Outerknown Readies for Retail Growth
Outerknown built much of its brand online and through the wholesale channel. Now, as its business matures, so too is its physical retail strategy as the business prepares for the opening of several doors.
Outerknown’s retail expansion begins Oct. 27 with the opening of a new store at the Marin Country Mart, which includes an adjoining small outdoor area set to open at a later date. That’ll be followed with the Forum Carlsbad in November, Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto in December, and a Georgetown location in Washington D.C. come the spring, bringing Outerknown’s total door count to 10.
Creative Director and co-founder John Moore said the company’s also eyeing Denver and Austin, in addition to more in Outerknown’s home state, among other locations where there’s a strong brand following.
“We’ve been predominantly online for years now, and we have amazing wholesale accounts in different parts of the world, but it’s really hard to tell our brand story in just a few feet of rack space,” Moore said of what’s driving the current retail growth spurt. “These (stores) are really opportunities where we can tell the entire story in the best possible way, and we’ve seen a lot of success in opening up doors where we’re interacting with our customer and the Blanket Shirt isn’t just another SKU.”
Moore also acknowledged it’s difficult to be a digital-only brand today with online acquisition costs much pricier than when Outerknown launched in 2015. The stores now also serve as a means of growing brand awareness, while exercising full control of how Outerknown’s presented at retail.
Retail Real Estate and Design
One look at the Outerknown store portfolio gives a good sense of the company’s approach to retail.
Ideal footprints are around 1,500 square feet and located in highly curated experiences, whether that be street retail or a more traditional mall format.
“My hope is that we’re always a part of these really cool community gathering spots,” Moore said in further explaining what locations make the most sense for the brand. “It’s hard to say that it’s specifically smaller streets versus malls because the reality of malls has changed. Our first location is at The Point (in El Segundo), and some would argue that’s a small-scale outdoor mall, but it’s also a hub of the South Bay and the community there. It’s where people go to eat. They’re going to work out. They’re going to get their coffee there. We don’t want to come across as opening up these gigantic, corporate flagships. These are small footprint, really soulful enclaves.”
Outerknown retail, now armed with a few years operating brick-and-mortar under its belt, has a clear vision of where its physical retail is going and how it is to be presented to the consumer.
The company’s Soho location on Prince Street opened less than a year ago and reopened about a week-and-a-half ago with what Moore called a “reimagined” design. That included a more edited assortment playing up halo pieces such as the Blanket Shirt via a “wave” wall installation. Across the way is a wall dedicated to Outerknown’s signature line of S.E.A. Jeans, which is an acronym for Social and Environmental Accountability. There are also collaborations with artists, which is seen across Outerknown stores. In Soho’s case, that includes a reclaimed rope art installation done by artist Ethan Estess.
“As we started thinking bigger about retail and more long-term, Soho’s just such an important market,” Moore said of the reason behind the refreshed look.
Soho is also one of three stores that tout flooring made from recycled lumber sourced from a Nova Scotia company called Yorks that Outerknown co-founder Kelly Slater is a part of. Carlsbad and Stanford will have the same flooring.
“Sustainability can be such a loaded word and it’s hard to understand, but when you walk into our shops you can actually see it with your own eyes,” Moore said.
The point in dedicating more attention to physical retail is being driven by the philosophy that if Outerknown wants to lead the sustainable revolution, Moore said, it should also lead the way at brick-and-mortar.
As for whether future growth will mirror the current momentum, it’s too soon to call, Moore said.
“We want to be in the right places, and it is hard to find great locations in the communities that we want to be a part of. So, we want to be patient.”
Moore is hopeful Denver could open as early as next year and said even locally in Outerknown’s backyard – the company is headquartered in Culver City – there is still room for the brand to grow. He estimates at minimum two more doors in Southern California over the next few years is realistic.
He also brings up the idea that it wouldn’t be farfetched for Outerknown to explore concept shop experiences, such as one dedicated entirely to its S.E.A. Jeans.
Those are all future considerations. In the nearer term, there’s plenty of headwinds keeping brands and retailers up at night.
Although, Outerknown is upbeat on what it’s seeing from consumers currently.
“We’re seeing momentum in our doors and that is quite positive,” Moore said, declining to speak to any financial specifics. “It could be that Outerknown is new and fresh in some of these places, and so they’re coming into our doors, but we remain optimistic.”
Moore also said the team is holding a similar view of the upcoming holiday selling season adding, “There’s clearly a lot of things that continue to happen in our world that we monitor, but we are seeing a lot of positive things happening in all of our channels.”
Kari Hamanaka can be reached at email@example.com.