Despite changing times and trends, SouthPole has sustained their position as one of the best selling brands in the urban apparel industry against their luxury driven competitors. After a successful 10-year run, SouthPole launched Lot 29 in 2001 - the brand best known for flashy design prints with cartoon characters like Wile E. Coyote and Sylvester The Cat.
As their team strives to diversify and distinguish the two brands, they have utilized marketing star power of celebrities like Juelz Santana, Marques Houston, Cassidy, Keyshia Cole, K.D. Aubert, Mario, Ciara and Americas Next Top Model winner Jaslene Gonzalez.
We went behind the scenes of the Lot 29 Spring/Summer 2008 ad campaign photo shoot with Cassidy, Jaslene and Janice Welles (Director of Marketing-Advertising). We discussed what is truly important to the brands and how they stay competitive in such a crazy marketplace.
AllHipHop.com: Cassidy and Jaslene, what is it about the brand Lot 29 that interested you to work with them, and is this a brand which you would wear every day?
Cassidy: Well, my manager J. Irving had an on going relationship with Lot 29 and SouthPole through some other artists that he manages. He told me that they were interested in getting new models. Thats how I got a chance to meet the people that run Lot 29.
We started having meetings and conversations, and I got really interested in the clothing line. I saw they had a lot of potential and I wanted to help them get more popular. Especially, Where Im from me being a celebrity, rapper and musician: I know the things that I wear, say, and do people tend to follow.
Even though I dont try to be a role model, I know that Ive got followers. So, if I rock Lot 29 and let people know its a hot clothing line, essentially itd be more successful. I wanted to play a part with helping them design and style the clothes that I will be comfortable wearing, so that other people could be comfortable wearing them.
A lot of people [designers] have good ideas and talents, but they might not be in the hood or around people from the hood, like Im in the hood. I can bring things to the table that others cant. I know exactly whats hot and how they want to wear it.
Jaslene: Lot 29 came at me after I won [Americas Next Top Model] and every experience after the show has been great. They said, We would love for you to be the new face of Lot 29. I was like Yeah of course. You know, anything thats placed in my path, I feel like thats what God put and obviously hes given me the opportunity to do what I do best. I feel blessed. Oh Yeah - I wear the clothes.
AllHipHop.com: Youve got on Tweety Bird now.
Jaslene: Yeah, I have a Tweety on. I was a big fan of these [cartoon] characters before the brand started. [Lot 29] Its very animated, young, fresh and what everyones buying. I get a lot of compliments in [the clothes].
AllHipHop.com: Exactly. How could you rep a line that you wouldnt wear yourself? [smiles] Janice, what direction do you feel you want to go in with future spokes models?
Janice: Before we were looking into popular singers. This is a clothing business and we want someone who has a good look for the brands as well. With Lot 29 I have a model Jaslene, and Cassidy who is a Hip-Hop artist. For SouthPole, we have K.D. Aubert an actress and celebrity who has supported the brand from day one we signed her up. So we have a balance of the elements.
Cassidy and Jaslene at the Lot 29 photo shoot
AllHipHop.com: What birthed Lot 29?
Janice: Lot 29 was started in 2001, set in a small niche market for someone who wants to distinguish themselves in a unique way - more bold and colorful. So, we study to maintain as more of a niche, mezzanine brand. Distribution wise we are in Macys and other stores. We wanted to expand our presence as a brand with design and quality accents.
AllHipHop.com: When you say mezzanine, what do you mean? Different levels or tiers of product quality?
Janice: Im kind of talking about price points. When you see there is a really high price point sort of like Macys, and their kind of distribution. Mid-tier [mezzanine] is a department store like J.C. Penny and Sears.
AllHipHop.com: What was the inspiration behind the brands SouthPole and Lot 29?
Janice: Basically, I would describe SouthPole as trend-based. We are definitely crossing over and more trend-driven just like any other company starting as an urban brand. We found a niche and the opportunity, being that the urban mid-tier consumers are underserved. So we are targeting those retail consumers who are mid-tier. They are price savvy, yet want to be in fashion. Lot 29 as a brand is more mezzanine and affordable luxury. Luxury can be very expensive, but teenagers or young adults can go to retailers like [Macys] and get that level of a price point and still achieve the trendy look.
AllHipHop.com: Have you incorporated the use of different fabrics and techniques in the re-vamping of the brands?
Janice: Definitely, in [junior s/womens wear] skinny jeans are still in. Therefore, fabric wise cut-modal is a kind of light fabric that accentuates a womans features. As you know, the 80s are back and everything is tight and showing the silhouette. So in 2008, worldwide trend is the 80s retro, rock star, and bling is still in.
AllHipHop.com: Are we talking about for both brands?
Janice: Yes. We have to pay attention to these worldwide trends very closely, because teenagers can be very fickle, and we have to stay on top of our game.
AllHipHop.com: Have you been marketing to expand the brands horizons by reaching out to more women as your core consumer?
Janice: SouthPole started its business as a young mens brand, and the juniors brand [young womens wear] has grown significantly in 2007. For guys, its a lot of earth tones, metallics, and rock star.
AllHipHop.com: Do you specifically target regions, and [with your big following in the UK], have you taken the street wear brands further via marketing internationally?
Janice: Definitely. That leads to me to the distribution. SouthPole is more of a global brand, in the U.K., Germany [our biggest international market], Spain, Italy, and France as well. We did have things going on in Canada and Japan, but have decided to focus more on the European market. Also we have our separate distribution which is based in Germany because its a bigger. Our global operation is very hard to copy. But for Lot 29, [distribution] is all throughout the United States.
AllHipHop.com: I know SouthPole and Lot 29 were marketed separately. What was the reason behind that?
Janice: SouthPole and Lot 29 are not sub-brands. The focus was to market the brands separately and with two different design and merchandising teams. SouthPoles target audience is the middle and high school student, and with Lot 29 it is from high school to college. In 2007, we really focused on nationwide marketing tactics with mall and school tours. We are focusing on promoting education. Unfortunately, [high school] drop-out rates in New York and New Jersey are the highest throughout the United States.
AllHipHop.com: Very interesting.
Janice: So, we have started an alliance with Entertainers for Education Alliance. They are a charity group and we have been working together very tightly. The basic idea is that nowadays, teenagers are focusing on entertainment and fashion, so we are entertaining and rewarding them by inviting them to some exclusive concerts [and different things] - but they have to listen to their teachers, go to school, and stay in school.
AllHipHop.com: And you keep track [of students grades] by getting progress reports from the kids?
Janice: Yes, a lot of principals are really appreciative about what we are doing. We are empowering them. Recently, they had a seminar with 40 schools from the New York tri-state area. Twenty principals attended this event and are appreciating someone saying, Kids listen, if you come to school for one month if you show up on time everyday, Im going to bring you to this concert. Its like all of a sudden they listen to you.
Cassidy is [great]. He supports the brand. Recently, we had an event with 2,000 high school students and he couldnt make it. So, he did a video recording saying [to students]: Kids stay in school, education is really important. Then the kids were singing along to his music, it was really exciting. I could see it in their eyes how much his message meant to them. We have to give them the tools, so they can get a proper education. Lot 29 is really promoting education. Its a good cause, and that one individual can really do a great thing through the brand.
AllHipHop.com: Thats amazing.
Janice: Also, we [Lot 29] are definitely doing more guerilla marketing, street teams and fashion awards. Our exposure has been huge. We are going to participate in Miami Fashion Week Again. We were also on the cover of Miami Herald and on BETs Black Carpet and [in] Billboard Magazine. I believe [AllHipHop.com] covered it too. So we are excited to be there again next March. With SouthPole we are doing a lot of bigger things. We did Americans Next Top Model.
AllHipHop.com: Yes, you have Jaslene, last seasons winner. We heard you have been working with them for the last three seasons.
Janice: Actually, Jaslene is a Lot 29 endorser. We have worked with them for a while and with SouthPole as well.
AllHipHop.com: I know that your original design concepts of Lot 29 were more cartoon [characters], now its become more sophisticated and SouthPole went from being basic to trendy. Whats new for 2008?
Janice: In 2008 we are launching two more characters, Superman and Batman, and doing a lot of Warner Brothers [character] inspired graphics, yet, in our own way developing to provide more branded outfits. Lot 29 is more colorful, with logos and icons, and more of a non-character theme that is more for someone who is older in High School or College. Too heavy graphics, make it harder to mix and match. SouthPole is more luxury and ski resort.
AllHipHop.com: Your brand has managed to survive and bypass the other urban apparel brands. What do you feel has contributed to your longevity?
Janice: We are business people, so we dont have a celebrity as a CEO. We just keep changing our face. Then whenever we do photo shoots, we use people who are relevant at the moment. Constantly refreshing, we need to follow young adults - wherever they go, thats where we are going. If you can get people to see the difference between the brands thats the way you can expand your brand.
With Lot 29, we have been partnering with Warner Brothers [Looney Toons] and are one of their licensees. Its a great partnership. We recently signed up with DC Comics [Superman] as well. Bottom line, marketing is key. The three keys to our success [are] quality, price, and design. If you can match those three, you can have longevity in this business. Especially now, with the economy going down, people are worrying about recession. With our business model and price points we dont get hurt, only thrive. Thats the best.