Why I unapologetically love a traditionally 'uncool' retailer

I’m not sorry about what I’m about to say: I love shopping at Loft.

This goes back to the first time I ever stepped inside a Loft store. At the time, I was working freelance from home and didn’t have to worry about putting on (work-place appropriate, professional) clothes on every day. “This is what I would wear if I had a job in an office,” I thought.

In that sense, Loft is aspirational. It’s a bank account with money in it. It’s a home. It’s a healthy relationship. It’s secure — something women may not be excited to proclaim they want, but probably do want in some sense. 

Still, for many, it’s far from aspirational. It’s historically uncool, and it falls in the traditional “mall store” category, many of which are not faring particularly well right now. Loft is not quite in the fast fashion category, although if you wait a few weeks, that $US98 dress will be on sale, just as soon as a new dress gets shipped in; it operates on a highly promotional basis. It’s inexpensive, but it’s still not as cheap as a Forever 21 or H&M. It’s not sexy and sharp like Zara. It’s not for preppy fashionistas (with money to burn) like J. Crew.

But, it’s still not nearly as buttoned-up as its older sister, Ann Taylor. Loft’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, Michelle Horowitz describes the Loft girl as “optimistic.” Perhaps most importantly, the Loft girl was one very significant trait: She loves Loft. Horowitz says her job is just “amplifying the love.” 

And I confess: I’m one of those women. And I agree — there is nothing to hate about the Loft. In fact, there’s plenty — as the brand’s Instagram hashtag #loveloft suggests — to love about the brand.

In part, this is because the Loft girl is not concerned about impressing anybody. As Horowitz said in an interview with Business Insider, “we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” 

Who knows why the Loft girl isn’t concerned with the criticism of others. Maybe she’s married (or in a serious relationship), has put on a few pounds since, but has not let herself go completely. Maybe she doesn’t need trends or sex to lure a man; the Loft woman lures a man with her mind (or her really good listening skills). Maybe she’s too busy having fun with her friends to notice or care what he’s thinking. Or maybe she’s just preternaturally cool, and doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

The Loft woman is probably employed and wants to feel pretty enough — albeit appropriate —  when she goes to happy hour. But she’s going to let her hair down when she puts on a pair of boyfriend jeans over the weekend. Loft is relaxed — and Horowitz prides Loft on its ability to go from work week to weekend, as well as how Loft has very much tapped into the idea of the “new dress code,” as she puts it — which is more relaxed than its traditional, suited up counterpart. It’s true  — if you work in a creative industry like media, Loft provides a perfect ensemble.

It’s arguably tame, yes.  But for many women who maybe spent a good chunk of their twenties valiantly trying to impress others, Loft is a sigh of relief. It’s fun, relaxed, and comfortable, and there are times when many women — myself included — want to look good without the burden of bowing down to the altars of high fashion or the male gaze — and without subjecting ourselves to hideous apparel. And perhaps the best part about Loft’s clothes is that while they may release tiny cries of  ‘suburban mum,’ it’s that it hits the sweet spot of stylish and polished, without too much effort or beaking the bank.

That’s not to say Loft’s clothes are ugly — they’re not at all. The Loft woman is defined by cardigans and sweaters — two timeless wardrobe staples that, when worn with the right pair of jeans, exude confidence and security. And what Loft offers — timeless basics with twinges of trends (chambray, anyone?) — works for nearly anyone. Many skirts and dresses are, indeed, flirty, just not seductive.

Frequent Loft enough (and if you work near one, like I do, you might), and you’ll see that there is no real Loft customer. You’ll see the stay-at-home mum, the tired working woman with children, the elementary school teacher, the young professional (who works nearby), the girl who’s going to Sunday brunch. Loft — somehow — manages to do what few retailers manage to do: attract a wide demographic.

“There’s really something for everything at Loft,” Horowitz said, “that we don’t specifically target [anyone, like,] ‘we have to get the 25 to 34 year olds.’ It’s really about that connection with her at an individual level.” ‘Her’ is the Loft girl.

Loft won’t say it, but it’s been making concerted efforts to appeal to younger women — and if not, to engage the millennial woman on an amplified level. Look no further than its campaigns: the LOL Summer Movie Series curated by Whitney Cummings, a campaign with Hello Giggles, and video campaigns with Hot Mess Moves. It’s partnered with the popular food blog The New Potato, too. The brand also tapped Busy Phillips for a fall campaign, showing off that the brand isn’t uptight — it’s quirky. The campaign with Busy Phillips featured her daughter, arguably to to appeal to young mums.

The women the brand partners with, Horowitz said, are “tremendously successful, but successful in the sort of fun, optimistic [way], reaching our customer, but not selling to our customer, so to speak.”

And it’s paying off. The brand has a come a long way from being Ann Taylor’s lesser younger sister, plausibly since Austyn Zung joined the brand’s creative team 2010. Her thoughts on the brand are similar to what Horowitz explained. “LOFT is just relaxed. The clothes aren’t too constricted — they’re not too tucked-in or cinched,” Zung said to The Daily Front Row.

These efforts solidified themselves when Lena Dunham boasted how she wore a Loft outfit for three days in a row. She posted it on Instagram, claiming that it was also time for her to stop making jokes about Ann Taylor.

This speaks volumes about Loft. “We get the joke,” Horowitz said. “And we don’t take ourselves so seriously. And the irony is that … Lena loves our clothes!”

But also, the joke still exists, in part because the brand is still partially prone to ridicule. 

Loft may no longer be Ann Taylor’s lesser sister, but she still as a way to go before everyone sees her as cool. But Horowitz believes that if those naysayers get to know what Loft is really about, they might change their minds.

“I think a lot of people don’t realise what Loft is about, how multifaceted it is, and it’s more than just … how some of the people have perceived us,” Horowitz said.

And maybe some girls might be hesitant about converting to a brand that is sometimes subject to mockery, but what girl wouldn’t want to have a good job, enjoy her life, and the opportunity to reject the idea that she has to dress sexy all the time?

In that sense, Loft has hit the nail on the head of a particular demographic of women. It may not be representative of every girl, but there is a group of girls who are sitting back and relaxing and then going to bed by 10 p.m. They’re enjoying their turtlenecks, boyfriend jeans, and maxi dresses, and they’re probably laughing about how they’re glad they’re not dressed for the club.

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