Who launches a brand in the middle of a pandemic?
Talbots chief executive officer Lizanne Kindler asked that very question at the start of an interview Wednesday about the retailer’s new Haven Well Within business. The truth is the concept for this embrace-your-inner-homebody business was first hatched through last year. Recognizing how women were becoming increasingly focused on comfort, wellness and finding moments to take care of themselves, she said she saw an opportunity to meet those needs. After tapping Graj + Gustavsen to help build out the concept, the lean team had gotten to a good place by the beginning of 2020.
Once the pandemic struck, all those plans were put on ice until the end of April. Sitting in her backyard in Massachusetts one cold, sunny spring day, Kindler decided there could not be another moment when the Haven Well Within concept would resonate more strongly. Deciding to go full-steam-ahead, the site was launched in late October.
Undaunted by what had become an increasingly competitive field for loungewear, sleepwear and sweats in a difficult retail environment, Kindler said, “Obviously, I wasn’t the only one seeing this change in the macro-environment. The way that we were thinking about this as a brand and a concept really combines the idea that you go to one place for not just the products that make you feel good, but also expert advice, good tips and ideas that women can apply when using the products.”
The Haven Well Within site offers shoppers the option of browsing by experience — Awaken, Unwind, Rejuvenate and Nourish. Other experiences like “At Home,” which will encapsulate bedding, towels and the like, and “Studio at Home,” active-related accoutrements for yoga and other pursuits, are expected to be added in the future.
Talbots is designing and creating a good deal of the products such as sleepwear, loungewear and intimate apparel. But Haven Well Within sells a selection of beauty brands including Sunday Riley, Vertly, REN, Marvin and RMS Beauty. The curation also features home decor items from Etu Home.
There is a range of influencers and authorities who are offering up their favorite routines, rituals and tips. ThisThatBeauty’s Felicia Walker, nutritionist Mascha Davis, author and wellness educator Lauren Roxburgh and sleep expert Nerina Ramlakhan are currently spotlighted.
Consumers are meant to embrace their inner homebody, and take moments for themselves as a treat or a spa-like feeling. The idea is that “If you can take just one moment and do something good for yourself, you will feel so much better about the rest of your day or your night for that matter,” Kindler said.
Talbots, which is developing all of the apparel being sold via Haven Well Within, has created Haven Well Within concept shops in about 300 of its 417 freestanding stores in the U.S. Already planning for growth through 2021, the ceo said there is significant demand for the new brand. “This is going to be a fixture of stores and brick-and-mortar along with a very strong web presence, which is going to be the bulk of it,” she said. “We’re seeing great response. We have confidence that once we start to be able to put some of the noise of the pandemic behind us, we will roll out new ways of getting this concept to more customers.”
Haven Well Within aims to appeal to any woman with a busy life whether that be through work, community or social reasons, Kindler said. Designed to attract consumers beyond Talbots’ existing customers, the Haven Well Within site does not have the New England, preppy sensibility that Talbots does, she added. With more of a spa undertone, the aesthetic is meant to be more calming.
While many American marketers and brands have cottoned to the Danish concept of “hygge,” a quality of comfort and coziness, in recent years, the Copenhagen-born Kindler has long appreciated it and has used it for Haven Well Within. “That minimalistic uncluttered moment and that Scandinavian sensibility was an influence on how we thought about the product itself, the curation and the expression of the concept. In the very cluttered life that we all live in today, that sensibility feels good,” she said.
Given retail’s current ailing state of affairs, the Haven Well Within team is toying with ideas for pop-up stores. That will be the first segue into stand-alone stores, Kindler said. The 20-person team is made up of dedicated and shared Talbots employees. “Having the courage to launch the concept,” which bridged support from employees in e-commerce, IT, logistics and other areas, created “a feel-good moment” for all involved, due to the timing and the project’s relevance, she added.
In addition to being a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the ceo is the expert-in-residence at Babson College’s WIN (Women Innovating Now) Alan, an accelerator program for women entrepreneurs. As a big believer in supporting women entrepreneurs, Kindler said Tuesday night’s WIN meeting prompted a new possibility: One WIN participant may be featured in one of the 2021 stories that will be on the Haven Well Within site.
In a roundabout way, the starting point for her fashion career — Ann Taylor — has come full circle. Talbots’ parent company Sycamore Partners recently purchased the Ascena Retail Group Inc., which owns Ann Taylor, Loft, Lane Bryant and Lou & Grey, for $540 million. Kindler declined to comment about that recent deal and the potential for any consolidation other than to say, “Obviously, it’s very exciting for Sycamore.”
As for Haven Well Within, more partners will be added around wellness, beauty and other areas.