It’s been almost five years since teen mall staple Aéropostale was rescued from bankruptcy by a consortium of buyers comprising Authentic Grands Group, Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties, and executives say the turnaround is well underway.
“They’re having a great year,” said Marc Miller, CEO of SPARC Group, the joint venture by ABG and Simon that manages brand operations. “For Aero, it’s really been about solidifying our connection with that Gen Z customer.”
SPARC president and chief merchandising officer Natalie Levy noted that the retailer went into heavy research mode in 2018 to understand its consumer and reputation, and as a result, reshaped the brand position around its Oneness platform, which prioritizes diversity and inclusion. “Even before the whole world started to focus on it, we were there because we knew it was important to our customer,” she said.
Aéropostale also pivoted sharply to become more denim focused under the direction of SVP of design Amie Goeller, and in March, it expanded its sustainable efforts with the launch Aero Impact, a collection of “responsible fashion staples.”
Here, Levy shares more details about the brand’s customer and strategy.
What’s your outlook for the back-to-school season?
“We feel really good about our position for back-to-school and even going into holiday. Our campaign for fall is ‘Back to Free.’ The restrictions are lifted. The kids can be together again. They’re ready to have fun and they’re ready to go shopping. We’ve seen it even since late March, with our spring business: We’ve significantly exceeded expectations in the first half of the year.”
What are younger consumers looking for right now?
“For this Gen Z customer, comfort is key — and not only comfort in terms of the fabrications and feeling of the garment, but also emotional comfort. So we leaned into that with our Oneness platform and also active and loungewear, because that’s how they dress all the time. It’s not just something that happened in COVID. We were already expanding that business because we knew that’s what they wanted. And it’s been pretty phenomenal. We’ve achieved our three-year long-range plan in active and lounge in one year because COVID accelerated casual trends and brand perception has significantly improved.”
Has the rise of TikTok changed the way you market and plan collections?
“TikTok has been an amazing vehicle for Gen Z, obviously, during COVID. So we’re really leaning into that and we’re marketing there in a bigger way. We’ve had a lot of viral moments, which is fun. We had a seamless top to go viral, with over a million views and it was literally driving traffic to our website and our stores. The design team is embracing it too — they live and breathe this customer, so they study the hashtags and the way they’re speaking about themselves [on the platform]. They developed product supporting the #smartgirl and #cottagecore aesthetics, and we have our #tinytop shop — all based on what they’re seeing out there. We even tailor and curate and merchandise in our stores differently based on what we see happening at the moment. Because she changes so quickly.”
Have the supply chain issues been a factor in your speed to market?
“They’ve been tough for the last year. But actually there’ve been some positives about that, too: extended seasons, much more ‘wear now,’ we haven’t had to kill our prices because we’re ready for our next floor set. We’re running about a month late with some shipments, but it’s been OK. The seasons just extend a little bit longer. And again, our sales volume is great, and our gross margin increases are even better. So it’s working out.”
Why did you decide to launch the Aero Impact collection this year?
“No. 1, it’s the right thing to do, to be responsible and reduce our carbon footprint. And we know it’s important to our customers — it’s important for everybody. So it’s something we’ve been focusing on the last couple of years. We have a very big program where we use Repreve in our denim business. We’re also using less water by using lasers to get the finishes on the jeans and using hemp denim, so less pesticides, less water. And in other categories, we have been using recycled cotton, organic cotton and recycled nylon. A lot of effort has been put into our Aero Impact initiative.”
Eco-friendly materials often increase prices. Has your customer balked at paying more?
“In our research, the customer is saying, ‘I’m willing to pay a little bit more.’ They’re not going to pay, like, $10 more, so we’re sensitive to that. Every dollar is meaningful, because we’re a value brand. But we have not seen any resistance, and they’ve responded positively.”