Why Are So Many Fashion Brands Selling Home Stuff?

Photo: Courtesy of Jason Wu.
In March, clothing rental service Rent the Runway launched a home category, through which customers can borrow pillows, throws, and other textiles from West Elm. Just a few months later, in June, resale app Poshmark introduced its own homegoods section. Meanwhile, high-end designers like Jason Wu, Rachel Zoe, and Christopher Kane are launching home lines or collaborating on capsule collections with established home brands. Fashion is notoriously mercurial: A few seasons ago, you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing at least five off-the-shoulder tops, now we’re all trying to offload them from our closets (turns out, they’re very constricting!). But these days, it seems like the trend with the most lasting power isn’t a top or bag, but a well-appointed home.
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“I think, you know, the world has too many clothes,” posits fashion designer Nicole Miller, an early pioneer in the home space who is expanding into cookware this year. “There’s a whole shift. People are enjoying their homes and enjoying entertaining at home. Everybody’s into lifestyle and vacations; experiences, to them, are more important than clothing.”
If you’re a hardcore fashion obsessive, this observation may come as a surprise. Likewise, if you’re someone who has recently seen the inside of an elderly relative’s house, you could argue there are far too many homegoods on this planet, too. But Miller has a point. Millennials and Gen Z in particular have long been said to prefer experiences to objects. And while a couch, blanket, or oven mitt is technically a thing, it’s a thing that lives among us, as opposed to on us, or in a closet. It serves a clear purpose in our daily lives; it facilitates collective experiences in a way that a dress just doesn’t.
Legacy brands like Nicole Miller as well as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren have been spilling over into the lifestyle sector for a while. But today’s crossovers include smaller brands as well as companies like Poshmark, which as an app built for selling gently used clothes and accessories has a very different approach to retail. “We have seen fashion designers and brands go into the home space for some time, but now it is in even more interesting ways and across new product categories,” says Taryn Tavella, associate editor of lifestyle and interiors at trend forecasting firm WGSN.
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“I think it has a lot to do with longevity of investment,” explains Caitlin Shockley, founder of The Creative, a fashion PR agency. “Today, fashion trends change at lightning speed, and investing in fashion pieces may be viewed as less valuable than before, whereas you’re likely to live with a high design home item for much longer. The perceived value is larger for lifestyle products.”
Indeed, a 2018 study by the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M University found that people feel good about spending money on expensive items, as long as they feel they are doing so for the right reasons. While splurging on designer shoes, for example, can feel selfish — it’s something you probably don’t need and that pretty much only you will get to enjoy — buying home goods feels both more responsible and more communal. Whether it’s reasonable or not, there’s a good chance people feel better about buying home goods than they do clothes.
Consumer preferences aside, for some designers, there seems to be a desire to apply their vision to as many spaces as possible. “Design is a language, and I enjoy the challenge of finding practical applications of an idea and applying it across disciplines. When people think of Jason Wu, both my fashion and home design have a similar benchmark — it's modern, it’s beautifully crafted and well-considered with every detail,” says Wu, whose sofa collection with Interior Define dropped this June. He also says he’s interested in expanding further within the home sector. “I am inspired by the idea of designing an entire lifestyle.”
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Homeware, depending on the price point, is accessible to a huge number of people, and there are plenty of holes in the market. Which, if you’ve ever walked into Bed Bath & Beyond and tried to find, say, a fashion-conscious frying pan, is something you’re probably acutely aware of. “Cookware is something you interact with every day, and there isn’t a lot of stuff that’s really fascinating out there,” explains Miller, who describes her forthcoming collection as “whimsical.”
“I think it's really important when you operate a consumer business to be really in touch with your consumer,” says Poshmark co-founder Tracy Sun. “When you are not shifting your attitudes, beliefs, and plans according to what's important to your customer, then you're really dead in the water.”
And yet, there are some smaller brands choosing instead to focus on doing one thing and doing it really, really well. The London-based label Mother of Pearl, for example, says it’s actually taking the home offerings it introduced a few years ago off its website in order to focus on its sustainable womenswear collections. This makes sense, too; in the overcrowded world of contemporary fashion, we tend to gravitate towards brands that offer us something special that others can’t. If the trend towards total lifestyle domination continues to grow, the same logic may soon apply there. For now, though, we’re just excited at the possibility of couches and cookware that are as chic as the contents of our closet.
“I think the brands that ‘get it right’ are those who are inspiring customization,” says Shockley. “I think this is a really literal definition of the difference between fashion and style. Fashion is directive, and (life)style is centered on individuality.”
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