in the interview. “We will have six new brands, a few have already launched and we will relaunch seven of our private brands. Surrounding that you will see a lot of expansion in active,” with brands such as Champion, Puma and Fila.

The Plano, Tex.-based J.C. Penney Co. Inc. came close to liquidation but was lifted out of bankruptcy in December 2020 by the Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management which acquired Penney’s retail and operating assets. Simon and Brookfield needed Penney’s stores to continue to operate to keep other leaseholders in the malls and help get potential tenants to sign leases. Penney’s first-lien secured lenders, many of whom also supplied its debtor-in-possession financing, took over the property business that includes 160 real estate locations and six distribution centers. A vast amount of debt was erased from Penney’s books through the transfer of ownership.

The Authentic Brands Group, which owns several retail and fashion brands — among them Brooks Brothers, Lucky Brand, Barneys New York, Greg Norman, Nine West and Forever 21 — is a strategic partner in Penney’s with Simon and Brookfield, and will be a big factor in feeding merchandise to Penney’s and hopefully, fueling sales. ABG’s Juicy Couture and Forever 21 labels are expected to be added to the fashion assortment later this year. The key to Penney’s long-term survival is to rev up revenues, particularly in face of greater competition from the likes of Kohl’s Corp. and Target Corp.

Wlazlo and her team have been working for two years to differentiate and sharpen the identity of key in-house labels, like St. John’s Bay, Xersion and A.n.a. They also reset the women’s selling floors with an easier-to-shop, lifestyle format with enhanced visuals and more thoughtful and obvious mannequin setups. What was a confusing sea of racks and aura of “stuff” had been disappearing. The company also closed scores of underperforming stores and eliminated several merchandise programs, including appliances.