For more than 50 years, Ralph Lauren has successfully established and maintained its position as a classic brand. Whether customers are shopping for formalwear, athleticwear or home décor, they know they’re going to get high-quality goods designed with longevity in mind.
“Brand elevation is core to the Ralph Lauren strategy,” said Patrice Louvet, CEO of Ralph Lauren during a fireside chat at the NRF’s 2022 Big Show, held in New York Jan. 16-18. “We have a desire to be the leading luxury lifestyle company. The consumer is looking for aspirational product stories and we have a unique opportunity to serve them in this space.”
But given how consumers have become more digitally engaged and environmentally focused, how is Louvet reimagining the brand and the way it shows up in the world? As always, Ralph Lauren is “in the dreams business,” he said, but consumer behaviors and expectations that have accelerated during the pandemic have created a unique opportunity to elevate the brand through diverse experiences. For example, Ralph Lauren has pivoted toward more purposeful and values-driven communication that creates optimism and energizes consumers.
“Heritage sometimes isn’t enough,” Louvet admitted. “For us, it’s clearly been about innovating in how we engage with the consumer, the products we develop and [how we] go to market.” In addition to focusing heavily on how it speaks to, and gets product into the hands of, its 50 million consumers worldwide, Louvet pointed to four key priorities that are helping affirm the brand’s relevance and longevity:
- Venturing into the metaverse: Unsurprisingly, the metaverse was a hot topic at NRF, with even traditional brands like Ralph Lauren providing an insider’s view into their evolving strategies.
“We believe in the metaverse,” Louvet said. “Our goal is to win over the new generation and the new generation is there.” He admitted that because the metaverse is a completely new space, he and his team don’t have it all figured out. But this unchartered territory does create opportunity for experimentation: Ralph Lauren has a virtual coffee shop in Roblox where avatars can meet and have a cup of coffee, and shoppers can visit a virtual version of the Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue in New York City. The brand was even able to sell 100,000 units by offering digital apparel for avatars inside of Zepeto.
When asked by CNBC Closing Bell co-anchor Sara Eisen whether Ralph Lauren plans to release its own line of NFTs, Louvet noted that while they are having conversations internally, they “don’t just want to follow the trend. We want to do it in a way that’s meaningful and aligns with our strategy and overall brand vision.
- Doubling down on stores: Like many executives helming omnichannel businesses, Louvet emphasized the continued importance of physical locations. “We’ve opened 80 stores over the last year and are investing in more,” Louvet noted. He pointed to the success of the brand’s Milan and Shanghai locations, which have a hospitality component and are “very elevated from [the experiences of] three or four years ago.”
At a time when many retailers are shuttering flagships and rethinking their role in store portfolios, Ralph Lauren has opened more of them. “We still believe in the role of stores,” Louvet said. “We went through the big digital experiment [over the past two years] and there was a conversation of whether that was the future. But we’ve seen that isn’t sustainable.”
- Assessing wholesale partnerships: As with many brands, wholesale partnerships play an important role in Ralph Lauren’s growth strategy. However, Louvet noted that the brand is closely examining these partnerships to ensure they align with the brand vision. “Wherever we show up in stores, we want to make sure it’s portrayed in a way that’s consistent,” he said. Although Ralph Lauren has exited some mid-tier department stores, Louvet maintained his stance that department stores will continue to play a role in the Ralph Lauren ecosystem both in the U.S. and globally.
- Prioritizing sustainability: Ralph Lauren’s interest, activity and opportunity in sustainability has accelerated over the course of the pandemic, and Louvet revealed that his goal is to make the brand a leader in this area. After all, the Ralph Lauren brand is rooted in timelessness and has a natural connection to product circularity. “Whether it’s a tuxedo or a skirt, it’s not something that will just be worn for a year or two,” he said. “It’s something that you own for 20 years and still feel wonderful about it.”
Ralph Lauren has three guiding principles for its sustainability initiatives: stewardship, integration and impact. Louvet explained that as a company, Ralph Lauren believes it has a responsibility to leave the world a better place, so it is integrating sustainability into the entire business and all decisions, whether they concern store design, building management or product development. A current focus is on material sourcing, manufacturing and operations.
In the end, the company’s goal is to have a measurable and tangible impact with its sustainability focus. Ralph Lauren is a founding member of the Fashion Pact, a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry committed to stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. In May 2021, the brand unveiled Color on Demand, a multi-phased system designed to be the first scalable zero waste water cotton dyeing system.