Private Label Apparel: Three Benefits to Campus Partners

Private label Red Shirt not only serves students and encourages school pride — it comprises a lucrative part of the campus store’s revenue stream.

October 18, 2018


Red Shirt



Barnes & Noble College launched its exclusive Red Shirt private label brand in 2004 as part of its strategy to offer school spirit merchandise responsive to customers’ evolving wants and interests. Fourteen years later, it’s a booming $15 million retail business found in more than 500 campus stores nationwide.


NEXT caught up with Joel Friedman, Chief Merchandising Officer of Barnes & Noble College, to discuss the evolution of Red Shirt and three key benefits it delivers to campus communities.


Merchandise Students Want

In Friedman’s first few years at Barnes & Noble College, he realized that the existing selection of school spirit merchandise offered by vendors didn’t cover all the styles that students wanted — especially in the women’s category. Friedman and his team began working closely with one vendor partner on product development, creating custom merchandise to fill the gaps in the marketplace. From that partnership, the Red Shirt brand was born.


Under the Red Shirt banner, the general merchandise (GM) team has full control and flexibility to offer apparel and related products like hats, flip-flops and backpacks — all in the fabrics, silhouettes and colors that students want. The selection is informed by the team’s trend insights, retail industry immersion and proprietary research on campus.


“Our Red Shirt merchandise is fashion-forward and features new fabrics and new silhouettes,” said Friedman. “It’s all about delivering exactly what customers are looking for and meeting their needs. We’re not afraid to take risks to stay fresh and relevant.”


Example of the silhouettes offered through collegiate private label apparel brand Red Shirt.


Revenue for Schools

For campus partners, Red Shirt merchandise doesn’t just represent an opportunity to serve students and encourage school pride — it comprises a lucrative part of the campus store’s revenue stream. The brand does particularly strong business in the booming women’s category, reflecting the loyalty of the customer base it was created to serve.


“The customer wants Red Shirt merchandise. They don’t need it. They want it. We set a fair price, and it moves off the shelves,” added Friedman. “In fact, Red Shirt sells at or above our normal transactional price range. It’s really a double-win for our campus partners.”


Credibility for the Campus Store

With Red Shirt, Barnes & Noble College has total control of the product development and manufacturing processes. The vendor partnership has been built and updated over time to create an efficient and socially-responsible supply chain. “It’s a very successful line for us,” he says. “I’m proud of the fact that as our proprietary brand, the factory workers who are making this line of apparel for us are paid a living wage, fed two meals a day and have free daycare so their children are safely cared for while they are at work.”


It allows Friedman and his team to create the right merchandise mix that is on trend and responsive to what students want now — and what they want next. “Red Shirt helps keep campus stores relevant in the eyes of their customers — especially students. Students will see through anything in about two seconds,” said Friedman. “To stay credible, we have to curate an assortment of merchandise that they genuinely find credible. When we succeed in holding their interest and earning relevance, that reflects on the school, too.”


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