When we're pining for, say, a velvet jumpsuit or a cropped bomber after spotting an on-point street style #OOTD, we'll head to one of our go-to fast-fashion emporiums or slightly sketchy, aggressively trendy overseas e-comms. But now, an unlikely retailer is giving super-topical (like, maybe only cool this month?) fashion a run for its money. Today, Kohl's launched K/lab, a very right-this-minute collection that's basically cribbed from your Instagram feed and created via an ultra-accelerated production cycle. There are new deliveries every week, both online and in-store. and once a style sells out, it's gone. Oh, and nothing's over $78.
"This is a speed initiative, put on steroids: Each collection will take between one to nine weeks to put together, and a total of 13 weeks to get it in-store; it'll be our fastest pipeline," Arthur Lewis, EVP of product development at Kohl's, told Refinery29. "This isn't fast fashion; it's real-time fashion." By comparison, it typically takes the retailer 32 to 42 weeks to get a collection onto racks. Even the idea for K/lab was fast-tracked: It was first conceived in February, meaning the whole concept came to fruition in nine months.
Each collection consists of approximately two weeks of trend-gathering — "100% data-informed, using Trendalytics, Google Trends, and Instagram," Lewis explained. Right now, that means Insta-approved pieces such as bell sleeves, bodysuits, bomber jackets, sweatshirts, and slip dresses layered with T shirts. After the right-this-minute trends are sussed out, the chosen items are designed by two manufacturers the retailer works with, and just a few short weeks later, the items hit shelves.
"There's no color palette or story theme, none of that," Lewis explained; the hues are plucked from what's trending at any given moment. There isn't a set number of items in each weekly drop, either: "This will be the most fluid collection in the entire store," he said. The concept is intended to address how people shop today: It's season-less, and with an expectation of "see now, buy now." "It's not about seeing a collection and waiting six months to buy it; our girl is looking at Instagram, Pinterest, her friends. So, our data-informed process will help curate these trends for her faster," Lewis said.
Kohl's also seems to hope K/lab will be a viable alternative for fast-fashion stalwarts. "The collection is sourced by the people, and that's why it's so different from Zara," Sofia Wacksman, VP of trends at Kohl's, told Refinery29. "They look to other major fashion labels, to the runway, to figure out their collections, and we look to real people and to trends that people are really wearing."
The K/lab in-store experience is also very different from other offerings: It looks more like a minimalist boutique than a strip-mall department store, and its racks are styled with suggested outfits instead of being merchandized with all available sizes of a specific item. So that means a velvet burnout bodysuit or sequined halter could appear on a few different racks, demonstrating multiple ways to wear it. K/lab will be stocked in a select range of stores, near urban areas and college campuses — that's where, according to Lewis, "early-adopter millennial customers" often shop (the core Kohl's customer is older). Sizing is juniors-esque — comparable to the retailer's popular LC Lauren Conrad line. Check out the collection, ahead.