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How Reformation is designing for Gen Z, without losing its dedicated millennial customers

July 19, 2022, 1:14 PM UTC
Reformation CEO Hali Borenstein standing behind a chair.
Reformation CEO Hali Borenstein.
Courtesy of Reformation

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Mary Barra believes GM can outpace Tesla in EV sales by 2025, small businesses in Texas grapple with addressing the state’s antiabortion laws, and Reformation is balancing the needs of its Gen Z and millennial customers. Have a lovely Tuesday.

– Ref report. Hali Borenstein stepped into the CEO role at Reformation in June 2020—not a great time to be the preeminent retailer of wedding guest dresses. “Selling dresses during the pandemic is not to be recommended,” she says wryly now.

In the two years since, Borenstein has focused on building an apparel assortment that appeals to the longtime Reformation customer—millennials—while also attracting Gen Z. “Gen Z is where the bulk of new customers are coming in,” she explains. “But the people who have been with us for years are our highest-value customers.” They’re also the demographic most likely to have the means to afford its dresses, usually priced in the $200-$300 range. Since Borenstein took over, the company says it has experienced 50% sales growth year-over-year and “double-digit profit margins.”

The result of that dual strategy is a mix of trend-forward pieces and classic Ref styles like midi dresses, meant to draw in new customers, serve the longtime fan, and convince shoppers to try something new. Borenstein and I spoke a few weeks ago about her strategy at one of Reformation’s most highly trafficked stores in New York. Located in Soho, the store often has a line out the door on weekends, but only a handful of shoppers stopped by on a Monday afternoon.

Reformation CEO Hali Borenstein standing behind a chair.
Reformation CEO Hali Borenstein.
Courtesy of Reformation

The longtime Reformation exec was promoted to the top job after founder Yael Aflalo stepped down in 2020 amid allegations of racism at the company. Borenstein began as a director of merchandising in 2014, climbing up Reformation’s corporate ladder to president before stepping in to take over at a moment of crisis.

The leadership transition was a period of reckoning for the business. The company joined the Black in Fashion Council, rewrote its corporate values, and implemented a host of D&I initiatives, it says. Its internal crisis also coincided with fast-changing external trends. The brand, which relies heavily on data and technology (shoppers may be familiar with its high-tech dressing rooms), is working diligently to create increasingly new and different products as it looks to keep up with faster trend cycles—thanks to Tik Tok—the rise of Gen Z and the fast-fashion giant Shein.

Gen Z and millennial customers have their stylistic differences, too. Gen Z is more likely to buy prints and chunky shoes, prompting the brand to relaunch a shoe category after a failed debut. Millennials are more likely to prefer the brand’s more traditional designs, while denim is a fast-growing category for all shoppers, Borenstein says. Most important for the brand is evolving its product offerings to meet changing customer demands, offering work-appropriate and parenthood-friendly attire alongside its traditional event pieces.

The brand has faced criticism in the past for failing to offer inclusive sizing, which Borenstein acknowledges, noting that extended and petite sizing are still a small part of the brand’s business. But as much as Reformation is working to appeal to new customers, some things don’t change: dresses are still its largest category.

“I hope we’re growing up, and I hope we’re maturing,” Borenstein says.

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Electric feel. General Motors CEO Mary Barra expects her company to sell more electric vehicles than Tesla by the middle of this decade—an ambitious goal, but one that Barra is confident GM can meet. Her strategy? Selling cars at an affordable price range along with higher-priced specialty vehicles, while banking on breakthroughs in car battery development and supply chain standardization to ensure prices stay low. Associated Press

- According to plan. British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline completed the spinoff of its consumer health care business, now called Haleon, on Monday. The spinoff is a key part of chief executive Emma Walmsley’s plan to boost financial growth at the parent company, allowing it to focus on pharmaceutical and vaccine developments. Under Walmsley’s leadership, GSK has already boosted its research spending and increased its medicines pipeline. It expects prescription drugs and vaccine sales to hit £33 billion by 2031. Wall Street Journal

- Small biz, big probLarge employers have started to cover abortion procedure and travel costs in states that ban pregnancy termination. But small businesses are struggling to figure out how to respond. Small businesses' health care plans are often regulated by the state and thus barred from covering abortion care. Wall Street Journal

- Changed court. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was familiar with the Supreme Court before her confirmation: she clerked for former Justice Stephen Breyer for the term ending in the summer of 2000. While there are some similarities between the court she clerked for and today’s court—Republican-appointed justices made up the majority of both courts—the increased ideological polarization between the justices marks a major transformation from the court she once knew. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Latinx-owned venture fund Mendoza Ventures has appointed Asya Bradley as senior partner. Digital accessibility company Deque Systems has hired Glenda Sims as chief information accessibility officer. Former global head of marketing for HP Print and Sustainability Impact Cristina Bondolowski has joined finance company MSCI as chief marketing officer. Subscription and payments platform Recharge has hired Ashley Grech as chief operating officer. ZenBusiness, a tech platform for entrepreneurs, has hired Katie Royce as chief financial officer.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Take action. As the U.K. braces for possibly record-setting temperatures this week, and continental Europe battles ongoing droughts and wildfires, climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré says the tools needed to end climate change already exist. Political paralysis, however, stands in their way. Now, Le Quéré, who serves as a climate advisor to the U.K. and France, says it's time for politicians to act. Financial Times

- Get well soon. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland broke her leg while hiking in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park on Sunday. Haaland thanked park staff, Capitol Police, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for their care in a statement. An agency spokeswoman said Haaland was expected to return to work virtually later on Monday. Associated Press

- New heights. Spain’s Supreme Court struck down a rule requiring a minimum height for women joining the country’s police force on Monday. Previously, Spain's National Police Corps required women must be at least 5 feet 3 inches, and men at least five-four. A female plaintiff argued the rules were favorable to men because only 3% of Spanish men wouldn’t meet the requirement, compared to 25% of women. Washington Post 

- If left to states. GOP Sen. Ted Cruz said in a podcast episode released Saturday that the Supreme Court was “clearly wrong” in its 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, insisting marriage should be left to states. A recent uptick in anti-LGBTQ legislation gives a worrying look at the fate of LGBTQ couples if federal protections are removed. A record-breaking 162 anti-LGBTQ bills, primarily targeting transgender and nonbinary people, were introduced in 35 states in the first six months of this year, compared to 151 bills introduced in all of 2021.

ON MY RADAR

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She warned other women on TikTok about her ex-boyfriend. Then she received a cease-and-desist CNN

What are abortion code words even for? Atlantic

Emilia Clarke says there's 'quite a bit' of her brain missing after surviving two aneurysms Vanity Fair 

PARTING WORDS

"You want to run away and you want to hide from those difficult moments, but they’re there no matter what. I knew I needed to face this, and I could either choose to do it in shame, or I could choose to stand up straight [and] bare my soul."

-Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin on her decision to openly share her grief from losing her father and mental health struggles after being disqualified from three races at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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