Brandon Maxwell began making his name in fashion about a decade ago as stylist to pop star Lady Gaga. His profile has only grown since. In addition to launching his own company in 2015 and creating some of Gaga’s most memorable looks, he’s dressed luminaries such as Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. These days he’s also a judge on the long-running fashion show Project Runway.
Now Walmart has hired Maxwell as creative director for two of its own labels, Free Assembly and Scoop, aimed at more fashion-forward clothing than the basic items it mostly sells, the retail giant said in an announcement today. It marks a new approach for Walmart as it vies with Amazon for America’s wallets.
The company has been working to build out its fashion business for years, undertaking ill-fated acquisitions of companies such as Bonobos and Modcloth, adding more than 1,000 new brands to its online offering, and partnering with used-clothing seller ThredUp. Simultaneously, it has been building out its lucrative private clothing labels, which generally have better margins than categories such as groceries, while rivals such as Amazon and Target do the same. Scoop, for instance, was a trendy New York fashion chain that Walmart bought and made into its exclusive brand in 2019. Three of Walmart’s clothing lines have grown into $2 billion businesses, John Furner, CEO of Walmart US, said during a February earnings call.
The tie up with Maxwell is its first time partnering with a well-known designer as it continues pushing its private labels into more fashion-focused territory. It’s also a big move for Denise Incandela, the fashion industry veteran Walmart promoted in February to lead its apparel brands. Incandela has been leading Walmart’s expansion into more elevated clothes, overseeing its launch of Free Assembly in September and its denim line with actress Sofia Vergara. In Walmart’s announcement of the deal with Maxwell, Incandela said it would let Walmart offer “high-quality fashion at an extraordinary value.”
Maxwell will design seasonal collections of women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and accessories. He’ll also have a hand in related aspects such as choosing fabrics, how the clothes are produced, and marketing the two brands. His first full collections are planned for release in spring 2022, though he’ll have some influence on the holiday collections coming out later this year.
The lines aren’t available in all of Walmart’s nearly 5,000 US stores. Free Assembly is sold in about 500 locations, and Scoop in around 250, according to fashion trade outlet WWD (paywall).
But it does sell them online, and Walmart seems likely to keep making its more fashion-forward offerings available to more customers as it tries to raise its fashion credentials among shoppers who already know it as a place to buy their basics.