Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
For many brands of the early 2010s, the direct-to-consumer business model is a point of pride: It’s a signal of innovative thinking and a selling point to customers on the basis of transparency and quality product at a lower price point. But there comes a time in every startup’s life when it grows up and starts to act more like a traditional retailer.
In recent years, Nordstrom has systematically become the go-to for popular direct-to-consumer startups that are ready to dip a toe into the wholesale business, like Allbirds and Everlane, both of which have run limited-time partnerships with the department store. On Monday, Reformation became the latest young brand to hook up with Nordstrom, as first reported by Business of Fashion.
This deal is more involved than others, however, and a big change for the LA-based brand, which is known for its focus on sustainability and sexy-but-cool-but-sexy dresses. Rather than simply opening a pop-up (that is, participating in the Pop-In@Nordstrom program, as Allbirds, Everlane, and Warby Parker have), Reformation went the Draper James route and took on the chain as its first official, permanent stockist, a rep for the brand tells Racked. It will be sold on Nordstrom’s website and at 20 Nordstrom stores for the foreseeable future.
Founders of startups that join up with Nordstrom tend to give the same reason for doing so: introduction to a new, wider swath of customers. The same is true of Reformation, which currently operates 11 stores in addition to its online shop. Per its press release about the Nordstrom launch: “This partnership means more people can get their Ref fix IRL and more importantly, we can bring sustainable fashion to a new (and much bigger) group of customers and closets that don’t know us yet.”
Reformation’s stores are heavily clustered in New York and California, with one in Boston and another in Dallas. Nordstrom brings it to Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Illinois, and Pennsylvania while spreading it more widely across its home state.
While Pop-In@Nordstrom aligns the chain with up-and-comers like Goop and Allbirds, or work with establishment players like Nike and Vans in more experimental ways, a long-term wholesale partnership with a brand like Reformation offers sustained access to a young, fervent fan base.
The term “direct to consumer” is often used as shorthand for a brand’s overall positioning — implying that it’s trendy, modern in design, and aimed at affluent, coastal millennials (even if its actual customer base is much broader and more diverse than that) — when in fact it’s just a description of how the company sells stuff. When a player like Reformation changes course and seriously gets into the wholesale game, that distinction comes into clear focus.