‘It’s time to rethink the entire retail experience’

J.J. Martin, founder and creative director of Milan-based fashion and home goods brand La DoubleJ, didn’t take the traditional path to launching her company. And now, six years in, she’s determined to run it her own way. 

“I started this company selling vintage clothing and vintage jewelry online,” she said on the Glossy Podcast. Prior, she had spent 15 years as a journalist, writing for publications including Harper’s Bazaar, the Wall Street Journal and Wallpaper Magazine. “At the time, Italy was really starting to feel the crunch from Asia and the competition there. A lot of [Italian] factories were closing, mills were closing, and it kind of became my pursuit to sort of cheerlead for Milan, cheerlead for Italians. So we started doing a lot of co-branding [with suppliers] — for example, working with a 120-year-old silk factory [to make styles] and then calling [the factory] out on little hang tags.”

Since, the results have proven popular — even during the pandemic. According to Martin, La DoubleJ saw record sales on its site in January, and in the last year, its e-commerce sales have grown “by leaps and bounds.”

La DoubleJ has yet to invest in its own physical stores, but it has linked with select wholesale partners. They don’t include “generic, bigger stores” with outdated approaches to marketing brands, Martin said.

“[Those retailers] are just like, ‘We’re going to have a cocktail party in our store to drive people to the sales floor. But, who wants to go into a store for a cocktail party? Nobody wants to do that; that is very 1999. It is time to rethink the entire retail experience.”

Martin discussed her own approach to marketing, which is more personal and, uniquely for a fashion brand, promotes mental health.  

Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Fashion meets spirituality
“My company was melting down, as all retail businesses were at that time — all fashion companies were and probably still are. There was a lot of stress on the team, a lot of anxiety — we weren’t really sure how we were going to pay people, etc. So, first of all, we started getting really creative. We started introducing new products, lower-priced items — I did a whole line of T-shirts that were based on the pandemic, like “Hope has not been canceled” and “Ready to resurrect.” And I will say that the internal work I was doing on myself — to ground myself, to root myself, to really stay focused on this higher beingness — really infused into the company itself. And I was able to stay very calm in that period and to do what I do best, which is to inspire people. I got really lucky that I was in this, sort of, altered state for three months. It was a highly creative time — not only for our products and not only for my spiritual practice, but then I kind of blended the two. This was the first time, during the pandemic, that I really sat down and addressed our DoubleJ audience and started talking about mental health, and tools and tips and tricks that I have found to be instrumental in improving my state of mind and improving my relationship with myself. And that was really amazing to see the way people reacted to that, to see how many people were interested in that. And I never expected to do that. And I never imagined a place for spirituality inside a fashion brand. But I’m just getting feedback from our clients, our shoppers, our women, our community that that’s also something that really means a lot to them. So it’s a pleasure to share it.”

Differentiating among fashion brands
“I have always told people that I want to do way more than just sell people a dress. I just had an interview today for our fall collection with Vogue Runway, and on some levels, I even hesitate to be on Vogue Runway. It’s almost like this pressure of subscribing to the old, traditional rules of needing to look a certain way, be a certain way, do the right things in order to fit into the fashion system. And I just think there are people who do that so much better than I do. And I would never claim to be one of these [Central] Saint Martins-trained, incredibly talented designers like a Raf Simons or a Balenciaga that’s doing couture-level fashion. That’s not what we’re doing. I’m not a runway-based brand; we’ll never get on the runway and try to compete in that arena. I think it’s really important to understand what your core gift is, and that’s not my gift. But I think I have a gift for communication. I have a gift of empathy. I really feel into what people need and what they’re saying… And I have a real gift for color and print. And I’ve always had this, my whole life. I’ve always been attracted to color and shine and sparkle and brightness. And living in Italy for these last 20 years — just being around the chicest people on the planet really starts training your eye. So that’s really where I think we’re gifted.”

Taking the lead on wholesale partnerships
“We started very small and we were direct-to-consumer, and Matches was our first client. So we launched with Matches and on our own website. And that was buy-now, wear-now. But then the minute you start getting wholesalers on board — like the minute Bergdorf came on board and Bon Marche and The Webster, which were our first three big clients after Matches — they’re on a schedule. So if you want to do business with them, you have to conform to that. And so that was a real big challenge. And it was also challenging to find people to work inside my company that could think outside of that box, because that box is what everyone in the fashion industry subscribes to, agrees with. And it’s hard to find radical free thinkers, But we were so adamant about doing our own thing, keeping the prices low, the margins low. Every time we work with a new wholesale account, they always complain about it. But really, what we’re trying to do is offer a beautiful, made-in-Italy, luxurious product that is at a fair price to the final customer. I was just talking to [a wholesale partner] the other day, who was like, ‘Yeah, you guys are a pain in the ass,” but in a good way. The other thing that we don’t do is we do not go on sale. And we have really strict rules with our retail partners about how they put things on sale. And this is so important for young businesses and small businesses, because you can get obliterated by this wholesale thing. It really eats into your brand value and proposition, and people will just wait until the sale happens. So, isn’t it better to just offer the fair price at the beginning and not screw people over, who feel like, ‘Why did I buy that dress at full price, and now it’s $300 less or $500 less?’” 

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