Build a better sweater

You can’t blame merchants for being reluctant to take risks going into this past holiday season, and few did. Now many are paying for it with reports of soft sales, layoffs, and mountains of unsold product to liquidate.

Of course it’s not all the merchants’ fault. Consumers weren’t eager to spend in the first place, given the steady stream of unsettling economic news. But there wasn’t much out there that motivated them to buy (Apple products notwithstanding).

I was wandering the local mall the week before Christmas, desperately seeking gifts. There were plenty of perfectly fine basics or generic gift items — cashmere sweaters, candles, calendars — but nothing that stood out.

Then I stumbled upon a store that I had never heard of, called WHO.A.U. According to its Website, “WHO.A.U stands for Who are you, a global brand with a passion for the California lifestyle with a vintage, luxury feel.”

A Google search finds that the chain — just launched in the U.S. in November — is, ironically, an offshoot of Korean retailer E.Land; the new brand’s mission is “to encourage the sense of individual expression and excitement.” How? With “guaranteed quality, sophisticated style and high brand value.”

Those sound like lofty statements, but I have to say, its mission was accomplished that day. I didn’t buy any gifts at WHO.A.U, but I did purchase a sweater for myself. (And judging from the creative on the company’s Website, I am well past the age of the target demographic.)

I considered waiting until after the holidays to buy it, since it would probably go on sale. But I didn’t want to risk the store selling out of it, or not having my size when I came back. I had to get it right then.

What was so great about this garment? I’m not even sure — it’s just a heavy wool beige tennis sweater with black trim and elbow patches. Maybe it looks like something my dad would have worn in the ’50s, and that spoke to me. Doesn’t matter — I wanted it, I bought it, and I love it.

What’s the moral of this story? We all know times are tough. If you’re going to land the sale, you have to offer quality, style and value; it also helps to “surprise and delight” customers, to use a way overused phrase. And if you do, you just may sell them a sweater.

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