The exclusive line rolls out to 500 stores with a women's summer collection featuring designs inspired by Project Runway’s season 15 winner Erin Robertson, and a full assortment is planned for Sept. 8.
While Penney hopes to capitalize on the Lifetime network show’s built-in audience as it collects data on what women want to wear, the line comes amid a company push to de-emphasize apparel — which CEO Marvin Ellison said in March was the retailer’s “biggest issue” in 2016 — and invest in new product categories such as appliances and toys along with the expansion of its Sephora beauty shops.
The Pressure For Faster Fashion
A look from J.C. Penney's exclusive Project Runway fall collection.
"Millions of viewers aspire to emulate the fashion-forward looks first conceptualized during a Project Runway episode," said John Tighe, chief merchant for J.C.Penney, in a press statement. "This strategic collaboration enables us to work directly with up-and-coming design talent from Project Runway and increase our assortment of contemporary apparel, while gaining a fresh perspective on what women are seeking when curating the ultimate wardrobe."
The Project Runway brand mixes contemporary and “street style looks,” with a fall line that includes “sports-luxe details” such as lace-up accents, hardware embellishments and “drama sleeves” on off-the-shoulder bomber jackets and wide-leg track pants, for example.
J.C. Penney plans to translate the winning look from each episode of Project Runway All Star into clothing that will be available exclusively on JCPenney.com every week, and on a dedicated microsite.
Making these designs immediately available is one way the retailer is “demonstrating its commitment to delivering sought after apparel on a faster production timeline,” Tighe said in the statement.
Runway-to-retail apparel from fast-fashion merchants like Forever 21 and H&M, which churn out catwalk inspired looks at bargain prices in a New York minute, have trained consumers to expect clothing newness at a faster clip, adding to the apparel woes of department stores from J.C. Penney and Macy’s to specialty retailers J.C. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch.
The entrenched product sourcing and buying practices of these legacy retailers run counter to the fast-fashion model. “The fastest fast fashion retailers bring product from design to shelves in two to four weeks, resulting in high inventory turns in the range of 18 to 24 turns per year,” said Sonia Lapinsky, a managing director in the retail practice of global consulting firm AlixPartners LLP.
By contrast, “typical specialty retailers, department stores and brands are not catching up,” she said. “The best can design and bring product to shelves in 9 months, maybe 7, with very few even getting close — we still see far too many taking over a year to get an idea onto a shelf.”
This is not Penney’s first foray into fast-fashion. In 2015, the department store launch private label women’s brand, "Belle + Sky," aimed at Millennial shoppers.
Retailers looking for a piece of the fast-fashion action should first understand where quick-churn, trendy apparel items would most appeal to its shoppers, Lapinsky said.
“They need to think about the consumer — what do they want from each segment of the line, how fast, what value, how trend-right, and they will know that the answer changes by product type,” she said. “They need to adapt their model to deliver the trend fast, [offer] basics consistently at the right price, and newness fluidly and flexibly to meet customer expectations and avoid inventory disaster.”