This week, a deep dive into how bicoastal brands are navigating two markets. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
Earlier this week, Jennifer Zuccarini, co-founder of the New York-based ready-to-wear brand Fleur du Mal, had a meeting with her two store managers, one from New York where the brand is based and one from Los Angeles where the brand’s second store is approaching its two-year anniversary. They discussed the differences between the two markets and how to merchandise the two stores.
The conversation bore lots of interesting fruit. Los Angeles customers buy swimwear all year long, for example, while swim only sells in the spring and summer in New York. In L.A., lingerie and lounge clothes are dominant. In New York, it’s the ready-to-wear collection that sells more than anything else. Another fun fact: L.A. customers tend to buy bras with larger cup sizes and smaller bands, which Zuccarini attributes to the relative prominence of breast implants in California, compared to New York.
Zuccarini said the difference between the two markets is important to keep in mind for any bicoastal fashion brand looking to succeed in both markets. While Fleur du Mal’s New York store does more sales than its L.A. store, the two cities are almost even in the brand’s digital sales, which make up around 90% of its revenue. With both cities being important and valuable fashion markets — and California and New York being the No. 1 and No. 3 largest economies in the country, respectively — brands that sell in both need to understand that they need to have separate strategies for the two markets.
Desiree Thomas, North American CEO for the French fashion brand Ba&sh, echoed the aesthetic divide between the two cities, noting that Ba&sh’s L.A. customers gravitate toward bright colors, while New Yorkers want everything in black. But the differences go deeper than trends and styles, Thomas said, pointing to core differences in the way those consumers shop.
“Our store manager on Beverly Drive does things very differently than our manager in Nolita,” Thomas said. “The former is much more appointment-driven, [offering] more white glove services and more opportunities [to connect] with stylists. On the East Coast, tourism is bigger. The customers come in and out a lot faster and know what they want. On the West Coast, it’s more casual; people take their time”
Zuccarini said the differences between the coasts have informed her retail strategy. Fleur du Mal gives a lot of leeway to its store managers in deciding how to stock the stores, since they’re the ones who know the local customer best. She meets with them regularly, either virtually or in person, to get feedback on what’s selling, which informs what the brand orders from its manufacturers and where it sends the product.
Those differences also affect marketing strategy, even within the same channel. For example, Fleur du Mal’s out-of-home ads in New York are primarily wheat-pasted fliers to advertise to pedestrians. In L.A., the brand focuses on billboards to target drivers.
The slower speed of the West Coast also spills into how brands hold in-person events. Zuccarini said Fleur du Mal hosts events in both stores regularly, including parties, panel discussions and previews of new collections. Events at both stores are well attended, but the vibe is completely different.
“In New York, everyone comes late and doesn’t stay long,” she said. “In Los Angeles, people will show up earlier, they’ll linger and chat and spend more time. The clientele is also different. There’s a mix of editors and media and influencers at events at both stores, but New York sees more media and L.A. sees more influencers.”
This has led Fleur du Mal to program its in-store events differently, as well. For example, a recent event at its L.A. store involved a panel with a doctor speaking about the potential benefits of MDMA therapy. It was an event that Zuccarini said might not have played well in New York, but for the health and wellness-obsessed L.A. customers, it “felt so right,” she said.
The West Coast’s openness to health and wellness has even guided entire brand transformations. For Jeff Johnson, co-founder of outerwear brand The Arrivals, it was his relocation from New York to San Diego that drove the brand’s recent evolution toward being a more outdoor-focused competitor to Patagonia. The Arrivals was founded and had been based in New York for nine years, until Johnson relocated in 2019. He said that, on the West Coast, there’s a different philosophy around outerwear. If you see someone wearing mountain gear in California, there’s a good chance they’re actually on their way to go climb a mountain.
“The West Coast is such a rich destination for outerwear, especially in the Pacific Northwest,” Johnson said. “New York is the mecca of street style — it’s the leader and the source. The West Coast and the Northwest are about dressing for the environment. There’s a lot more focus on the engineering and the performance of the clothes.”
From a retail perspective, leases and landlord relations are comparable between L.A. and New York, according to Rebecca Fitts, avp of real estate at the retail company Leap. Rent prices are a bit different. In New York, the retail rent prices per square foot can be around $165 by the end of 2022, while in L.A. the average is around $34.
The more important difference is car access. New York is a densely packed city where cars are inconvenient and public transit — or ridesharing — is the dominant transportation method. L.A., conversely, is a sprawling city where car travel is mandatory.
“In L.A., you may think you’ve found a great retail spot, but if there’s no parking, you need to think about that,” Fitts said. “There are also lots of submarkets in California, from Abbot Kinney to 3rd Street to, a new one for us, Montana Avenue. Each of those is like its own little separate retail market. There’s a lot of space for different kinds of brands to succeed.”
As far as practical retail advice when opening stores on opposite coasts, Fitts said brands should keep in mind the difference between where customers may live and where they shop. Los Angeles’s sprawl means in-store customers likely travel quite some distance to shop in person.
“Unless you’re a destination store, you want to be somewhere with lots of organic foot traffic,” Fitts said.