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The Interview: Jeff Abrams, Founder and Creative Director, Rails

Tom Bottomley
13 July 2021

Despite the difficulties created by the Coronavirus pandemic, contemporary Los Angeles-based fashion brand Rails has been very actively broadening its reach. It’s currently running pop-up stores in Paris and in Selfridges in London, and it opened flagship stores in New York in autumn 2020 and San Francisco in spring 2021.

Additionally, there’s plans to open a London flagship store in Covent Garden this autumn, which will also be the site of the brand’s new European HQ, as well as a store in its home city of LA later this year. Add to that, a new women’s denim collection is launching for AW21. Rails Founder and Creative Director, Jeff Abrams, talks retail and brand building.

Why did you decide to open two new flagship stores, in New York and San Francisco, in such uncertain times? 

Our strategy has always been to introduce Rails branded retail stores in key cities to give our customer an opportunity to experience the full scope of our brand. Certainly, the pandemic was a challenging time to launch bricks and mortar, but we are taking a long-term view that customers will still want in-person connectivity. We are already seeing incredible success in New York, San Francisco, and our pop-up in Paris. Customers are loving our California aesthetic and the chance to shop the full range.

With retail stores we’ve been able to introduce our brand to new customers and create an emotional connection. Our goal is to open six key stores in the US as well as build our international platform and open our London flagship and headquarters by the end of the year. Between retail, direct to consumer (DTC) and wholesale, we want to be able to access our customer wherever he or she is shopping.

When did they open, where are they located and what size are they?

We opened our New York flagship store in October 2020 on the corner of Broome Street and Greene Street in the highly coveted Soho neighbourhood, adjacent to many great contemporary labels. The space combines a 2,500 sq ft retail store on the ground level, and a 2,500 sq ft showroom on the lower level, both reflecting our effortless California roots fused with a refined European sensibility.

Rails San Francisco opened its doors in March 2021. The store, located in the emerging Hayes Valley neighbourhood at 541 Hayes Street, sits alongside a number of notable eateries and DTC brands, all creating a vibrant ecosystem of shoppers and tastemakers. The 1,600 sq ft space mirrors the Southern California aesthetic and minimalist colour palette derived from our New York flagship store.

Where are you currently doing a pop-up in Paris and how long with that be running for?

Located at 16 Rue de Poitou in Le Marais, the pop-up opened in May 2021 and sits in the centre of Paris’ most sought-after shopping district. The space allowed us to concept a fully immersive Rails experience reflective of our California roots, set amid a historic Parisian backdrop.  Guests can shop our newest collection, take a photo against our Instagram wall, grab a drink at the coffee bar, and relax in our cosy living area.

A pop-up store allows us to test new markets for potential permanent retail locations, as well as many marketing opportunities with influencers, editors, and local tastemakers. Because we are now seeing success with the store, we’re considering turning this into a permanent location.

When did the pop-up at Selfridges in London launch and how long will it run for?

Our Selfridges pop-up launched at the end of May 2021 in London and will run through July 2021. The pop-up is located in the Body Studio and showcases a curated selection of our casualwear offerings, alongside our contemporary collection.  We are excited to have Selfridges as one of our exclusive launch partners when we launch Rails Denim in autumn of this year.

Rails ready-to-wear

Have you done a pop-up with Selfridges or other department stores previously?

This is our first pop-up with Selfridges with plans to explore additional activations in 2022.  Each main season we try to action a pop-up with one of our key London department stores.  We’ve done amazing pop-up displays with Harrods and Harvey Nichols over the past seasons, and we think this is an important strategy for showcasing the breadth of our evolving collection.

Where and when will you be opening a store in Los Angeles this year?

We are looking to open a retail store in our hometown of Los Angeles later this year. We haven’t found the perfect location yet but we are exploring cultural destinations and ‘hangouts’ like Abbot Kinney and Melrose Place for a storefront.

Where and when will you be opening a store in London’s Covent Garden this year?

We will open our London headquarters this autumn on Floral Street in Covent Garden. The space will be a combination of a showroom and retail store, reflective of our New York flagship. Buyers, editors, influencers, and tastemakers can pass through our retail space for appointments while fully immersing themselves in the Rails brand and ethos.  With success in this location, we imagine future stores could be open to us in areas like Marylebone and King’s Road.

Why have you selected London as your European HQ, especially in light of Brexit?

The UK is our number one international market and where we have a strong network of wholesale partners. It’s organically a place where we feel very at home. We are excited to continue to invest in this market, and continue to cultivate the great wholesale network we have, while connecting directly with our customer in key locations.

How has Rails been performing during the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Rails has performed incredibly well considering what was happening on a global scale. Customers gravitated towards our product during the pandemic given the innate comfortability of our clothes. In the early days it was all about sweat sets, but we’ve now seen a strong reaction to our more feminine dresses and top categories as people begin to resume more normal activities.

Have you been hugely affected by forced store closures at different times in different locations due to the various lockdown measures?

The early days of the pandemic were certainly challenging for everyone in fashion, and we partnered with our retailers to ensure they managed their inventory levels, and had the right assortment for the new reality of Covid. For the most part, our retail partners have survived the most difficult stretch and we are encouraged by the recent acceleration of retail shopping that is happening in the US and internationally.

Have you had to pivot your business and invest more in your online business?

Before the pandemic, we had begun investing heavily in our online business, both in customer acquisition and user experience.  We saw an incredible acceleration of growth once the pandemic hit, and we were fortunate to be in a position to manage the increase in traffic and orders.

We also tried to strike a balance between our business and giving back to our community and partners. We were one of the first fashion brands to produce masks and donate to hospitals, schools, and frontline workers. We worked closely with our partners and developed a unique affiliate program in addition to an in-house drop shipping initiative that supported our retailers affected by store closures.

How much have you seen your online business grow in the past year?

We have seen significant growth in our ecommerce channel with traffic up 150% in 2020 and an additional 150% this year. Through marketing tactics like in-home catalogues and digital advertising, we’ve seen demand increase dramatically as new customers discover the brand and become collectors.

Rails Denim

When and where is the new women’s denim collection launching at what will the price points be?

We are launching our new women’s denim collection this autumn exclusively with retailers Shopbop, Intermix and Neiman Marcus in the US, and Trilogy and Selfridges in London. Rails has always been the top half to denim and now we will be delivering full outfitting. The collection features a combination of classic silhouettes including straight leg, skinny and boyfriend options with seasonal novelties, all tying back to our brand DNA of comfortable fits and amazing fabrics. We are sitting at the entry level of the premium category with prices ranging from £170 - £190.

We have partnered with the world's finest denim mills who are focused on sustainable practices that include eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton, BCI certified cotton, and recycled materials, and the use of less water in fabric manufacturing. Additionally, no harsh chemicals are used in wash processes or hardware development. We are cognisant of our environmental footprint not only in our product but in our packaging as well and we will transition to recycled poly bags and boxes.

As you open more stores, is wholesale still integral to your business?

We value our wholesale partners who have been the backbone our Rails business in the UK, and we will continue to cultivate those relationships in the years to come, even as we thoughtfully introduce limited bricks and mortar locations.

Listen to our September 2020 podcast with Jeff Abrams here.

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