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Not too long ago, the discount-clothing chain Steve & Barry’s was the center of newspaper style-section stories and glossy fashion-magazine spreads. It was another example of the democratization of design. With super-low prices, trendy dresses, jackets, and other items, and a list of marquee-name celebrity designers (most famously Sarah Jessica Parker, with her Bitten line, created with the retailer), Steve & Barry’s seemed positioned to do extremely well during tough economic times. Its clothes were much cheaper than comparable styles found at popular retailers such as J. Crew. And it had the same type of rotating designer strategy as Target—only with super-high-profile people (such as Venus Williams)with huge, broad fan bases associated with the brand rather than just names familiar to a relatively small band of fashion insders.
Yet Steve & Barry’s is a retail casualty. Design couldn’t save the day for this chain. Aggressive growth, instead, seemed to be the company’s goal—and perhaps its downfall. It’s bankrupt. While growth is what every business strives for, obviously, when is enough enough? Could Steve & Barry’s still be doing well, if it didn’t push for opening nearly 300 stores — almost ten times the number of stores it had five years ago — in such a relatively short time? If the company had focused more on design and quality at super-low prices, which seemed to be a priority, instead of the number of stores, perhaps it could have found itself in a different position today. One that would offer cash-strapped consumers fun, well-designed clothing at prices they could afford during the toughest of times, and would allow them to profit from the mass desire for cool apparel at bare-bones prices. Now those customers will be shopping at their competitors’ stores instead.
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.