Coach is partnering with Rodarte, in what appears to be an attempt to enhance its dwindling cool factor.
Coach is continuing to overcome slumping sales and an eroded identity — sales are down $200 million over the past two years, and the brand has downsized retail space nationwide, placing emphasis on distribution models like discounted outlet malls. In October, Coach reportedly attempted to take over Burberry in a deal that would have created a $20 billion combined fashion force. Now the brand is rumored to be eyeing Kate Spade & Co., joining brands like Michael Kors who have expressed interest in making a bid on the contemporary women’s brand. Kate Spade is planning to begin the auction process this month, on suggestion from the hedge fund Caerus Investors, and has garnered interest from several brands both in the U.S. and globally, according to Bloomberg.
Partnering with Rodarte, one of the more avant-garde luxury retailers, seems to be another ploy for the struggling brand to escape its hazy identity. (Coach did not respond to comment on the partnership.)
“They’ve had a tough few years, and acquisitions can be a way to grow yourself out of a slump,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, chief retail strategist at Shoptalk. “But it is a question of whether these are the right targets or if they would have some of the same challenges as the parent brand.”
The Rodarte collaboration will include a handbag and several pieces of apparel, Women’s Wear Daily reported. The move will serve as another revitalization effort for Coach, which has already tried to distance itself from becoming pigeonholed into a department store brand by limiting its offerings in stores like Macy’s. It also made attempts to attract new demographics by enlisting celebrity ambassadors like Selena Gomez and Chloë Grace Moretz, and forging partnerships with Disney on a limited-edition line of bags emblazoned with Mickey Mouse logos.
Whether teaming with Rodarte will be helpful for the ailing brand remains to be seen. Rodarte has become a coveted brand among artists and celebrities including Brie Larson and Kirsten Dunst, who flock to its high-end indie-bohemian looks. Kate and Laura Mulleavy, sisters and founders of the brand, were nominated for 2016 womenswear designers of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America — an honor that was ultimately awarded to Marc Jacobs. The brand has also delved into high-low collaborations as a featured designer for Target.
Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content strategy at Razorfish, said Coach is ultimately at an “inflection point” and serves as a case study for the challenges luxury brands have faced in continuing to overcome the recession. In an attempt to restore the company, Coach has leveraged a series of alternative channels and discounts that have ultimately hurt the brand.
“Coach is the poster child for what can go wrong in a luxury brand. For a while, they were the ‘it bag’, and it’s hard to be the ‘it’ product,” he said. “Coach has lost a lot of its luster as as result of the tactics it had to employ during the [economic] downturn. They have to swallow a bitter pill and find the exclusivity of the brand, and you can’t do that overnight.”
Goldberg said that, despite Coach’s troubles, its collaboration with Rodarte is a savvy way to boost its reputation.
“Partnering with Rodarte is a clever dual win,” he said. “It associates Coach with an exclusive premium product at a higher price point, which moves it up market. It’s sort of a surprise and delight moment, because it also makes Rodarte’s products more accessible.”