The Role Of Beauty And Wellness In Express Inc.’s New DTC Concept UpWest

Imagine a moment of ultimate coziness. It might include the soft glow of candlelight, luxurious CBD cream, soft slippers, roomy lounge pants and a warm cable-knit sweater. Now, imagine an e-tail concept delivering the goods to create that moment of ultimate coziness, and you’ll have hit upon UpWest, the new direct-to-consumer offshoot of Express Inc.

“Express was all about ‘FOMO,’ or the fear of missing out,” UpWest SVP Jamie Schisler, a retail veteran who’s held strategic and merchandising roles at Express and Abercrombie & Fitch, told Fast Company staff writer Elizabeth Segran late last year. “Meanwhile, UpWest is really about JOMO,” or the joy of missing out. Segran calls UpWest the exact opposite of Express, a mall chain born in 1980 to offer trendy jeans and party clothes to gen X when it was in its party phase.

With gen X now in its parenthood, senior management and elderly caretaker phase, and younger generations of consumers inclined to stay at home and buy online, Express is experimenting with UpWest to switch up its largely physical model—there are roughly 630 Express stores nationwide—and appeal to shoppers with a Goop mentality, but not Gwyneth Paltrow’s bank account. The DTC dalliance comes as Express’s sales have slipped. In the third quarter ended Nov. 2, the retailer’s sales decreased 5% to $488.5 million. In the same period a year ago, sales were $515 million.

In November, Express Inc. unveiled direct-to-consumer offshoot UpWest, which sells casual apparel for men and women designed in-house as well as beauty, wellness and home goods from third-party vendors.

Like at Express, apparel is the main product category at UpWest, where it’s designed for men and women in-house. An ancillary category, beauty and wellness culled from third-party vendors facilitate the comforting mood UpWest cultivates. The e-commerce destination launched in November with a dozen beauty and wellness brands spanning CBD items, candles, sheet masks, serums, essential oils and crystals in sub-categories labeled “cleanse your space,” “skin & wellness” and “relax & unwind.” Lux Beauty Club, Healthy Market, Paddywax, Way of Will, Lapcos and Mount Lai are among the beauty and wellness brands represented.

“We view our brand as a service to help our customers relax, unwind and find balance.”

“We view our brand as a service to help our customers relax, unwind and find balance. We wanted to offer products and blog content that do just that,” says UpWest head merchant Lindy Deal. “Self-care is very subjective. Cozy apparel is a given, but, for some, it’s a good book. For others, it’s a face mask and a good night’s sleep. We wanted to offer a wide variety of products out of the gate, and we look forward to listening to our customers and what they need to adjust accordingly.”

To assemble UpWest’s beauty and wellness collection, she details its team attended market shows, researched the competitive landscape and examined reviews to identify well-received products. The team personally tried the products being considered for UpWest to determine if they were right for its selection. It scouted beauty and wellness products in a variety of prices to provide self-care options for a wide range of consumers. Overall, products on UpWest’s website run from $12 to $188.

Lapcos at UpWest
Lapcos is one of 12 beauty and wellness brands sold by UpWest. Others include Lux Beauty Club, Healthy Market, Paddywax, Way of Will and Mount Lai.

“Each item ran through our comfort filter, meaning we focused on answering one question: Will this product provide the customer comfort? We made sure all beauty products are cruelty-free,” elaborates Deal. “All of the candles are built for more. Some of the candle vessels have reusable containers, some have energy infused crystals, some come with seeded paper to allow you to grow wildflowers after you are done enjoying the candle burn.”

“At the end of the day, we want to feel great about what we are doing and what we stand behind.”

UpWest zeroes in on beauty and wellness brands with sustainability goals, natural ingredients and strong moral values. Giving back is a central component of the e-tailer. Coupled with UpWest’s debut, Express announced it had formed The UpWest Foundation, which will donate 1% of UpWest’s sales annually up to $1 million to charitable organizations. Currently, the organizations UpWest is donating to are Freedom Dogs of AmericaMental Health America and Random Acts. Deal says, “At the end of the day, we want to feel great about what we are doing and what we stand behind.”

To guide consumers through its assortment and inform them on its approach, UpWest has an extensive blog with posts that it groups under the topics “mindfulness,” “retreat,” “sanctuary,” “nourish” and “community.” “We really need to be sharp with our blog content, educate the customers on why we have chosen the best products,” emphasizes Deal. “Being online-only to start, it is tough to purchase a beauty product without being able to touch, smell and feel the products.”

Lux Beauty Club CBD at UpWest
In the early going at UpWest, head merchant Lindy Deal points to candles, CBD products, diffusers and essential oil blends as customer favorites in the beauty and wellness assortment.

Asked about the percentage of sales beauty and wellness will contribute to UpWest’s turnover, Deal answers that it’s too early to tell. She says, “We have it planned in a way that we can continue to deliver bestselling products and not be too heavy on inventory that they aren’t responding to.” So far, she points to candles, CBD products, diffusers and essential oil blends as customer favorites in the beauty and wellness assortment.

Victoria Flores, co-founder of Lux Beauty Club, is bullish about UpWest’s future. “We are doing really well on there, and the entire team is so thoughtful and intentional about truly delivering the message. We need to slow down, care about each other and ourselves.” Deal mentions UpWest isn’t done hunting for beauty and wellness brands to add to its cozy array. She says, “We will continue to look for innovation and newness in the health and wellness space. If we continue to offer high-quality goods that provide a solution for the customer, it’s no doubt that demand will increase.”