Express History Case Study

Express History Case Study

Express history started in 1980 when Limited Brands founded Express. The Express brand is a well-known clothing brand. It began as a women’s clothing brand but later expanded into the men’s fashion industry. This article explores the history of Express and will shed more light on how the brand came to its present position in the fashion industry.

A Backstory of the Parent Company

L Brands Inc. sells lingerie, personal care, beauty products, apparel, and accessories through its subsidiaries which include; Victoria’s Secret, Pink, Bath and Body Works, La Senza, C.O, Bigelow, and White Barn Candle co., and Henri Bendel.

L Brands was founded in 1963 by Les Wexner with one store in Kingsdale shopping center in Columbus, Ohio. Les borrowed $5000 from his aunt and $5000 from the bank to start his business, L Brands, called ” The Limited.” He made $160,000 in the first year, and before long, Les became a prominent U.S. retailer with numerous powerful brands and brand extensions. Under Les’s leadership, L Brands evolved from an apparel-based specialty retailer to an approximately $10 billion segment leader. L Brands associates focus on lingerie, beauty, and personal care product categories that make customers feel sexy, sophisticated, and forever young. Express history began when Limited Brands founded Express in 1980.

An overview of The Express Brand

Express is a modern, multichannel apparel and accessories brand. It aims to create confidence and inspire self-expression in its customers. The Express brand also aims to provide style, quality, and value in one place. Its design focuses on the “now,” creating fashion that ensures people are dressed for the everyday occasion with the assurance that the brand can make them look and feel exactly how they want. With over 600 retail and outlet stores in the United States and Puerto Rico, Express is a leading brand in the apparel and accessories industry. Express merchandise is also available at an online destination and in franchises in the US, Puerto Rico, and Latin America. Throughout Express’s history, the brand’s products always portray a mix of fashion, quality, and value, providing a perfect combination to inspire confidence and self-expression in their customers.

The Beginning Of Express History

The inception of the Express Brand

Express brand is a famous brand established in 1980 in Chicago, USA. The company’s headquarters is located in Columbus, Ohio. Since its inception, the brand has focused on providing the latest apparel and accessories to help customers build a wardrobe for every occasion. Express also aims to offer fashion, quality, and value in its products.


Express expanded to eight stores in 1981, when the former CEO, Michael Weiss – a fashion industry veteran- joined the company. Five years later, in 1986, Express expanded its reach with over 250 stores. The following year, Express began testing the sale of men’s products at 16 of its stores. As the sale of men’s products thrived, Express’s male fashion line was eventually separated into a different brand, called Structure, in 1989.

The company expanded to over 600 retail stores around the globe. It became a brand loved by many people in the United States, including world-leading supermodels such as Karlie Kloss, Kate Upton, Emily Ratajkowski, and many others. Throughout the late 1980s into the 1990s, Express was known for having products that were bestsellers. Some of these clothes, such as the Portofino top, the “Downtown” Cami, the Editor women’s pants, and the 1Mx shirt, continued to drive volume.

Since 2001, Express has focused on promoting its style in the fashion industry. The brand adopted the motto of confidence and simplicity when producing men’s and women’s clothing and fashion accessories suitable for all activities, regardless of the weather. In Express’s history, the brand’s products have high but stable prices.

Challenges in Express history

Limited Brands sells a majority stake in Express.

In 2007 in Express history, Limited Brands – the parent company- sold a majority stake in Express to Golden Gate Capital Partners. On May 16, 2007, Limited Brands announced its interest in selling a 67% stake in Express to an affiliate of a private equity firm called Golden Gate Capital Partners, based in San Francisco. However, when the sale was finalized in July 2007, Golden Gate’s stake in the company was 75% instead of the announced 67%.

As Express’s history progressed into the following year, Express launched its website. Two years later, in 2010, Express went public on May 13. The company sold 16 million shares for $17 each, raising about $272 million. Although, Limited Brands had planned to sell shares between $18 and $20. 

In 2010, the Express brand was said to have stuck with items and categories past their point of relevance. Express focused on a “too rigid” lifestyle approach past its point of relevance in a way that wasn’t in touch with how the customer expected to experience a brand or how they wanted to shop. 

Express commoditized its assortments, which proved to be a mistake. This mistake resulted from commoditized assortments with many different choices, stripping away the brand’s exclusivity. Its strong presence in the women’s fashion industry began to fade rapidly. Athleisure was a top category booming in the otherwise wilting women’s market. However, throughout Express’s history, the Express brand was never a go-to for athleisure, so the brand struggled to remain competitive in the market. Share prices dropped, and Golden Gate and Limited Brands gradually reduced their ownership interest in the company. On July 29, 2011, and May 31, 2012, Limited Brands and Golden Gate sold their remaining ownership interest in Express, respectively. This action removed them from the board, and they ceased to be related parties in Express Inc.’s affairs.

These circumstances led to several cost-cuts, store closings, management, and system changes in Express history. The Express brand then focused on getting customers re-engaged with the brand, improving customer conversion rates, and achieving mid-single-digit operating profit margins within three years.

The Apparel Rental Subscription Service, The NBA Collaboration And The UpWest Brand In Express’s History

Express launches an applied rental subscription service.

Express launched the “Express Style Trial” in 2018. The Express Style Trial is a subscription service that allows shoppers to rent three items simultaneously for $69.95 per month with unlimited exchanges. This apparel rental service was the first of its kind in Express history. Shoppers can keep the clothes for as long as they want before the free shipment of the items back. The shopper must return all three items before the next shipment. Shoppers can also purchase things they find through the service at a discount. Presently, the service does not rent shoes or accessories, and shoppers cannot return their rented items from Express stores.

Express History and The NBA Collaboration

In November 2018, Express Inc. extended an agreement with the NBA to manufacture and offer a collection of licensed NBA men’s graphic t-shirts and fleece apparel in retail and online stores. The following year, Express Inc. also planned to offer NBA-themed men’s blazers, dress shirts and pants, ties and underwear, and women’s NBA collections for sale in retail and online stores. 

Express Launches The UpWest Brand

Express Inc. launched a spin-off brand called “UpWest” which focused on cozy and comfortable clothes for lounging and Yoga. This brand focuses on producing loungewear, sleepwear, and casual apparel, along with a selection of wellness products and home goods items from third-party vendors. The UpWest brand targets millennial customers that are intentional about finding a greater sense of peace in a chaotic world. The Express brand continued to make clothes to draw attention to itself.

When sales began to drag, Express revealed that the comfort-focused brand, UpWest, would donate 1% of sales to charity. Although Express created the UpWest brand, their merchants, management operations, leadership, marketing, and design teams were kept separate. In Express history, UpWest functioned as an independent brand. Express’s products weren’t mentioned or advertised on the Upwest brand’s website, nor were UpWest’s products on Express’s website.

Express Closes Up Several Stores For The First Time In History

As Express’s history progressed, Express continued to strive to surpass the general depression in apparel specialty retailing. On January 22, 2020, Express announced its intentions to close about 100 of its 650 stores in the next two years. These store closings meant sales revenue would drop by about $90 million by 2022. Express Inc. would also lay off staff in its headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and its design studio in New York City. Although the retail hasn’t been faring well and sales have been crumbling, Express Inc.’s online sales were a bright spot. While retail sales dropped by 7% in 2019 compared to the second quarter of 2018, e-commerce sales increased by 19.6% year over year and accounted for 28.7% of overall revenue.

Final Thoughts

Express history is still ongoing even to this day. However, we hope this article has given you insight into the history of the Express brand.

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