Jaclyn Smith was a pioneer in the world of celebrity clothing lines. She signed with Kmart in 1985 to create apparel and accessories and the line still resonates with consumers today, holding firm as one of the retailer’s most reliable brands. Meanwhile other celebrity lines have come and gone––Sarah Jessica Parker, Miley Cyrus, Avril Lavigne, Jennifer Lopez, LL Cool J, Lindsay Lohan, even Beyonce have cut their losses on once-promising ventures. Smith’s longevity in the fickle apparel industry is almost without precedent.
So, what’s her secret? In a conversation hosted by Joe’s Black Book, she explains that it is her connection to the consumer and her commitment to the promise to design for their needs that she made over 35 years ago. “Are they going to like it and why do they like it?” are the questions that continue to drive her. In a pre-Instagram era she found store appearances satisfying, enjoying the opportunity to shake hands with her customers. “We grew together,” she says.
Jaclyn Smith on 35 years of retail success
“It’s not easy designing for the masses,” admits Smith. “It has to have a look that meets many people’s needs.” But after three decades of brand building, she points to one reason for her continued appeal in such a oversaturated market: “Your brand needs its own DNA. Then it’s yours. It will evolve and your customer will follow you.”
Smith’s status as a pioneering figure goes back to the mid-70s when she starred in the TV show Charlie’s Angels as one of an all-girl trio of private detectives. A female leading cast was groundbreaking at the time, but Smith was the only one to remain for all five seasons. She looks back on the bond between the women with fondness. Loyalty and integrity are words that crop up throughout the discussion on her career. Contracts were signed based on respect for the people she worked with, but when asked how to navigate those weighty contract negotiations, she advises, “Bring in somebody smarter than you.”
While her empire now includes skincare, wigs, home furnishings, Smith stresses that her initial deal with Kmart wasn’t about money but about wanting to do something different and creative. Peers questioned the wisdom of launching a line when she could just do like other celebrities were doing and simply endorse existing brands. She considers it one of the wisest moves she ever made. “Go out on a limb,” she says. “That’s where the fruit is.”
So she asked Kmart for total involvement and they gave it to her. “I knew it would be an education for me,” says Smith, who credits the retailer with its vision. She believes creativity comes from freedom, and giving credit to everyone involved plays a big part in how she does business.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry