The Resurrection of Eddie Bauer

imageLong locked in the ho-hum with L.L Bean and Land’s End, Eddie Bauer is not exactly high fashion. The clothes are practical, forgettably understated, and brutally boring. They’re well-suited for bleary-eyed dads burping babies and making trips to the soccer field — not exactly togs for a night on the town. But once upon a time, long before they lulled masses into flannel shirts and pleated chinos, Eddie Bauer had brand fame and proven testimonials from the field. They outfitted the first American to summit Mount Everest and made flight jackets for 50,000 American pilots during World War Il. But after the booming 1990s, when they did a snappy $100 million a year in business, things went south. In 2003, they filed for bankruptcy, and by 2007, the company was doing an anemic $10 million a year. Oh, and then earlier this year the company fired more than 15 percent of its employees. What happened?

Eddie Bauer lost its sense of adventure when it became an indoor casual retailer rather than an active outdoor retailer, Chief Executive Neil Fiske said recently. So now, the company is looking to return to its outdoor roots and slowly post-hole back into the adventure gear market. And they’re attempting a comeback with decent outdoors sports cred — namely, mountain-climbing prexy Fiske is helming the revamp. His first order of business is recruiting mountaineer Jim Whittaker, who in 1963 became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest, to consult with Eddie Bauer on marketing and product development, including a performance expedition line to launch in April. Looking forward, the product lines will become more technologically advanced and high-performance, as EB makes a run at competitors Columbia, North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, and REI. The first example of this will be the new version of the KaraKoram parka, which suited Mount Everest climbers in the 1970s; Eddie Bauer unveils the new style for this holiday season. Michelin Man Alert!

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