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Like J.Crew, Vince Misfired on Sweaters This Spring

Guys, what's up?
A Vince advertisement. Photo: Vince

A Vince advertisement. Photo: Vince

The big theme in Thursday's apparel business news was a somewhat surprising one: sweaters.

Just a few hours after J.Crew reported that it had messed up its sweater selection this spring by overbuying some styles that ultimately didn't sell and under-stocking some that did, Vince announced that it, too, had misfired on that category during the same time period. Unfortunately, that's not a little thing for either brand, even during the spring: knits and sweaters are a major sales driver for J.Crew, and Vince is known primarily for its silk blouses and cashmere sweaters. Fumbling on those core products isn't good.

Vince CEO Jill Granoff says that the planning team was hearing from customers that they wanted more head-to-toe looks, bottoms, dresses, wear-to-work clothes and outerwear. So they ordered more of those items for spring, at the same time reducing the number of knits and sweaters. Those that Vince did buy fell into a higher price bracket.

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You can see where this is going. Presented with fewer sweater options at higher prices, customers just didn't buy.

"This is probably to a certain extent a self-inflicted wound," Granoff said on a Thursday afternoon webcast.

Indeed. But she added that Vince will be paying closer attention to its "heritage of cashmere luxury sweaters" moving forward, as it simultaneously continues to build out its ready-to-wear and footwear ranges, and prepares for a widespread launch of its new handbag line. With that rollout, Vince has also been listening closely to its shoppers. Following the initial launch in 45 stores, customers said they liked the bags' clean, modern aesthetic but wanted more functionality and a better price point. Granoff says the team has responded to that, bringing the prices down in line with Vince's footwear and ready-to-wear offerings. Soon the bags will be in 130 doors.

Despite the challenging sweater situation, Vince's sales grew 12 percent to $59.8 million during the three months leading up to May 2.

As exercise people say: never stop working on your core.