J. Jill is introducing "Welcome Everybody," a new brand strategy. It's part of a transformation based on eye-opening research about women -- their sizes, style and newly hybrid lives. Kara Howard, senior vice president of marketing and customer experience, tells Retail Insider about the Quincy, Massachusetts, company's reinvention.
Retail Insider: "Welcome Everybody" is a significant strategic switch–people don't usually think of J. Jill as a plus-size brand. Can you explain why you're making a change now?
Kara Howard: With "Welcome Everybody," we want to create a fully inclusive shopping experience, online and in stores. And it's meant to communicate size offerings, including extended sizes. It aligns with our redefined brand strategy, which is about celebrating the totality of all women. That includes thoughtful, versatile designs that reflect our customer's confidence and individuality.
We did a lot of research with thousands of women. We found she's multidimensional, everything from a caretaker to a professional to a friend, to someone with hobbies, who wants to make an impact. She wants joy. This idea reflects all of that.
Retail Insider: Part of the change involves sizing, which has always baffled people. You're merging Missy and Women's, whatever that means—and offering sizes that run from XS to 2X and 0 to 20, as well as petite and tall. Why?
Howard: Our research was quantitative and qualitative and involved lots of social listening. One of the most important findings is that 73% of women who wear extended sizes say they won't try a new brand because they're not sure the brand will have their size. For women in regular size, the main reason they won't try something new is that they're not sure they'll find their style.
So we've consolidated and established consistency.
We used to have two terms–Missy, a standard size up to 16. And then we had Women's, which is another term for plus-size.
That's another insight—plenty of women shop across this size range. They may have longer arms or be bigger on the bottom. There are some things you want to fit more loosely. And lots of people are on the border.
Retail Insider: Old Navy tried this recently, and it created an inventory nightmare. It couldn't stock all those styles in all those sizes in all those stores. Does that worry you?
Howard: Well, we've benefited from watching others try it and adjust accordingly. We've always offered these extended sizes online. And that's given us a lot of visibility into the right size curves to distribute in stores. We also have lots of data from our call centers. We're pragmatic, balancing customers' needs with caution about our inventory position.
Retail Insider: How does the marketing campaign support that strategy?
Howard: We're looking at an evolution of our visual identity, everything from photography style, to colors and fonts, to our voice. This is just the start. And, of course, it has to communicate the new sizing loud and clear.
We're injecting more confidence. Our audience, 45 and older, knows what looks good on her. So any messaging that says, "This looks good on everybody!" makes her push back and say, "You're wrong. It doesn't." She knows who she is and what looks good on her. Our visuals reflect that.
And we also wanted it to convey this sense of welcome. It's what we want everyone to feel when they walk into our stores. And we're working that feeling into all touchpoints, from the website to the catalog to influencer marketing.
Retail Insider: Where are ads running?
Howard: We have a significant investment in Facebook and Instagram influencers. All our assets, and some paid digital and video.
Retail Insider: How has your core customer changed in the last few years?
Howard: She tends to have a higher income of around $150,000. So she's aware of rising prices, but maybe not as pressured as other shoppers. She likes shopping and likes to update her wardrobe. Increasingly, she's very intentional about shopping.
Retail Insider: Intentional? Explain.
Howard: We did some ethnography research, starting mid-pandemic. She is more thoughtful about everything–how
she spends her money, time, and energy. She wants things she loves. So when she sees something versatile and her style, she'll pay full price. She wants things that are special to her.
Retail Insider: This goes beyond comfort, with yoga pants and stretch jeans?
Howard: Yes. It's about people asking themselves who and what is essential in their lives. Comfort isn't a differentiator anymore. People don't say, "These are my comfortable clothes, and these are my hard clothes." They want everything to be comfortable.
We're calling it intentional ease.
And it means more than comfort. The piece flows with you from one part of the day to the next. Work is hybrid, and our lives are hybrid.