Vera Bradley closed its SoHo store at the beginning of the pandemic, but has reclaimed the site, at least temporarily, for a good purpose.It’s now a pop-up store for GoodMrkt, a cause and socially driven, multibrand concept recently launched by Vera Bradley.
The first GoodMrkt store opened last April in a former Williams Sonoma location in Fort Wayne, Ind., where Vera Bradley is based. GoodMrkt in SoHo, at 411 Broadway, opened last month.
With just the two stores operating, GoodMrkt is a start-up reflecting Vera Bradley’s intent to grow and make more money while expanding its philanthropic endeavors. In 2019, the $400 million, publicly traded Vera Bradley purchased Pure Vida, an online retailer of handmade bracelets, anklets, stackable rings and other items supporting artisans in Costa Rica, effectively bringing Vera Bradley into the jewelry business.
Last January, Vera Bradley introduced its first sustainable fashion collection, called ReActive, for luggage, bags and accessories, furthering efforts to be more of a lifestyle brand while being environmentally responsible.
Vera Bradley is best known for its quilted, flower-patterned bags and luggage while also offers women’s apparel, accessories and footwear. The company also has a foundation that supports breast cancer research.
“As we were dealing with the pandemic, a group of us were sitting around and thinking about the future of retail and what we could test. We came up with the Good Market concept. We’re really intending of this as a lab,” said Harry Cunningham, vice president of retail brand development for Vera Bradley. He’s also cofounder of the GoodMrkt, along with Mary Beth Trypus, Vera Bradley’s chief revenue officer.
During a tour of the GoodMrkt pop-up Thursday, Cunningham said it will remain open into January and that it displays more than 50 brands in its 2,500 square feet of selling space. It’s an eclectic range of products including skin care, eyewear, flowers, holiday ornaments, glassware, denim, blankets, candles, jewelry, kids merchandise, leather goods and, naturally, Vera Bradley bags and Pure Vida jewelry.
Among the brands, there’s Able, a fashion company that trains and employs women to help break the cycle of poverty and extricate them from the sex trade; Sackcloth & Ashes, which donates a blanket to a homeless shelter for every blanket purchased; Ellis Brooklyn, which sells fragrances with clean ingredients and sustainable sourcing, and Generous Coffee, which gives back 100 percent of its profits and while best known for coffee, partners with socially good companies on other products such as shirts that support mothers in Haiti, and bracelets and mugs that give water to villages in the Central African Republic.
Other brands sold include Ranger Station, Utopian Coffee, Farmhouse Fresh, Glitterville, Bella Tunno, New Hope Girls and Caddis.
Cunningham explained that the concept is to create a “community” of brands, each on a mission to make a positive impact, whether its supporting women’s empowerment, community development, ending poverty or hunger, environmental stewardship, sustainability, animal rescue or fighting a disease.
The brands, which are mostly smaller and emerging companies, support their causes in different ways, which could be through product donations, a percent sales, fundraising events, or through how they source and create their products. “These are all purpose-driven companies and brands,” Cunningham said.
GoodMrket in SoHo.
Vera Bradley Inc., bringing more diversity and some additional entrepreneurial expertise to the company, has nominated Nancy Twine, the founder and chief executive officer of Briogeo Hair Care, to its board.
Twine, who is 36, will succeed director Michael Miller, who is retiring from the Vera Bradley board next month. She will become the 10th member of the board, pending shareholder approval at the June 2 annual meeting. With this appointment, the company will have 60 percent female board representation and will be one of a few public companies with a female majority board.
“Nancy brings diversity of thought around a couple of key areas,” said Rob Wallstrom, CEO of Vera Bradley, the 40-year-old Fort Wayne, Ind.-based designer and retailer of women’s handbags, gifts, luggage and accessories. “She’s younger than the average age of our board members. She can speak to what the consumers are looking for as the demographics of the country continue to change. Vera Bradley has a broad customer profile. We want to make sure we are listening and aware of what different groups are looking for, from an age and ethnicity standpoint. Both Vera Bradley and Pure Vita are multigenerational brands, starting with teenagers. It’s critical that we stay multigenerational.”
Vera Bradley is looking to grow through acquisitions, following its 2019 purchase of a majority stake in Pura Vida which sells bracelets, jewelry and other lifestyle accessories. Twine will be important in that endeavor. “Having somebody on the board who is a founder and who has done an amazing job scaling a company is very important. We wanted someone who has that recent experience,” Wallstrom told WWD during an interview.
Wallstrom also cited Twine’s Millennial perspective, her financial and retail experience, and diverse background as “invaluable.”
In 2014, Twine launched Briogeo Hair Care, described by the company as a prestige line of clean hair care for persons with every hair type, hair texture and ethnicity. Twine previously worked as vice president of commodities sales and trading at Goldman Sachs in New York City. Twine is an adviser to the Sephora USA Accelerate Council.
Growing up, she learned to create simple, clean, homemade beauty products alongside her mother in their kitchen, using natural ingredients from the local health food store. That experience, coupled with her own beauty industry research, encouraged Twine to start her own company. Briogeo retails in over 3,000 beauty stores globally, including Sephora, and is an independent Black-owned prestige beauty brand. All Briogeo products are cruelty-free, gluten-free, and mostly vegan.
“Diversity is something I am incredibly passionate about,” Twine told WWD. “Diversity really creates the foundation for strong creativity, innovation and growth which translates into greater sales and profits. There are so many reasons why diversity should be an executive priority.”
50/50 Women on Boards, which advocates toward gender-balanced corporate boards, last year named Vera Bradley a “gender-balanced” company for its commitment to board diversity. 50/50 Women on Boards’ research shows that out of the 2,940 companies in the Russell 3000 Index nationwide as of Dec. 31, just 31 percent still had zero or only one woman on their boards.
Wallstrom made the point that Vera Bradley, besides being known for its bold colors and patterns, has a reputation for including women and not just on its board. Asked to what degree women comprise senior management at Vera Bradley, Wallstrom said, “It’s just under 60 percent of the vice president level and above.” The company, which generated $468.3 million in revenues last year including $112.5 million from Pura Vida, was founded in 1982 by friends Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia R. Miller.
Wallstrom said Michael Miller has been “an invaluable board member since the company went public in 2010, and an integral part of the Vera Bradley family since his wife, Patricia R. Miller, cofounded the company nearly 40 years ago. He has made an enduring impact on Vera Bradley.”
Vera Bradley Inc.’s nine other board members are: Wallstrom; Baekgaard; Kristina Cashman, former chief financial officer of restaurant group Upward Projects; Robert J. Hall, chairman of the Vera Bradley board and president of Green Gables Partners; Mary Lou Kelley, former president, e-commerce for Best Buy; John E. Kyees, lead director of the Vera Bradley board and former chief financial officer of Urban Outfitters; Frances P. Philip, former chief merchandising officer of L.L. Bean; Edward M. Schmults, CEO of Calyx Peak Cos., and Carrie Tharp, vice president of retail and consumer for Google Cloud.