The first two years of the pandemic were dire for wedding and bridal brands. The lack of nuptials and events pushed some brands close to bankruptcy. But 2022 was just the opposite, providing brands that survived the prior two years the boost they needed to get back on their feet.
Now, three months into 2023, the category is settling back into something closer to normal.
“Prior to the pandemic, there’d be about 2.1 million weddings per year in the U.S.,” said Andrew Blackmon, co-founder and CEO of men’s suit rental service The Black Tux. “You could plan around that.”
That figure has remained reliably true every year for more than a decade. But in 2020, that dropped down to 1.7 million, while in 2022, it jumped up 2.6 million, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and The Knot. As 2023 looks likely to settle back into the 2.1 million figure of pre-pandemic, wedding-focused brands are using the cushion that 2022 gave them to continue growing even as business slows.
For example, Blackmon said The Black Tux suffered an unprecedented drop in demand in 2020. Its rental business dried up almost completely. But 2022 saw the brand surge back to life, with revenue growing 35% over pre-pandemic levels and achieving profitability. Now, Blackmon is trying to expand the company’s business to take advantage of that growth. The Black Tux acquired the DTC wedding band startup Marke earlier this month. In November, it opened a new showroom in New York, and it’s set to open another in Atlanta later this year.
“I want to leverage the things we already know how to do well,” Blackmon said, referring to The Black Tux’s existing audience and name recognition in men’s wedding attire. “The question is, ‘What else can we offer this customer base?’”
The Black Tux had not sold wedding bands prior to the acquisition. Its one showroom temporarily closed early in the pandemic and only reopened in 2022. The return of weddings and the growth of revenue was so strong that it enabled The Black Tux to expand its showrooms and acquire another company, all without raising any funding since 2018.
Marke, which sells wedding bands ranging from around $315 to over $2,000, will continue to operate its own online store separate from The Black Tux. The company’s entire team from before the acquisition will remain intact and in charge.
“The worst thing we could do for the brand they’ve built is to absorb it fully,” Blackmon said. “A lot of people won’t even realize we bought the company, outside of the cross-promotion we do between the two brands.”
Customers of The Black Tux will receive a promotional code to use at Marke, and vice versa. And both companies have posted about the other on their social media accounts, including The Black Tux’s Instagram with more than 120,000 followers.
Marke is also positioned to bolster The Black Tux’s retail business, which for years was only a tiny percentage of its revenue, with rental driving a majority, but has grown to make up 10% of the business in the last year.
And while an acquisition and two new stores may seem ambitious, in other areas, The Black Tux is being more conservative. Other companies that have experienced boom years have substantially scaled up their hiring in the last two years, only to have to do rounds of layoffs this year: Meta went on a hiring spree to chase after the web3 boom in 2021 and 2022, only to lay off thousands of those employees this year. Gymshark, meanwhile, laid off 65 people in the U.S. only a year after expanding aggressively into the market. But The Black Tux has been more cautious about hiring. Most of its hiring has been in key leadership roles. It hired a new CTO, CFO, head of people and CMO.
On top of that, Blackmon said he’s intentionally limited The Black Tux’s number of separate SKUs, to around only 30 different products. This cuts down on the logistical burden of rental, he said, which can become overly complex with the higher number of SKUs that a large company like Rent the Runway offers, for example.
The French contemporary brand Ba&sh is also capitalizing on the return of weddings with its first bridal collection, launching on Wednesday. The capsule was first conceptualized 14 months ago, at the height of the wedding boom. Rather than banking the collection’s entire success on its ability to sell to brides, North American CEO Desiree Thomas said the capsule was designed to work whether or not you’re walking down the aisle.
“We’re calling it a bridal capsule, but it’s intentionally versatile,” she said. “People have their weddings lots of different ways now. It could work for a destination wedding, for a city hall wedding, for the rehearsal dinner or for an engagement party. The pieces can also be combined in different ways.”
Unusually for a bridal collection, the new capsule has a strong knitwear component — another tactic to make the collection work for more than just brides. Thomas said Ba&sh will be doing its first Pinterest campaign to promote the capsule, as well as a pop-up shop at Bloomingdale’s and a social campaign driving to Ba&sh’s DTC online store.
“We’ve been planning on doing bridal for a long time,” Thomas said.
The bridal capsule is also one of the first collections Ba&sh has launched since streamlining its manufacturing process and switching from primarily producing in China to primarily in Europe, over the last year. It now maintains a 70-30 split, in terms of its production in Europe versus China.