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- The fashion world has witnessed a cascade of legacy-brand failures since the pandemic shocked the retail industry into disarray.
- Brands can look to companies like Brooks Brothers and J. Crew as cautionary case studies for how not to fall out of customers’ good graces.
- Louis Vuitton serves as an example of a legacy brand that has reinvented itself throughout the decades, yet manages to stay true to its identity.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Since the pandemic shocked the retail industry into disarray, the fashion world has witnessed a cascade of legacy-brand failures. J. Crew filed for bankruptcy in early May; Brooks Brothers did in July. Ann Taylor, Loft, and Lane Bryant went down in one fell swoop, followed by Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank.
The work-from-home era and the death of office attire, for which all these brands are known, could be partly to blame. But in most cases, mandatory store closures and decreased consumer spending was just the tipping point for brands on a downturn before the crisis.
We’re a far cry from the 1950s, when the Don Drapers of Madison Avenue were purveyors of contemporary style. With an influx of bankruptcies and 1.9 million retail workers out of a job, these companies serve as a cautionary tale for founders hoping to survive tough times ahead.
We analyzed how Brooks Brothers and J. Crew missed the mark with their customers, and looked at Louis Vuitton as a case study for a brand that has stayed relevant for more than a century by finding the sweet spot between authenticity and reinvention.
Beauty trends Keep up with what your customers want
The dress code for success in Silicon Valley — and increasingly, the rest of the business world — includes jeans and a fleece vest. Streetwear brands are replacing the demand for suits and ties. Somehow Brooks Brothers missed the memo, continuing to market pinstripes, cufflinks, and the Ivy League prep style it was known for through the early 2000s, long before the company permanently closed 51 stores amid the pandemic.
As America’s values and politics changed over the past two decades, this old-school fashion traditionally relegated to the white upper class lost its appeal, as Business Insider’s Dominic-Madori Davis explained.
Beauty trends But don’t lose touch with your core audience
If Brooks Brothers was too slow to catch up, J. Crew took the “fashion-forward” approach too far. In 2008, creative director Jenna Lyons quickly became a beloved face of the brand and an icon in the industry. She brought glamour and high fashion to women’s staples, and this elevated approach worked for a while, becoming a go-to label for first lady Michelle Obama. J. Crew’s sales growth peaked between 2004 and 2013.
But by 2014, profits dropped 42%, and analysts said the brand’s designs were falling flat with its core customer base, Business Insider’s Mary Hanbury reported. Though new customer acquisition is important for a company’s sales, appealing to the loyal customers who make regular, frequent purchases is more valuable in the long run.
J. Crew tried to get back to the basics. Lyons stepped down in 2017, and the company had multiple shifts in leadership in the following years. Sales never fully returned, and the company has nearly $1.7 billion in debt. Earlier this year, it planned to take its sister brand Madewell public to infuse the company with some needed cash, but those well-plans, like so many others, fell through as the pandemic hit.
Beauty trends Prepare for the next generation
The French luxury brand Louis Vuitton is a good example of a brand that fell right in the middle of this Goldilocks conundrum. At a $32 billion valuation, it’s the top luxury brand in the world and has reinvented itself throughout the decades as trends and consumer interests evolved.
Yet the company manages to stay true to its brand identity. Take the iconic “LV” monogram logo. In 1997, designer Marc Jacobs omitted the full Louis Vuitton name underneath, and then in 2015, LV’s current creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, modified the letters to be a sleek interlocking notch on the new Twist PM handbags — iterating the branding without losing its unique identity.
More recently, Louis Vuitton has been praised for resonating with Generation Z and millennials, despite younger consumers‘ skepticism of the luxury market. The company did this by differentiating itself through collaborations with streetwear brands and marketing campaigns that targeted teen customers.
Louis Vuitton, founded in 1854, is just 36 years younger than Brooks Brothers. The two companies were built on strong legacies but serve as a stark contrast of lasting power versus failure to adapt. Brands that hope to stay in consumers’ good graces long after the pandemic are better positioned to follow Louis Vuitton’s example.