There’s never been a better time to prepare for a wedding. In fact, shopping for a bridal dress in an activity long cherished by two groups: The bride and her family. Whether you’re seeking to find the most unexpected wedding gown that is made just for you, there’s always an underlying notion that something more inspirational is just around the corner.
With many Americans still working from home and wondering when life will return to normal, families have been spending more quality time together. The question becomes this: Will the bridal market evolve to take on the elements that are now part of our daily lives. All of this leads to the key evolutionary moment that’s happening within the creativity of the bridal market. The push for modified fabrication with repurpose and sustainable attributes seem to of great concern to millennials and Generation Z.
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Since its founding, Justin Alexander has been a world leader in designing, manufacturing and distributing bridal fashion. Today, its brands include Justin Alexander, Justin Alexander Signature, Adore by Justin Alexander, Lillian West, Sincerity Bridal, Viktor&Rolf Mariage and Savannah Miller. The marquee collection, Justin Alexander, embodies style for the classic and refined bride. More interestingly, Justin Alexander is a private, family-owned company with offices in New York City, New Jersey, London, Rotterdam and Hong Kong. The brand’s collections are sold by more than 1,500 authorized retailers worldwide.
Justin Alexander Signature SS21 Collection Video Courtesy of Justin Alexander
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director at JUSTIN ALEXANDER about there is a huge demand for on-trend and fashion-forward wedding gowns at an accessible price point, why his design team is sensitive is committed to pushing the frontier of bridal design and why he believes that the key is using materials to create a figure-flattering look that accentuates a woman’s best features!
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes about the rich brand history, and development; and your personal background?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: The company Justin Alexander was founded in Brooklyn in 1946 as T&G Veils by my grandparents, Ted and Shirley. Shirley always loved fashion and worked for a headpiece company in her twenties where she discovered a talent for crafting bridal veils and tiaras. When she suggested that she and Ted start their own business, her idea would prove to be only the beginning of what our bridal fashion house would eventually become.
In the 1970s, my father and his brothers joined the business in different roles. They launched the bridal dress category in the ’80s, and my father split with his brothers in the ’90s to focus on Europe. The US side of the business shut down a few years later, and became one of my primary focuses when I joined the company in 2008. When I first started, I was involved in all aspects but really focused on building the brand and sales, including growing an in-house marketing and sales team. Within a few years, my responsibilities expanded into managing design and operations. I learned as much as I could about our products through our design team, our wholesale partners and brides themselves. I knew that I needed to deeply understand everything from the product to our supply chain to our customer to perform well in this role. Along the way, I found I had a passion for design and an intuition for understanding what brides wanted to wear. Since 2015, I have led both the commercial and creative arms of Justin Alexander, Inc.
One of my key areas of focus today is effectively modernizing bridal and infusing the technology needed to make all our different business processes more efficient. I’m deeply passionate about this and am always looking to see how we can do what we do better through leveraging the latest technology.
Joseph DeAcetis: In your words, what is your competitive advantage in development and specialized bridal products?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: I would say it is eagerness to excel in multiple areas: the care that we put into the product and provide our customers, the passion to share the heritage of our company and our willingness to adapt to emerging technology and new marketing practices. Besides that we have a devoted growth mentality and an everlasting ambition.
Due to our expansive and well-merchandised portfolio of brands, we are able to learn and respond to feedback and trends quicker than our competition can.
Furthermore, owning and operating our own distribution centers that service 70 countries and 1,500 boutiques allows us to provide outstanding service to our wholesale partners and brides globally. We offer an extensive loaner and trunk show program, customization of our gowns, and quick service options for brides who seek to purchase off the rack or do not have the luxury of waiting the standard bridal delivery lead time.
Jospeh DeAcetis: How do you intend to market to Millennial’s and Gen Z with respect to changing taste levels?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: There is a huge demand for on-trend and fashion-forward wedding gowns at an accessible price point. Many millennials do not want to be the princess bride and want something more affordable, easy-to-wear and understated. These brides want their looks to feel carefree and effortless, and others are after the moment and want to feel glamorous and be the star of the show. Most importantly, they want to be able to express their own personality and sense of style with their bridal-wear choices.
We also see a trend of not wearing just one dress for the big day but instead, having a dramatic look for the ceremony and then slipping into something a little more fluid or short in order to dance the night away at the afterparty.
As the bride’s needs evolve, one of our greatest challenges is marketing to these young women from the moment they begin their research phase, and engaging with them in how they are inspired and influenced to shop for their dress. Both Millennials and Gen-Z greatly value the experience from online to offline, and Gen-Z in particular often will know exactly what they are looking for before they step foot into a bridal store.
That said, most brides-to-be have never tried on a bridal gown, and that is why it is so important for us to partner with boutiques with skilled stylists open to learning and adapting in how they cater to different generations. These youngest customers place a premium on the in-store experience and customization options, and I’m proud that our team goes above and beyond in realizing every bride’s dream dress.
Young people also care increasingly about where and how a product is made. Across our brands, sustainability continues to be a hot topic we discuss, research and implement to ensure we are doing our best to improve.
Joseph DeAcetis: In your words, what are women seeking today that is new and different from the past in bridal.
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: Weddings have always been driven by tradition. They were typically a formal ceremony, often with religious context. The wedding dress made the occasion more festive, and gave the event more of an identity, which was determined by the bride and her family. The dress itself had many restrictions. It needed to be modest and in a traditional style, so they all looked similar. Nowadays, the wedding is becoming more informal, which is disappointing since it is such a special celebration and one of the few remaining ceremonies that brings the entire family together looking their finest. This progression translates to the gowns that brides select and the shopping experience that they seek. The level of formality varies across cultures and families.
It was not until the ‘70s that we really began to see a shift, and brides started to seek self-expression through their dress. The requirement to wear a traditional, modest bridal design is no longer required, and everything is possible and allowed. What’s interesting is that despite all the daring and unique designs available today, the original, ivory tone dress is still highest in demand. Ivory was originally used due to its implications of luxury — it was more expensive to procure ivory or white fabrics and more difficult to keep clean. Although trends are always changing, I always recommend brides to select a timeless gown that they would proudly show friends, family and future generations in 30 or 40 years!
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes in detail about the current collections and why it is important for consumers to be aware of this brand?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: Justin Alexander is uniquely strong in the bridal industry because we offer a diverse portfolio of collections that range from the highest to the lowest percentiles in price point and cover a distinct array of dresses from contemporary through traditional and informal alternative styling through princess ball gowns. Our design team is sensitive to commercially proven styles, fabrics and silhouettes yet is committed to pushing the frontier of bridal design.
I can say with confidence that any bride would be able to find a dress among our collections that appeals to her, and we often will customize pieces to meet a customer’s exacting taste.
Our brands today include the following:
Justin Alexander — timeless gowns for the classic and refined bride, retailing $1,700-$2,500
Justin Alexander Signature — designer dresses for the fashion-forward bride, retailing $2,500-$6,000
Adore by Justin Alexander — a new line launching this spring (more details to come), retailing for under $1,300
Lillian West — sexy, effortless styles for the whimsical bride, retailing $1,400-$2,000
Sincerity Bridal — graceful, romantic dresses for the princess bride, retailing $1,200-1,700
We also have the following licensed brands:
Viktor & Rolf Mariage — luxury bridalwear with a couture edge, prices upon request
Savannah Miller — elegant and understated bridalwear, retailing $2,000 – $4,000
And we offer a private label collection to our retailers called Rings allowing shops to re-brand and curate their own in-store collection.
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes about how computer-aided design helped in the development of your brand both product make-up and e-commerce? Details please.
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: We are continuously looking to improve our operations and service with the aid of technology. One major step we took was to enhance the B2B customer experience significantly by launching a new user-friendly online order platform. This entailed overhauling our enterprise resource planning system, which included a time-phasing inventory logic to optimize our inventory and deliveries. This was our first of many software upgrades in the last decade. Others have been product lifecycle management software and more recently, a sales software to more efficiently deploy our sales team with our latest imagery, linesheets and products. All of these improvements are in line with our hope to become a more sustainable business.
Jospeh DeAcetis: What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: As CEO and Creative Director, I wear a lot of different hats, and my days can vary i ncredibly depending on whether I am running through best-selling product analytics with my merchandising and sales teams, sketching next season’s styles in the studio, on set at a photo shoot location or working through a new product launch with marketing.
What I love the most can also be the most challenging, and that is constant multi-tasking, shifting through a variety of tasks and solving problems. It is important to me that I am accessible to my colleagues to ensure they can get their jobs done. I am lucky to have an outstanding team that shares a passion for the company, our customers and our products.
Joseph DeAcetis: Where is the product made and why?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: As dresses and accessories are produced by factories that we have had long-standing and trusted relationships with, some for well over 20 years. Many of the owners and employees are close friends I have known from when I visited them at a young age with my father.
The factories are based in China, Vietnam and Myanmar. Our local office in Hong Kong is in daily contact with each of them. Along with our design and production team, I visit every factory two to four times a year. The fabrics that we use are sourced from Japan, Korea, India, China and Italy, so local production when possible is more efficient as well. The craftsmanship of our partners is really the best of the best in this industry.
It was also important to me that our factories comply with our ethics charter, which is stricter than the local labor laws. Over the years, I have seen first-hand how overseas production can contribute to improvements in infrastructure and the livelihoods of local people, especially in Myanmar as an example. It is encouraging to see the difference and development of these communities as more jobs and income can truly change the landscape.
Joseph DeAcetis: What are the specialized fabric and silhouettes available exclusively
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: We develop our own fabrications, colors and lace, and we work to use traditional lace techniques in a contemporary way by employing new embroidery techniques, embellishing with beadwork and sourcing laces that are more pliable and smooth on the skin. The key is using the materials to create a figure-flattering look that accentuates a woman’s best features.
We also have made a point to become body-inclusive and produce plus size gowns with no upcharge through size US32. Our designs, fit, corsetry and construction provide support and give women the look they desire to feel their most beautiful on their special day. Many of our gowns also have a built-in shapewear mesh to ensure a flattering form on the body.
Joseph DeAcetis: What has been your greatest achievement in developing this brand?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: My father established a leading market presence and distribution network in Europe. In mentoring me, he taught me how to respond to market needs, provide excellent service and maintain competitiveness. These lessons were key as I pursued my own ambitions: to expand our presence in America and abroad, while transforming the company into a marketing and design power.
I cannot help but feel so personally connected to the product, our brands and the retailers and brides we serve daily. I take pride in how we are the preferred bridal designer for consumers around the world by offering innovative designs with superior quality, strategic marketing at the cutting edge of technology and the highest level of customer service. The dedication to continue to grow in each area provides us with a challenge, yet I am excited to see what new success we will reach in the future.
Joseph DeAcetis: What have you done to still reach the bride during the pandemic?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: From the beginning, we strove to demonstrate the utmost compassion and flexibility. Many brides had to delay or completely cancel their weddings. Others had to postpone shopping and experienced stress in wondering whether they would receive their dresses on time. Across our platforms, we expressed togetherness in getting through the pandemic. We celebrated the love stories of our brides and did our best to remind them that their relationships could only grow stronger during this difficult time and that they would still be able to have their dream wedding moment.
In partnership with our retailers, we enabled home try-ons and viewings while encouraging our stores to hold virtual consultations in lieu of in-store appointments. Many stores and brides have found virtual consultations so useful that even as doors have reopened, they are continually offered as a great mutual pre-screening and relationship-building tool.
Meanwhile, we have also continued to invest deeply in inventory and in fact, stock more plus-size dresses than ever before — all to ensure brides have both a full selection and quick turn-around options if needed.
Joseph DeAcetis: Going into October Bridal market, how has the pandemic changed your plans?
Justin Warshaw, CEO/Creative Director JUSTIN ALEXANDER: In the spring, we held virtual trunk shows, which were widely successful in showing the collection in an unprecedented way to brides, stores and press alike. For these, our design team presented the gowns on models, featuring collection trends while talking through style by style and highlighting recommendations for different body types and tastes. For the October bridal market, we have a similar plan to present the newest collection from Justin Alexander Signature. However, additionally on the same day, we are showcasing the whole of our luxury group to include the FW21 collections from Viktor&Rolf Mariage and Savannah Miller in addition to Justin Alexander Signature.
Preceding the show presentations, we will be hosting an invitation-only event on Zoom with our partners and press friends to benefit VOW, a non-profit that works to end child marriage and empower girls and women globally. Prominent VOW ambassador Princess Mabel of the Netherlands will be speaking, as will the faces behind our brands — Justin, Viktor, Rolf and Savannah. We had teamed up with VOW previously for International Women’s Day and are delighted to be collaborating again in time for International Day of the Girl, which coincides with the October bridal week.