Walk into any mall in the U.S., and there's a pretty good chance you'll see a Gap and Express store. It almost feels like without them, it's not a real mall.
So as mall traffic declines across the country, these retail giants are seeking out new revenue streams and consumer trends — such as wellness — to attract customers. Gap was partly ahead of the curve with its 1998 launch of women's athleisure brand Athleta, which has both an online and brick-and-mortar presence. It's been a true bright spot for the otherwise troubled parent company.
Gap debuted its men's athleisure sibling brand, Hill City, in 2018. It went the online-only, direct-to-consumer route with its launch, however, proving that times have changed in retail.
Express is now getting into the wellness game with its own direct-to-consumer brand, UpWest. Like Hill City, it's bypassing brick-and-mortar and going straight online. Express knows how hard the mall-based business model is, so it makes sense that it would go digital-first. At the same time, direct-to-consumer retail is not necessarily in Express' wheelhouse and will likely take many more marketing dollars to raise brand awareness since it won't have a physical store to catch customers' eyes.
Speaking of awareness, UpWest is aiming to attract a younger, more socially conscious shopper who is more about JOMO, or the joy of missing out, than FOMO, according to the brand's CEO. To speak to that customer, it will sell self-care essentials, like fireside slippers and CBD creams.
In an interesting turn of events, Hill City opened a pop-up shop in San Francisco this month to help raise brand awareness. It also invested in a tour truck that will appear at Bay Area sporting events. Our guess is that UpWest follows the same playbook and gauges interest and customer preferences online before setting up any sort of physical shop.
Now we just want to know: What mall staple will be next to have its own wellness brand?
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