Esprit Is Back in the U.S.

LOS ANGELES — It has been a decade since Esprit had a store in the U.S.

The California casual clothing label, founded more than 50 years ago in San Francisco before later moving its corporate headquarters overseas, disappeared from the U.S. retail scene in 2012 when its 93 stores grew unprofitable and a bigger push was made to set up retail posts in Europe and Asia.

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But Esprit is back in the U.S., recently doing a soft launch of a pop-up store here at the corner of Third Street and Robertson Boulevard, once a trendy shopping street looking to find itself again.

The brightly colored pop-up, with neon lights spelling out the Esprit name, will have a hard launch in mid-November and be open until the end of December. A permanent store will be set up across the street early next year at 143 South Robertson Boulevard.

The Los Angeles outpost is just the beginning of Esprit’s reentry into North America, being undertaken by its new chief executive officer, who is relaunching and rebranding the historic label. “We chose L.A. as the place to do a pop-up and to do the first store because it was originally a California brand,” said William Pak, who took over as Esprit’s CEO last March after serving as interim CEO since fall 2021. He is also the company’s chief operating officer. “The first product lineup in the store will be some local collaborations with some designers there in Los Angeles.”

A look from the Esprit collection.
A look from the Esprit collection.

Throughout next year more North American stores will arrive. Esprit is getting ready to open two stores next year in New York — one in SoHo and another on Fifth Avenue. The storied label is also scoping out retail locations in Canada — one in Vancouver and possibly as many as two in Toronto.

Esprit is working to relaunch its e-commerce site in North America as well, which should be ready by mid-November as part of the company’s omnichannel strategy.

The relaunch will revamp the Esprit collection with a California chic style mixed with a modern vibe. “The look will have a very minimalistic silhouette, but there will be a lot of attention to detail,” Pak said. “It will be something you’d be happy to wear to a Sunday brunch or a Christmas Day lunch but not to a formal night out or a night at the club.”

To help develop some of that look, Esprit and its creative staff combed through the company’s archives, which occupy 1,000 square feet in its offices in Germany. There were pictures, sketches, negatives, video reels and some clothing going back 50 years. “The new design elements will incorporate some of that in the future,” Pak noted.

Esprit has weathered years of financial ups and downs and has a complicated corporate history, which has taken the company’s headquarters from one part of the world to another.

It was founded in 1968 by Doug and Susie Tompkins as an iconoclastic San Francisco brand that used real people in its ad campaigns and asked young people to send in their suggestions on how to improve the world. Even in the ’90s, the brand was making clothing out of organic cotton.

By 1978, sales topped $100 million a year and the company had formed partnerships in Germany and Hong Kong. Since 1993, it has been listed on the Hong Kong stock market even though it basically had been headquartered for the past two decades in Germany, where the brand evolved into a fast-fashion label.

To this day, the bulk of the company’s stores are in Europe. There are 61 outposts in Germany and another 106 doors around Europe. In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic progressing, Esprit closed all its stores in Asia, but earlier this year opened one pop-up store in Seoul, South Korea, followed by a pop-up store in Hong Kong near Times Square.

Last year, under a corporate revamp, Esprit’s moved its global corporate headquarters from Germany, which is now the German headquarters, back to Hong Kong. This is where the company’s financing, operations and sourcing entities are now located.

After five years of losses totaling more than $1 billion, the company has returned to profitability. Last year, Esprit had a $48.5 million profit on $1 billion in revenues.

With its financial house looking healthier, the company has established hubs around the world to take care of different operations.

New York has been established as Esprit’s new global creative center where Ana Andjelic recently was named the company’s chief brand officer. This hub will also take charge of the label’s rebranding efforts.

Esprit’s London hub will take care of global customer experience innovation, and the Amsterdam hub will be in charge of global technology and denim innovation.

Bringing back retail is an important component to growing the company. “We feel that retail is the best ambassador for the brand,” Pak said. “This is where people can really integrate with Esprit.”