Smart fashion brand Gant originated in Connecticut, yet spent a long time focused on the European market. Now, however, it is revitalizing its efforts to gain sales, distribution and buzz in a US fashion marketplace that is more in flux than ever.
The company was the inventor of the button-down shirt collar and describes itself as “known for comfortable, classic fashion staples that work for everyday.” And it has just launched a new digital advertising campaign around its new fabric features and technology under a Tech Prep collection, which is now available online and in stores.
Gant’s “Never Not Comfortable” campaign is a social-first, multichannel global effort that is attempting to generate awareness for newly-released Tech Prep shirts by targeting millennials and Gen Xers “who want to feel comfortable and stay cool while they lead their busy lives,” as Gant put it. Each of the ads highlights “seamlessly moving from one situation to another,” especially from work scenarios to the rest of life.
“We want to connect with our consumers in their lifestyle when they buy clothing and we can talk with them about conversation starters that they can bring to the dinner table, such as entrepreneurship and tech,” Eleonore Säll, global brand marketing director for Gant, told brandchannel. “Our brand campaigns won’t just be about the clothing but about the personality of the brand.”
At the same time, Gant is upping its brand experience quotient by creating the Gant Lounge, a personal styling consultation service at its Wall Street offices in lower Manhattan. Shoppers can go online and book an appointment to stop by the showroom just about any time. “We offer one-on-one consultations to help pinpoint your unique style and are delighted to answer any questions you may have,” Gant says on the Lounge website.
brandchannel spoke with Säll about what Gant has been doing around the globe and how it’s refocusing on its original US market:
bc: How would you assess the state of the Gant brand?
Eleonore Säll: We’re behind a lot of the innovations like the locker loop. We started on the Yale campus. We had a booming shirt business in the US for a while, then three Swedes wanted to take Gant into Europe. It turned out to be so successful in Europe that when Gant in the US wanted to buy them back they couldn’t afford it. So the Swedes bought the entire Gant brand and now we’re owned by the Maus Freres Group [which also owns Lacoste and Aigle and is headquartered in Stockholm. Gant is] in 70 markets, and especially big in Germany, Sweden and the UK. China and Turkey are big markets, too.
But a big focus for us in the past couple of years has been getting the American market back. We relaunched in the American market with Gant Rugger [in 2010]. And now we are launching in the US again with our full Gant clothing line. In Europe, we have home, eyewear and footwear—we are a lifestyle brand, not just a fashion brand. In the US, the focus is mainly on clothing and we’ll take it as we go.
People know about us either because their dad bought us back in the day and they see us as a preppy brand that died out or they know the Gant Rugger line. We want to go in with our full offer, so that’s why we need to show our consumers that we are more than that and we have a personality that sticks out from our competitors. The US is so big and awareness is lower, so we have to be smarter and edgier in communications than in Sweden, for example. We want to be smart in all of our markets. And bring the consumer content that actually gives them value, not just push it their face.
bc: What’s the strategic importance in today’s apparel market of new fabric technology?
Säll: Innovation is one of our values. But you shouldn’t do it just to do it. The way we live our lives today, the garments that we used for years and years aren’t meant to last in your life today. You go to the office and then directly to dinner or a date. You wear the same clothing throughout the day. You even take the stairs. Garments have to be adaptable to that. Now it’s in the shirts but it could be a different feature for different garments: technology that actually works for your everyday life as you live it if you’re a normal, active, ambitious person. We want to have innovation that adapts to your life as you live it and still feel fresh and good-looking. You don’t have to take your gym wear when you’re walking to work.
It’s the way the campaign says that we’re “never not comfortable.” We’re exaggerating a bit but in life you’re stuck in a lot of situations that are uncomfortable, like being on an elevator with food and it stops at every floor; everyone can relate to that. Or you’re on a plane and you have to use the bathroom and get out over someone who’s sleeping. We want to help you with what we can do to make it more comfortable. That’s why our ads are showing different situations that people can relate to or smile about. It’s a way of showing that we listen and give people confidence so that they can smile. Even if you don’t want a shirt, they will feel some value to engage the brand—it’s the way we communicate, too, not just the clothing we make.
bc: Can you get the desired punch via digital means only?
Säll: We’re doing both. We do traditional media if it’s strategically chosen. Sometimes print or out of home can be really good but we don’t want to go that way by tradition. You use your phone more than you read Elle. That’s why we want to push that. Even though a lot of brands are going digital, there is still a lot in how you communicate. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves but we want to be really good in everything that we do.
We spoofed a news format on Facebook, for instance, and then when you put the sound on you could see that the actor had no idea what he was doing. That was before fake news became big. We tried to push the limit.
bc: Is there a return to more the idea that, “We’ve got your back no matter what environment you’re in?” And is the message the same for your women customers as well as men?
Säll: Yes, but there are differences in various markets. In Northern Europe right now, it’s OK to look different in the workplace. As an individual you’re allowed to have your own style as long as it’s not crazy. Men now have more of an urge to find their own style than before. Compare that to the US—we can see a big trend coming now that there’s a loosening up of the workplace. You want the almost same clothing at work as after work, but you style it differently now. It’s actually your own style for the entire week. We can see these things happening in different countries with different timing. One thing they have in common is we want to have your back and our offer is so huge. We have more than 3,000 different styles. We can meet you and are focused on different occasions. A lot of our consumers travel, so we made a suit out of stretchy material. We try to go in deep to all of our consumers’ occasions.
And as for women, yes—we’re Swedish, so that’s natural for us. There’s a huge need for the same garment you can wear at work and off work that is presentable. And it’s different for different countries. So women have the same psychological needs in this regard.
bc: How does the Gant Lounge work and how are you getting the word out on Wall Street about it?
Säll: At the Gant Lounge, we can reach the consumer in more ways—styling advice, for example—and can have more personal conversation. You can have a drink and a bite to eat… it’s literally a lounge. So it’s for a private person to meet a stylist in a relaxing way. But it’s also a way we connect to companies around Wall Street and you can have a collaboration so visitors can get a discount if you’re with certain companies.
It’s very transparent. You can go there and place your order. The order value is higher than we have in the stores in Manhattan. We have about five stores and the East and West Coasts are our biggest markets. We’re going to focus a lot on e-commerce and smart solutions like the Gant Lounge—more innovative solutions to meet people and not just normal retail. That’s in decline for everyone. We want to be smart in the US from the start.