The countdown’s on till Target launches its new denim-focused private brand Universal Thread—a collection of denim for everybody—plus tees and tanks, separates and accessories. Target’s official blog “A Bullseye View” gave us a peek inside the minds of their talented designer’s minds in this interview. Read on for the 411 on Universal Thread, straight from the team.

How long have you worked at Target?
Melanie Balasa-Flottman, Senior Designer, Women’s Denim: I came to Target straight out of college, and worked as a Boys’ designer for two years. I worked for another retailer for a period but decided to come back to Target. My entire career has been about denim. To me, each pair of jeans is a canvas—it’s the perfect trifecta of chemistry, design, and history all in one.

Melanie: “I can’t wait to purchase the High-Rise Jegging. I helped test them, and let me tell you—they’re incredible. You can wear them all day without fear of a baggy butt or knees. I’m obsessed!”

Jen Riley, Senior Technical Designer: I’ve been at Target for six years, including working in Target’s Hong Kong office! My husband also works for Target and was offered the opportunity to move here, so I transferred as well.

Kim Monaghan, Senior Sportswear Designer: Almost 13 years—my entire career has been at Target. I’ve done everything from Men’s Denim and Kid’s Accessories to our plus-sized line AVA & VIV. I’ve bounced around a lot, and it’s helped me gain a lot of incredibly valuable experience that’s rare in this industry.

Chris Dove, Accessories Designer: About three-and-a-half years total. I started as an intern summer 2012 and then returned to work in Big Boy/Big Girl clothing after I graduated from college with a degree in apparel merchandising, design and production.  What I love most about Target is the chance to specialize or generalize as much as you want—the amount of product that’s designed in-house is amazing, and there’s a lot of freedom to drive what our assortment looks like.

Universal Thread is a lifestyle brand, built around perfect-fitting denim. What was it like to create the brand from the ground up?
Melanie: We spent a lot of time talking to all kinds of women from different cities around the country about what she wanted from her jeans. The result? If you’ve spilled coffee on yourself in our white jeans, it’s not a problem—they’re stain repellant. Hate when black denim fades in the wash? Ours stay jet-black. Maybe you’re tired of your jeans getting baggier and baggier throughout the day. Our fix is a no-bag fabric technology, so your jeans stay fitted to your body ‘round the clock.

Jen: How many times do you get to be part of a brand new launch? I thought of this as an opportunity to make our jeans absolutely perfect—Target can now be your go-to place for jeans. They’re going to fit perfectly and they’re going to be comfortable, too. During one of our fit tests, a guest started doing yoga in our jeans—they’re that stretchy!

Kim: I have a guest-driven approach to design, so any time I have an opportunity to go outside my own experience and step into guest’s shoes is exciting. I feel like all of my work at Target has lead me to this moment. I earned technical design experience early in my career, so I understood denim craftsmanship. I was part of Cat & Jack’s launch, so I knew how to get a brand off the ground. And with Ava & Viv, I learned how to gather unique and diverse experiences—something that came in handy when we did research for Universal Thread!

Chris: “My mom isn’t a handbag person—as long as I’ve known her, she’s only carried a wallet in her back pocket. I was inspired by her when I designed 3 sizes of wallets with different levels of organization. They’re grounded in neutral colors and a classic silhouette, so you can carry them for years and feel like your investment has paid off.”

Chris: It was really refreshing to do something entirely driven by what our guest wanted in her accessories. For example, we did a lot of focus groups where we talked a lot about handbags. We learned what guests considered good material and what they wanted to see in terms of color, shape, and detail. The end product is chic, versatile and affordable.

What was something you learned from guests that made its way into your designs?

Jen: “I loved working on the adaptive denim. When I saw it pictured on, it brought tears to my eyes. Jeans aren’t a one-size-fits all thing—I’m so happy that we have options for all kinds of women.”

Jen: One piece of feedback we heard over and over again was “I want my butt to look great!” So I spent hours tweaking the size and placement of the back pockets. I also spent a lot of time adjusting details like rise, length and leg opening width across each and every style. One feature I love is the front panel construction in our Premium High-Rise Jegging style, which gives you an extra bit of tummy control. As someone who’s had three kids, I’m a fan!

Melanie: Our offerings are on-trend, but we’re really focused on being solution-oriented. Great-fitting jeans shouldn’t be something reserved for those of a certain body shape or size. For example, I’m really proud of our adaptive styles—they really reflect our values and love of functional design. And everything’s available at an affordable price. I grew up in a small town in Ohio and worked at a chicken wing restaurant as a teen—I know what it’s like to shop on a budget.

Kim: “My goal is that every guest who wears Universal Thread will feel incredible the second she puts on a piece. Jeans you don’t have to pull up all day, tees that don’t creep up—we’ve eliminated a lot of everyday problems, and I’m excited about what we’ve all created.”

Kim: Our guest told us that she found that tees generally were cut too short. And she wanted her tees to be basic, but not boring. We took that to heart, and designed tee shirts that are comfy and allow you to bend over without fear or anything creeping up or tugging. And it’s available in beautiful washes and colors!

Chris: I’m especially proud of our Hayden Tote—it’s our response to everything guests told us she wanted in a handbag. It has a zip top, interior organization, multiple compartments and an interior slip pocket for accessibility to her wallet, and keys. And it has reinforced seams for extra durability—it’s built to hold up to your life, no matter how busy and active you are.


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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.