With Plans to Turn Around Fashion Business, Walmart Debuts ‘Elevated’ Men’s and Women’s Brand

Over the past few years, Walmart has ramped up its arsenal of fashion brands in a bid to compete more heavily in the style space and nab a larger share of consumers’ wallets. Today, the big-box giant is doubling down on that goal with the launch of a new men’s and women’s label — developed by an in-house team of designers led by former Bonobos exec Dwight Fenton.

In a statement, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company announced the debut of Free Assembly, touted as a “modern fashion brand that offers elevated style essentials at an incredible value.” The fall line includes more than 30 items for women and 25 pieces for men, each priced between $9 and $45.

“Through our ongoing strategy of expanding our assortment for our customers, we’ve shown that we’re serious about establishing Walmart as a fashion destination,” said Denise Incandela, SVP of Walmart’s women’s group, elevated and online brands. “With Free Assembly, we had a vision to create a new kind of brand that would entice any fashion shopper.”

According to Walmart, the collection has been two years in the making. Along with Fenton, a team of women’s and men’s designers, tech designers and product managers came up with the brand concept, sketched designs, hand-picked fabrics from mills and finalized each garment’s details, from threading and buttons to trims, fits and washes.

On top of Free Assembly, the retailer also owns the denim-focused Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vergara as well as Scoop — a once-defunct brand that Walmart revived last year.

“I’ve had a front row seat to the transformation happening in Walmart’s fashion business,” said Fenton, who also has experience designing for brands like J.Crew and Old Navy. “What’s been missing is a brand that offers modern essentials, so we set out to build that brand.”

Walmart, however, had faced challenges in its fashion push: For example, three years ago, it snapped up Shoebuy (now Shoes.com) for about $70 million, purchased ModCloth for $50 million and acquired Bonobos in a $310 million deal. But in late August, it was revealed that the chain planned to divest Shoes.com to affiliates of private equity firm CriticalPoint Capital. Last fall, it agreed to hand over ModCloth to brand investment firm Go Global Retail, while some reports have suggested that Bonobos is still not profitable for the retailer.

With Free Assembly, Walmart continues to beef up its more successful private label businesses, which tend to appeal to a more budget-conscious consumer, with prices staying below the $50 mark.

“Free Assembly rounds out our elevated brands portfolio to offer customers incredible market value among modern clothing brands available today,” Incandela added. “I’m confident that this new brand will quickly become an essential part of their everyday wardrobe.”

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