Territory Ahead chases women

Who is Isabella Bird? Travel buffs may know Isabella Bird as a turn-of-the-century adventure writer. But for catalog shoppers, her name will be synonymous with a new women’s clothing book-or so hopes casual apparel cataloger The Territory Ahead (TTA), which launched the Isabella Bird spin-off in February. The new book mailed to an undisclosed number of TTA female buyers and to prospects from compiled, catalog, and magazine lists.

“We found that women were interested in TTA’s casual man-tailored apparel line but were also looking for more fashion-forward styles and fabrics,” says TTA president/founder Bruce Willard. “But it was necessary to provide a separate venue for that type of merchandise so as not to cannibalize the identity of the men’s line.” Since 1995, one-third of TTA’s merchandise has been geared toward women.

Isabella Bird marks TTA’s first time using models; the flagship catalog props its exclusive merchandise on hangers, fences, and other inanimate objects. “Women’s apparel really needs a body underneath it to show off the product,” Willard says. “Customers have to see the drape of the fabric on the model to get a sense of what the product is.”

The apparel featured in Isabella Bird also strays from TTA’s traditional natural-fiber offerings. While some of the merchandise is made of cotton and the like, others are made of rayon and other synthetics. Because the new fabrics are more expensive than the natural fibers, Isabella Bird’s prices are roughly 10% higher than those of the original catalog.

A voice of her own What’s more, the catalog’s copy has a woman’s voice to it, Willard says. Interspersed among the product descriptions are quotations from women writers such as Maya Angelou, Fran Lebowitz, Emily Dickinson, and Isabella Bird herself. “The woman’s voice in Isabella Bird is the alter ego of the Mark Twain voice in TTA,” Willard says, referring to the copy’s resemblance to travel diary entries-complete with detailed descriptions and witty prose. “The copy is definitely part of our identity.”

Although Willard declines to share Isabella Bird’s circulation, he admits that because TTA designs and manufactures its own clothing, higher circulation may be required. Say a catalog offered 100 different apparel styles; the manufacturer would likely set a production minimum of 500 units per style. “The toughest issue in an exclusive line of apparel is the production minimums set by the manufacturers,” Willard says.

TTA then has to determine how many units it must sell in each style to justify the cost of manufacturing. Based on the above numbers and given fabric costs, Willard estimates that the catalog would have to generate $2 million in sales to see a return.

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