Why Apart's E-Commerce is the Stealth Retailer to Watch

Last Updated Nov 9, 2010 11:28 AM EST

With the apparel retail playing field growing ever more crowded and more competitive, you have to admire the latest gutsy move by Apart. The e-commerce retailer is squeezing in between the likes of Shopbop, ASOS, and other heavy style hitters trying to lure young customers.

Never heard of Apart? Don't worry many die-hard shopaholics haven't, either. Though the brand was established in 1975 and rings up about $150 million in annual volume, a ballsy buyout just thrust it out from under the umbrella of the Otto Group.

You may remember Otto Group, the German retailing giant that's second only to Amazon (AMZN) in e-commerce and first in the global mail order business. Though much of Otto's business is abroad, its U.S. division (quietly) launched Field and Stream 1871, a brand of outdoor clothing, outerwear, footwear and accessories available only on the brand's eponymous e-commerce site exclusively for the U.S. market.

Bernd Houillon, a 35-year Otto veteran, acquired all the shares in Apart from Otto when it became clear that the fashion-forward brand needed to (pardon the pun) set itself apart from the others in the German cataloger's stable. Now its offerings are what's commonly known as bridge collections in the fashion industry. That means the styles are trendy, but construction and materials aren't the flimsy throwaways that you'd find in a fast fashion assortment. Prices reflect the higher quality and range typically between $75 - $500.

Even at those prices, Apart shouldn't have too much trouble maintaining good margins thanks to a continued relationship with Otto to leverage well-established resources in sourcing, logistics and production. That's probably why Apart U.S.'s CEO Francesco Cardoletti and his execs are projecting $6 million to $8 million in sales through e-commerce during its first year in the States.

Here's the thing though, as much as true fashionistas love the thrill of a new find, Cardoletti and company need to step up their efforts to get the brand established as a go-to retailer. A few initial moves look promising, including the e-commerce site itself. Apartstyle.com is clean and spare with editorial-like styling tips (think one-dress-three-ways, stylish and thrifty!).

Apart's also reached out to some influential fashion bloggers and sponsored a giveaway on Refinery 29 for $1000 capsule collection. The curated items in that assortment totally on-trend with just enough of a twist to make them covetable, not copy-cat boring.

No doubt Apart could make a killing on that sheer, ikat print dress alone. Reminiscent of Tucker for Target's (TGT) navy diamond-print dress that instantly sold out on Gilt Groupe's flash sale and in Target stores, Apart's merchandisers should be hitting up every fashion blogger over 20 years of age to take a look.

The retailer's still got a way to go to coax more trendsetters onto its Facebook page and it would help if the welcome tab was updated tout de suite. August events are so three months ago, n'est-ce pas?

Image via apartstyle.com

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