These days it seems the most en vogue thing you can hear is not, “Don’t you love these boots, I bought them at Chanel,” but “You won’t believe where I got this blouse — it’s from Target!”
With that mentality, I went last week to preview a new “design collection” from mass retailer K-Mart. On the cab ride down to the Tribeca studio, I was nothing if not skeptic. The most I was expecting was a good free brunch.
Walking into the clean, minimal studio, I found myself exclaiming, “I can’t believe it’s K-Mart!” as if in a commercial for low-fat butter. Faux fur vests that cost as much as a week’s worth of lattes, treggings (a new term coined for the for the offspring between leggings and trousers), and lace-print T’s that capture this season’s romantic nostalgia were lined up on mannequins that could easily have been purloined fully clothed from the windows of H&M or Zara.
Unlike its competitor Target or “Tar-jay” for the stylishly inclined, K-Mart has never had a fashionable following. No one’s ever said, “K-Marché” when referring to the clothing department or proudly brandished a new purchase at a cocktail party — at least in New York.
Believe it or not, K-Mart has been upping its fashion game for the past five years, you probably just never heard about it. “We didn’t publicize it too much and we got to the point where we wanted to let people know,” said Kathy Huynh, VP of Women’s Apparel Design. “We’re just getting the word out there now. More people are recognizing it.”
With fashion and entertainment more fused together than ever, hunger for style and taste level have risen across every socio-economic level. That mom at home in Wisconsin watching Project Runway or The Rachel Zoe Project is being exposed to fashion through pop culture and suddenly desiring more than just running sneakers and boxy, one-size-fits-all jeans.
Rather than being intimidated by a cropped jacket with epaulet shoulders, they’re looking for it at a price they can afford. “The customer is hungry for affordable, good quality fashion,” Huynh said. “We’re in an age where everything is available online. They know what’s happening already, they just want access to it. They know that military is in. We want to be able to give it to them. “
Budget-conscious fashion has been exploding over the last decade with retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara leading the way, desire, and expectation for high style at low prices. Now with designer collaborations and partnerships, almost everyone can have a pair of Jimmy Choo heels (H&M) or Zac Posen dress (Target) in their wardrobe. Fashion is starting to feel more inclusive, egalitarian, and inviting.
With K-Mart also getting into the game, consumers almost have no choice left but to be stylish.