Private labels: The crown jewels of a department store or the noose around its neck – a new idea on how to get the balance just right

Let’s just get the elephant out of the way: The fashion department store model is dying. And it has been for at least a decade. From a brand perspective, it could be because people are unsure of what the store stands for – that’s the curse of being “for everyone”, you can’t universally satisfy teens in the same way you do their grandparents.

But there might be a way to revive the department store.

We believe that people don’t follow stores. Not in any meaningful way. But they do follow brands. What does this mean for stores and the products the store sells?

A department store is the mothership of product brands, yet mostly spend their budgets on marketing themselves. The labels they own usually play second fiddle to the consignment brands who already know what they stand for.

So if you are a consumer looking to support your brand, the road to the stand-alone store seems much shorter than the one making its way through to the department store. And that’s where the department store needs to up its game to stay relevant.


What if we reimagined the store, not as the authority on individual fashion choice, but as the destination instead? What if your store was not the brand you connect with, but rather the place you choose to go buy that brand, no matter who you are?

How would you invest your time and money differently, if your store was a city or a hotel or a mall instead? We’re talking fashion destination branding.

Department stores could take a page from the book of property developers and position the store not as the focus brand, but as the destination or hub for fashion instead.

And to do that, you need 2 things:

  • Reimagine your store through the eyes of fashion destination branding
  • Invest more in developing your individual fashion brands to connect with and bring in the customer.


What if you shifted your focus away from marketing the store itself to creating exceptional and powerful in-house private label brands?

Looking at all the best private label brands in the world: They are extremely agile, highly selective over what their label appears on (product, branding, marketing materials) and exceptional at marketing – they know their audience extremely well and that individual connects with the brand on an emotional level.

Why can’t your individual in-house brands inside your store do the same for you?


Earlier this month, a new sustainable children’s clothing brand launched in Jakarta, Indonesia – discover Kindr kids clothing.

It focuses on ethical sustainability in kids’ clothing. And, by using a trade-in system, Kindr does two things:

  • Challenges the conventional idea of owning your fashion
  • Connects straight to the heart of millions of conscious parents

And while the latter is perhaps something every store wants and needs, the former is something a traditional store brand marketing machine would have a hard time coping with. So perhaps Kindr won’t be available in big department stores just yet.

But it should be. And, in fact, Kindr and brands like it could well be the very thing that saves the local department store.

Just imagine if all of your in-house private label brands were branded as strongly, with as much focus and purpose as Kindr. Department stores should have the financial and partnership leverage to make this happen. And the reward? The customer will follow.


Where do you start changing the mechanics to use your brands to connect with the customer instead?

1. Act like a legitimate international, professional brand

Make your individual brands/labels look good, have a focused target audience and consider everything from the labels to the packaging to your marketing.

2. Support it with relevant/appropriate marketing

Know where your audience lives and how to speak to them – there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all marketing.

3. Ensure your visual brand and the actual clothing/fashion relates 

Don’t market/brand/advertise for teenagers if you’re selling Polo shirts – that’s for dad.

4. Mimic successful brand audiences

If a certain product proves popular, a department store has the unique ability to build an in-house private label around it: Create a competitively-priced alternative, but with a little bit of an edge, and build a new alt-brand to get some market share. (NOTE: This only actually works if your branding is as good or better than the original!)

5. Ensure your in-store environment matches the brand

People expect the store, the furniture and the staff to match the brand they’re buying. When you buy a suit, you want one environment. When buying a beach towel and boardshorts, another. Know the difference.

Our boutique brand agency team helped our client in Indonesia, to reimagine and rebrand some of the biggest in-house labels in Indonesia, including Nevada, Cole and new brands like Crater. And we’ve assisted numerous fashion brands, from South-East Asia to Europe, Africa and the US, reconnect with their customer by rediscovering their prospector’s heart.

What can we do for you?

Connect with some of our brand pros

Founder and CEO: Christo Maritz of Design Infestation in Cape Town shares some of the brand and marketing insights that helped grow this agency on the international branding stage. Christo Maritz
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