Gant is coming home – to America.
The brand, which has undergone a major rejuvenation, was born in New Haven Connecticut in 1949, but lost its way in the U.S. while it was headquartered in Europe. Gant had a quiet launch last month in this country, and next year will open a pop-up shop-cum showroom on SoHo’s Mulberry Street. The brand, which had not been sold in the United States for two and a half years, is bringing its new slightly retro look to Manhattan and beyond.
A multi-functional space in SoHo will serve as the brand’s face in the U.S. Gant may use the space for a showroom-cum-pop-up shop. The company has a lease on the space for the next few years, but may outgrow the small shop before then.
The re-launch into the U.S. last month was a symbolic homecoming, and marks an important strategic moment in the rejuvenation of the brand. “It’s very hard for us to talk about ourselves as a physical sportswear brand without having a physical presence in New York and other cities,” said Christopher Bastin, creative director.
“For us, the shop becomes a small brand universe, where we can show people collections, have a showroom, and sit there and work and design into collections,” he added. “It’s not going to be your average pop-up story. We’ll be more of a brand space in the beginning, and then, we’ll figure out what to do with it.”
“We had too many stores and a huge office with a lot of people involved in the U.S.,” said Eleonore Säll, EVP of global brand. “When the pandemic came, it was a good time for us to step back and take a breather and look at how we approach the U.S. that makes sense, both from a business perspective and a brand perspective.
“A lot of consumers felt that this brand isn’t for them, or maybe it’s my dad’s brand,” Säll said. “It was very vague and the market here is a very dangerous place to be if you don’t have the personality of the brand or lose its core.
The collection looks like a cross between traditional preppy style and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” a 2001 Wes Anderson movie about an eccentric family.
“We needed to change it now,” Bastin said. “We had to get back to our personality, back to our roots, and be much more Gant, while being very contemporary. It turns out we were right about the position we chose to embark upon for the brand. The product is so beautiful and really up to speed now. As of next year, we can check almost all the boxes. In the meantime, we’re having a record year for Gant when it comes to numbers.”
Gant CEO Patrik Soderström said the brand will do $1.3 billion in sales this year. “We’re aiming to better this year with a 24% to 25% increase versus 2021 and obviously 2020. We were up 26% in 2021 versus 2020,” he said. “Obviously we’re on a long haul journey, but looking at the numbers, we’re quite successful right now when it comes to rebranding and the direction of the brand. Europe is our main business right now.
“We’re tapping into China and India and Australia,” Soderström said. “We’re coming back with our e-commerce site in the U.S. Right now, we’re looking at potential partners in the U.S. We’ll be targeting wholesale customers moving forward.”
Gant isn’t rushing into anything. “We want to make sure we take the right positions and partners and the right wholesale customers, so we’re taking it step by step to make sure we’re not running too fast,” “Soderström said.
“Gant’s re-entry into the U.S. is not only a key milestone, but also a symbol of what the brand stands for: celebrating its roots while renewing itself and expanding into new territories, always in a meaningful and authentic way,” said Thierry Guibert, CEO of MF Brands Group, Gant’s parent, which also owns Aigle, Lacoste, The Kooples and Techfibre.
The U.S. could eventually be Gant’s largest market, but it won’t happen overnight. “Considering the brand was born in the U.S., the country has huge potential,” Soderström said. “But it’s also the fact that the U.S. affects the rest of the world when it comes to lifestyle. It’s important for us as a brand. If everything goes for us as we expect, hopefully, the U.S. will be one of the bigger markets in the next three to five years.”
Gant found a sweet spot within American sportswear that it wants to tap into. “We found that we could change quite rapidly our visions and our social media content and how we portray ourselves to the consumer,” said Bastin. “We’re in 80-plus countries now and we have a very loyal fan base. What we realized is we really need to start filling up with new consumers.
“We were looking at what the competition was doing, and looking back at ourselves and not trying to change Gant, but rather be more Gant,” Bastin said. “We found this sweet spot where we could be a little more bold and more fashion-forward while catering to the consumer who already loves the brand.”
Bastin looks back on Gant’s history and legacy for inspiration when he thinks about where fashion is going and where sportswear in general is headed. “Tapping into our history is something that becomes highly important, so whatever we do it’s kind of connected to the brand’s DNA.”
The new Gant is definitely attracting a slightly younger consumer, Bastin said. “Not that the style is necessarily age-defining, but we can see that we’re getting more traction with younger consumers than we had before,” he said. “We’re also getting traction with more fashion-forward consumers than we had before.
“If we look at where we were maybe three or four years ago, Gant was a safer brand,” Bastin added. “Maybe we didn’t embrace our heritage as we are now. What we can see is that most of the consumers are signing off on what we are doing. It’s nice to get a confirmation about what you’re doing with this big change.”
Globally, Gant’s business breaks out to 70% male and 30% female. The company has had a full-on women’s collection since 2004. Every Gant product has been touched by the rebranding, including footwear, eyewear and home collections. “If you leave one part out, it’s kind of hard to get everything in line,” Bastin said. “The changes have really been implemented across the board.”
Gant is about to open up a new flagship in Spain, the first new flagship its opened in a while. There will be more flagships, Soderström said. The company is looking to open stores across the globe in an intentional step by step manner, and might do that in the U.S. but hasn’t decided on the timing.
Worldwide, there are approximately 850 Gant points of sale, including company-owned stores and those opened through subsidiaries and together with distributors. That includes corners in department stores. “Sweden is the biggest market,” Soderström said. “Everywhere else outside of Sweden we have big potential, no matter where we are in the world.
“We think what we bring to the table is our legacy,” Bastin said. “We’re one of the few American sportswear brands that has been around since the birth of American sportswear. It’s going to be a baptism by fire, for sure, but we’re super excited to go after these guys and girls who are hanging around on the street because that’s basically the people we’re going after. It’s going to be fun.”