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Penney’s New ‘Stylus’ Brand Geared to Fill a Void

By David Moin on November 12, 2020 Penney's chief merchandising officer says the latest private brand offers style with comfort and function.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. today launches a private brand called Stylus, which executives say has been what’s missing from the selling floors — a women’s collection that offers style, comfort and versatility.

Typically at Penney’s, and other stores for that matter, the women’s labels either offer style or comfort but none really combine both elements in each piece. “We look at Stylus as a ‘style-leisure’ brand,” Michelle Wlazlo, Penney’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, told WWD. “It’s not loungewear. It’s not activewear. And it’s not ath-leisure. The comfort you get with Stylus linking with style is quite unique to the marketplace.

“Style with comfort and function in a brand is really powerful. We did not have this before.”

The easy styling and neutral palette at Stylus, Penney’s latest private brand.

The collection, unveiling in 394 of Penney’s 690 stores and on jcpenney.com, includes “waterfall” cardigans, knit cropped jumpsuits, long-sleeved mididresses, pin-tucked jogger pants and paperboy, waist pants. There are 25 styles that come in a variety of colors.

Wlazlo also said the collection is geared for versatility so women can wear Stylus from day into evening and for occasions such as going out with friends, shopping, or for work.

With its neutral color palette, the collection is designed for layering and mixing and matching, she added. The sizing is inclusive, ranging from XS to 3X, with consistent pricing from $26 to $89 across all sizes. Special sizes have been a push at Penney’s for several seasons. “Our inclusive sizing is a philosophy, not an afterthought. Size should never be a deterrent to style or the ability to feel empowered, confident and comfortable,” said Wlazlo.

Inclusive sizing and easy styling, from Stylus.

“This new private brand is not a response to the changing fashion demand due to the pandemic,” said Wlazlo. “This brand was in development well before the pandemic.”

Stylus will be merchandised in Penney’s “All-day” women’s areas, but clearly distinguished and standing apart from other brands in the department, such as A.n.a. “You will feel its presence,” said Wlazlo.

Asked about the comfort factor in the new line. Wlazlo described the Stylus fabrics as having a soft and cool hand, meaning you don’t feel hot in any of the items even if worn all day long, she said. The most important fabrics in the line are the modal knits and lightweight stretch wovens, Wlazlo said.

She characterized the fit as relaxed and figure-flattering, while offering “unrestricted” movement. Some items, such as the stretch woven pants with tapered legs, are “a little looser to add comfort and ease but nothing is sloppy.”

Despite Penney’s declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 15, after decades of declines, Wlazlo said her team has been able to innovate changes. Stylus is the only new women’s private brand introduced this year to Penney’s stable of private brands, though a.n.a. was relaunched to be denim-driven, and Penney’s also introduced its Linden Street private bedding brand while in bankruptcy proceedings. In 2019, private brand merchandise made up approximately 46 percent of Penney’s sales. Other Penney’s private brands include St. John’s Bay, Worthington, Ambrielle and Arizona.

The week the bankruptcy court approved the planned sale of the company that the retailer has negotiated for months to Simon Property Group, Brookfield Property and a group of majority first-lien lenders. The deal could be approved by next week, meaning Penney’s has another lease on life.

During the bankruptcy, said Wlazlo, “We’ve used the time wisely.…You will see Stylus expand throughout the spring, with more choices.”

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