People who have read this blog since its inception have been aware of plus-size apparel maker Silhouettes. Some of us, myself included, noticed the sudden, silent dead stop to the brand at the end of last year, as well. Back in late December of 2011, there was once clearance sale after another and yet, mysteriously, no restocking. In March stock had dwindled to virtually nothing. In April, and since then, the main site has had a screencap up saying the site is “temporarily down.” I’ve managed to get in to one or two unclosed online backdoors on Silhouettes – Fat Chic has a lot of links to old Silhouettes products that I cleaned up at the beginning of this month- including a blog, highlighting Francie Nguyen, the now former President of Hanover Direct, Silhouettes’ current parent company.
As of May 2011, however, she seems to have moved on to Casual Male Retail Group, and it’s unclear whether she had any contribution to the slow and silent shut-down of the Silhouettes brand. A read of her resume makes it clear Nguyen has a great deal of experience working with plus-size clothing lines and merchandising, including work with Spiegel’s/Newport News and RedCats. It appears she has moved this expertise now to plus size men’s clothing. This does not, of course, tell us what happened to Silhouettes.
The disappearance of Silhouettes has not been a well-communicated one. The Facebook page disappeared, the site shut down and promises only a “return with rebranding”, and it appears that since Nguyen’s departure, no one is overseeing Silhouettes at all. In fact, employees who were or are still part of Silhouettes mention cutbacks, staff reductions, and a good deal of project reassignment on LinkedIn profiles.
A quick message to the Company Store Facebook page got a prompt message with the customer service phone number for remaining Silhouettes customers. The message, sent on July 17th, said: “We’ve temporarily shut down the Silhouettes website and are re-merchandising the brand. “
According to the customer service representative I spoke with on July 26th, Hanover Direct is looking for a buyer to take over Silhouettes, and that the company has been looking for a new buyer since April of 2012.
A call to corporate headquarters/investor relations only got me dumped back into the customer service queue.
So this raises a question: are they rebranding it, or are they selling it? Multiple employee LinkedIn profiles intimate and sometimes directly state a contraction in staff and resources. A Glassdoor review says, “it’s also time to review the raise freeze again. At first I understood, I was just glad that I had a job. Almost four years later it’s really doing your employees an injustice, and makes us question just how valuable we are to you.” Nearly all reviews mention a serious problem with internal management. With raise freezes and people juggling more responsibilities on the same or less pay, it is evident there are internal issues that could easily have led to the disappearance of an entire clothing brand.
It would seem, based on these inside views, that rebranding by Hanover Direct itself is NOT on the horizon. Also, there is no comment on why Silhouettes is being discharged from Hanover Direct. Given the underserved $17 billion dollar plus-size clothing market, it’s difficult to believe that Silhouettes was simply unprofitable – especially with no public comments discussing what was going on. But it’s possible.
It’s also possible that like many major clothing brands, those who market plus-size clothing are unable to get past their own societal blocks and market the clothing properly. If plus-size women don’t know the clothing is out there, they certainly don’t buy it. Especially now that more plus-size women are becoming vocal about needing an actual place to go to try on clothing – the day and age where larger women just shied away from the public are dead and gone. Women of any size can’t afford to stay home and just pick their clothing out of catalogs.
Much of this probably is attributable to bad management. The poor communication, the obfuscation, the laying burdens without information on the non-management employees – they all add up to the corporate pattern where managers more interested in protecting their egos than their brand eventually melt down both.
I noticed myself that around the time that Nguyen came on, the clothing Silhouettes offered took a turn for the dowdy, marketing to the women over 35 of twenty years ago – and consequently mention of the store virtually disappeared from this blog. I know I lost interest in a lot of the clothing then, and the newest piece from Silhouettes in my closet was purchased in 2009. This may have nothing to do with any decisions that Nguyen made at all – she was not the president of Silhouettes, she was the president of Hanover Direct. Only those that worked under her would be able to tell if she was a manager or a micro-manager.
It’s very difficult to find out what is going on behind the scenes – Hanover Direct does not really have clear cut investor relations information available to the public, which also raises the question of how a prospective buyer might know that Silhouettes is for sale. Hanover Direct has been named in a class action suit for cramming – signing up customers for a $99 a year Buyer’s Edge membership without consent. It’s also unclear WHAT service that membership provides.
At the time it was happening I simply assumed it was just one of those staff-switch misfires that happen in a company from time to time. Now it appears something more was and is going on.
The customer loses, and the non-management employees lose the most in situations like this. The market needs plus-size clothing brands, and losing a third one in the same year that Avenue and Fashion Bug are disappearing from strip malls everywhere is not just a blow, it’s a tragedy.