Two retailers are seeking to really put the high into high fashion.
Last week Barney’s New York, which operates 15 luxury department stores and outlets in the US, announced it would open “The High End” in its Beverly Hills flagship. Deemed a “luxury cannabis lifestyle shop” the new concept will be tucked away on the fifth floor and feature a range of cannabis-based home, beauty and wellness products as well as a (presumably elevated) offering of accessories. The shop is scheduled to open next month and the products will also be available at barneys.com.
In making the announcement Barneys’ CEO Daniella Vitale said “Barneys New York has always been at the forefront of shifts in culture and lifestyle, and cannabis is no exception. Many of our customers have made cannabis a part of their lifestyle, and The High End caters to their needs with extraordinary products and service they experience in every facet of Barneys New York.”
Just a few days later, MedMen, the rapidly growing vertically-integrated retailer of CBD products, announced their new line of cannabis-inspired apparel. While we haven’t seen Barney’s offering quite yet, MedMen’s looks to be decidedly more casual and less expensive and is already available for sale online. The new line of men and women’s clothing is also available at MedMen’s 19 retail stores (expected to grow to at least 30 by year’s end).
As more states legalize marijuana, and societal attitudes shift, the notion of cannabis as a mainstream consumer product seems more real every day. And there certainly seems to be a great deal of investor interest. A dramatic expansion of CBD-based retail concepts and related products seems inevitable, particularly as the regulatory environment becomes more favorable.
Strategically, clearly Barney’s and MedMen approach the opportunity a bit differently, with the former taking a much more upscale approach befitting its more exclusive and affluent customer base. MenMen’s brand image is much more mass market, and its initial offering is in keeping with that positioning. Yet I am left wondering about the broader validity of their respective strategies.
MedMen’s product-line extension strategy makes total sense and follows in the line of many other “lifestyle” brands that look to extend their brand equity and sell more to customers they already have. And since MedMen is not yet licensed to sell their core offering in most states, there is a certain genius to marketing products that are “on brand” but do not have any regulatory issues. Moreover they are getting their brand out to markets where they may eventually have stores. I would say something about seeding future customers, but that seems way too obvious.
In my view, for Barney’s it’s a little more hazy (heh, heh). On the one hand, a brand should meet their customers where they are. If a significant number of Barney’s customers are experiencing the so-called cannabis lifestyle than finding a unique, on-brand way of meeting their needs seems eminently sensible. It’s also likely that the space where the new shop is going is not terribly productive, so this is a relatively inexpensive way to experiment. On the other hand, Barney’s has always been about leading edge, luxury fashion, so it’s less clear to me how this new venture reinforces their core brand equity (or moves them in a strongly desired evolution). In some ways, the Barney’s move feels more like a PR stunt. But time will tell.
In any event, it will be interesting to see how MedMen and Barney’s new forays play out and evolve, as well as how other retailers choose to pursue the CBD opportunity–or not. Whether it ultimately proves to be a bonanza or merely a fad remains to be seen. But for punsters it’s definitely a bull market.
A version of this story appeared at Forbes, where I am a retail contributor. You can check out more of my posts and follow me here.