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Loft Is Outpacing Ann Taylor. Here's Why

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Loft, the lower-priced, more casual Ann Taylor spin-off, is a bit of an anomaly in retail. While competitors like Talbots and Gap are struggling, Loft has hit its stride. WWD reports that the brand has just registered 11 consecutive quarters of growth, which is fairly remarkable in the current retail climate.

On the other hand, big sister brand Ann Taylor is not struggling, exactly, but it's not skipping down Cash Lane, either. After several seasons of ups and downs, WWD reports that this is the first quarter in some time that in-store sales are up. Even so, Ann Taylor sales totaled $233.3 million last quarter, compared to $361.6 million at Loft.

Of the two brands, Ann Taylor has been around longer and has a stronger reputation for quality and lifestyle (is wasn't until 2009 that Loft dropped the Ann Taylor from it's name and was sent out into the retail world on its own two slightly lower-priced feet.) But Loft now has almost twice as many stores as Ann Taylor and seems to have found its niche.

Loft's president Gary Muto attributes the brand's strength to its accessibility. "We never do superserious clothing. There's definitely more of a casual handle here. We're not intimidating at all. It's welcoming. It's approachable fashion," he told WWD.

Ann Inc.'s CEO Kay Krill thinks it's about versatility. "It's a brand that works everywhere, in urban areas, suburban areas, small markets, midmarkets, lifestyle centers," she said. "It's a brand that appeals to everybody. It's ageless."

Also, it's about pricing. The most expensive item currently listed on Loft.com's "New Arrivals" page is a $148 printed trench coat. Everything else is under $100, and 70% to 80% of the brand's merch is always priced under $50.

So while Loft is ramping up, WWD reports that Ann Taylor is reigning it in. Stores will be remodeled to feel more boutiquey—less square footage, more variety in product and fewer piles of the same sweater, and a stronger focus on visual merchandising and styling. Also, the product will be focusing less on suits, which have traditionally been Ann Taylor's bread and butter, and instead on blouses, skirts, and dresses. (We've seen the fall collection—it's accessible, but also fun and fashion forward. Think trendy colors and the occasional peplum.)

So what about you: Do you find yourself shopping more often at Loft or Ann Taylor? What do you think is the difference between the two? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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