There’s a new day dawning at Eddie Bauer.
The company is debuting a brand repositioning and expansion strategy that includes an updated logo and messaging to embrace its outdoor roots, a heightened focus on wholesale and an enhancement of its presence outside of North America.
One year ago, the Bellevue, Washington-based outdoor brand brought Tim Bantle on board as chief executive officer. Bantle had an extensive background in the outdoor industry, serving as general manager of VF Canada, as well as in key roles at The North Face, Black Diamond Equipment and Patagonia.
Upon joining the company Bantle realized there were a lot of missed opportunities for growth. “What I encountered was that the business was at a pivotal point,” he said. “I realized it had heritage and authenticity, but it didn’t have a well-established wholesale or international business.”
The company was founded in 1920 by a Pacific Northwest sportsman named Eddie Bauer and was almost exclusively direct-to-consumer, selling through its own fleet of stores in the U.S. and Canada, as well as online. While it did have a deal with Kohl’s to sell its outdoor-inspired product and there had been limited international distribution, neither was enough to really move the needle.
So Bantle started to put the wheels in motion on a “moderate repositioning and rebranding” that would address those missed opportunities.
Step one was to immerse himself in the company’s rich archives, even reading as much as he could from the documents left by Eddie Bauer himself.
“When you come into a 100-year-old brand, the first thing you have to ensure is that you do no harm,” he said. “This is one of the great Americana outdoor brands and it was very open to a refresh. But I quickly recognized that our brand mark could use some love.”
The logo was actually the name Eddie Bauer in script. Not only was it challenging to put on product, but young people today are no longer taught to read cursive writing, so it needed to be changed.
The new brand features a goose in flight along with the company’s name in block letters, the words Outdoor Outfitters and the date of its founding. “We brought back the goose,” Bantle said, adding that it had been used on and off since the company’s inception.
The logo will be used on the company’s e-commerce and social sites this fall and will make its appearance on product next year, he said. “It’s a really big move, but we will do it with a lot of humility.”
Then he turned his attention outside the borders of North America. Although Eddie Bauer had worked with licensees in Japan and Europe in the past, when the company was purchased by Authentic Brands Group in May of 2021 that business “paused,” he said. “It went dark for around 18 months.”
But stores and shops-in-shop in Japan will begin opening next month, and they will incorporate the new branding, he said. That will be followed shortly after by the U.K. and Northern Europe, and then Central Europe.
Eddie Bauer operates 260 of its own stores in the U.S. and Canada, most of which are mall-based, and they are split between full-price and outlets. Bantle said there are no immediate plans to significantly add to that number, but the store fleet will be “refined opportunistically.”
Instead, the primary growth will come from wholesale. “We have a partnership with Kohl’s that started two years ago and we’re building that business,” he said, adding that the moderately priced retailer is adding outdoor-inspired shops to its stores and Eddie Bauer is “a key partner” in that initiative.
The company also works with Costco on an “item-level basis,” and that also represents a big volume opportunity.
Bantle said when he joined Eddie Bauer last year, wholesale represented only 10 percent of sales. Today that number has doubled, but he said he would ultimately like to see an even split between wholesale and direct retail.
Turning to product, Bantle said Christopher Bevans, the designer that his predecessor hired in May 2022 with much fanfare as the company’s first creative director, is no longer with the brand. Instead, the collection is being designed by an internal team.
While it may have its roots in outdoor products, Bantle said sportswear — or “everyday performance” product — represents over half of sales. This is one of the differentiators between Eddie Bauer and the other key outerwear brands such as Canada Goose.
Plus, Eddie Bauer’s prices are a lot lower. A down jacket can cost $100 to $200 at Eddie Bauer but sell for $400 or more at Patagonia, $900 or more at Canada Goose and well more than $1,000 at Moncler.
“We do things that are rooted in authenticity,” he said. “We strive to be broad, democratic and highly inclusive,” he said. “I venture to say our competition is the opposite. We have the opportunity to be a trusted, affordable outdoor brand. We’re not going to compete where we can’t win.”
He said that more than half of Americans regularly participate in outdoor activities. “So we have an opportunity to address that and be where people shop.”
Partnerships will also be important to Eddie Bauer going forward. The company was a pioneer in the field by inking a deal with Ford Motor Co. in 1983 for Eddie Bauer-branded SUVs. More recently it has teamed with Camping World on a line of RVs. It also licenses backpacks, footwear and luggage and works with Huckberry on a Skyliner down jacket.
But while other licensees may come on board, Bantle said not to expect many collaborations from the brand going forward. In the past, the company has collaborated with The Great, Baja East, A$AP Rocky and others. “I think we’re past the peak with collaborations as an industry,” he said. “But licensing is a very big part of what we do.”
As the rebranding and repositioning gain steam, Eddie Bauer will communicate its new messaging through its social media and e-mail channels. And in the fall, when the updated product and branding hit stores, he expects to be more vocal about the updates.
“We’ll have a number of launch events, but after people can actually buy the product,” he said.