Venture capitalist Christopher Burch (pictured below) is not new to the fashion business. He founded sportswear company Eagle Eye with his brother in the 1980s while still a student at Ithaca College with an investment of $2,000. When he sold off his last interest in the company in 1999, the deal valued the brand at $60 million. His most high profile fashion foray was as a founder of Tory Burch in 2004 (at that point his wife). Initially, Burch acted as Chairman and Chief Executive of the label and Tory was Founder and Creative Director (he remains on the board).
Burch’s latest fashion venture is C. Wonder -- a lifestyle brand that includes clothing, home décor and accessories with its first store opening this week in Soho. And while Tory Burch was founded with the premise of offering luxury with prices predominately under $500, C. Wonder is taking that philosophy a step further -- the average price in the store is under $40. Burch said, “We came to the store from the point of view of the customer. It was critical to us that we give luxury with an extraordinary price point for a lot of Americans to afford.”
C. Wonder seems to be taking much of its cues from the retail lessons learned from the most recent recession -- including the importance of value and customer service. Burch said of the process of developing the brand, “We lived in the factories with the owners. We spent a lot of time in Asia and Europe to make sure that we got the best value for our customer.” As for customer service, returns will be accepted “forever." Instead of waiting in lengthy check-out lines, all sales associates will be equipped to take a customer's credit card throughout the store, enabling everyone to pay on the spot. And personalization is key (further emphasizing that customer comes first mantra) -- from make your own charm bracelets, to monogramming and engraving that is all done in-store. Burch said, “We want to provide an experience for our customer, our customer comes first, period. I come dead last.”
It’s no doubt that C. Wonder will draw comparisons to Tory Burch -- the company’s graphic logo and preppy, colorful basics are right out of the same playbook. But it is also sourcing inspiration from other retailers -- Urban Outfitters for instance, which has won accolades for merchandising its arrays to promote an element of discovery. C. Wonder boasts over 1,600 Skews, according to Burch, and offerings from plates, to pillows, to bags. “It’s really important that we have an array of merchandise,” Burch said. The brand also seems to be taking inspiration from J.Crew where splurge items sit expertly beside more affordable options – in C. Wonder’s case a $1,900 Vespa sits beside $128 down vests.
As for whether success will strike again for Burch, he seems confident. Following the opening of the Soho store, three more stores will open this fall and there are further expansion plans for 2012.