What does it mean for a brand to have a purpose? Many brands claim one, but few prioritize and embody it in the way that UpWest does. We spoke with Jamie Schisler, UpWest’s President and Chief Comfort Officer, about the brand’s commitment to purpose, their genesis and growth over the past two years, and what it’s like to grow on the Leap platform.
From Jamie’s title, you can probably begin to guess at UpWest’s purpose: to provide comfort. That purpose has been central from the brand’s conception in 2018 and launch in 2019. Everything they do dovetails with their goal of providing comfort. Comfort is the drumbeat that keeps time across UpWest as an organization, and it’s central to Jamie’s focus and that of the brand as a whole.
“We think of the brand through the lens of purpose. How we build the store, design clothes, approach giving back, and our sustainability efforts all connect back to our purpose. My priority is making sure that everything we do—from product and marketing to store build outs—reflects that purpose.”
Comfort can mean a lot of things—and that’s intentional. As Jamie describes:
“Our purpose is to provide comfort. Just those three words. It’s intentionally simple. That doesn’t mean that our purpose isn’t complicated to execute, but it is simple and broad because that gives us the opportunity to be flexible.”
This flexibility means that everything they do can revolve around this purpose, which is increasingly essential for brands. So what does comfort mean for UpWest?
“We manifest ‘comfort’ in a couple of different ways. For our product, this is a no-brainer: it means our fit is relaxed rather than tight or constricting, our fabrics are soft and cozy rather than scratchy. But we also view comfort through the lense of impact. We work with philanthropies who exist to make the world more comfortable. Whether it’s solving food insecurity, working on behalf of mental health advocacy, or promoting sustainability. Our goal is to make a positive impact on people and the planet.”
This approach to purpose is intentional, and means UpWest is able to expand on and dive into the true meaning of “comfort”.
“I think some brands get very granular with their purpose statements, but that only boxes them in. For us, it needed to be a little more holistic. By thinking about purpose in a way that is more all-encompassing, we can use it to drive every facet of our brand.
Under the remit of “comfort”, UpWest has expanded their focus towards wider issues of sustainability, mindfulness, wellness, and philanthropy. This manifests in a number of ways.
Sustainability, a perennial conversation in the world of fashion, is central to the way that UpWest approaches their product. UpWest prioritizes sourcing fabrics that are grown, harvested, and produced in an ecologically-friendly manner. Going further, UpWest is also pursuing upcycling—taking their old garments and turning them into new things. For example, UpWest has repurposed sweaters from previous seasons into mittens they give away to those in need during the winter.
“We’re really trying to take a product that might have ended up in a landfill and repurposing it.” Says Schisler.
UpWest enforces a code of conduct with all of their manufacturers, so customers can have comfort in also knowing that their products are made ethically, and not in facilities that use child labor or have poor working conditions. And when it comes to sustainability, the final product is just as important:
“Quality is also sustainable. Fast fashion inherently isn’t. We intend to build things that last, have more quality, and that you don’t need to replace for some time.”
Shoppers can be confident that their purchase at UpWest is helping support their community—another way the brand provides comfort for those who need it. For each store UpWest opens, they partner with a local charity that provides services in the immediate area. For example, in Chicago UpWest partnered with Lincoln Park Community Services when they opened their Leap-powered store on Armitage, which exists to help the hungry and unhoused in Lincoln Park. UpWest then donates 100% of the proceeds from their opening weekend sales to these partner charities for every store they open, as well as offering a portion of the proceeds from every sale on an ongoing basis.
To bring their purpose to an even wider audience, UpWest partnered with Leap as part of their 10-store rollout plan, with Leap helping to launch four of those stores by 2022. As Jamie describes, UpWest had a number of goals for this partnership.
“The first one was awareness. We’re a new brand, and very few people come to our website before they’ve heard of us. So how do we drive awareness? The reality is that one of the best ways to acquire new consumers is a physical storefront.”
To be successful, location was an integral part of UpWest’s strategy in partnering with Leap.
“The biggest thing was finding the neighborhoods where our consumers are living, breathing, and working. In many ways this is a customer acquisition play.”
Once customers find UpWest, their next priority is to make sure their purpose is clear and that shoppers understand why they exist as soon as they walk in. This in-store experience goes back to the brand’s original inspiration:
“Our brand name is UpWest, so we’re really inspired by the Upper West portion of the United States. Our store design taps into the laidback, natural lifestyle from that part of the country.”
Leap worked hand-in-hand with Jamie and his team to bring this experience to life across all of the stores we deployed. The process has been all about listening, learning, and adjusting our joint strategy with each new location.
“Leap is very successful at listening to the brand and understanding what’s important to them,” says Jamie, “What we learned from opening the store on Armitage we applied to Oakbrook, and what we learned from Oakbrook we have applied to Fashion Island. Each of these store layouts have been very different: Armitage is 700 square feet, Oakbrook is a glass box, and Fashion Island is a more traditionally built store. Leap brings unique ideas to each of these individual spaces while weaving a common design element between all of them.”
Leap remains a key part of their strategy, lowering the barrier to retail expansion for this young brand and allowing them to focus on their purpose.
With their eye on the future, UpWest is continuing to focus on their brand and its purpose while navigating the new normal.
“What are our goals? Foremost, to open more stores in the next twelve months, because we’re seeing success, and it’s another avenue of revenue we can leverage to grow. We want to keep making an impact. You’ll see a greater percentage of our goods made sustainably in 2022, as well as some new product categories. Overall, it’s about evolution not revolution.”
Finally, since UpWest if focused on wellness and the outdoors, we asked Jamie about his favorite outdoor activity when he’s not on the clock:
“I’m a huge runner. I’ve actually run several marathons, but whether I’m running on trails or running on the street, it’s an activity I really love. In fact, I’m doing a relay race from Cincinnati, to Columbus this weekend that’s a total of 139 miles—though I’m not running anywhere close to the full distance of course. When I’m not running, in the winter I’m skiing. So getting active outdoors is a big part of my life.”
“Leap allows companies to expand into retail without throwing too much money into it or incurring much risk at all.”
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