Kmart's new range proves why it must stick to homewares
Its success has predominantly stemmed from its obsessive fans, who congregate in online groups (such as Kmart Mums Australia) to discuss bargain home deco and customised product "hacks".
From an $89 vacuum cleaner that claims to be better than a $700 Dyson, to a $35 Scandi-inspired grey shoe rack that sold out almost immediately, Kmart has become the discount hero for Australian homewares.
Boosting its earnings by 16.3 per cent to $371 million in its half year results, revealed in February this year, and with a revenue growth of 8.9 per cent, it's no surprise the department store hopes to spread its success to other corners of the business.
Kmart's revamped homewares have had people exclaiming 'I can't believe that came from Kmart'. But if you're expecting the same wow factor from its apparel, you may be sorely disappointed.
When it comes to fashion, Kmart has never really skewed far from the basics - white T-shirts, washed denim, simple sandals and comfortable sneakers. It's fair to say that 'edgy' has never been part of its design brief.
But if its new summer apparel range is anything to go by, maybe basic is how they should stay.
The range, which was unveiled at an event in Sydney this week, felt a little tired and dated. Off the shoulder tops, denim with floral applique and silver brogues are all looks from seasons past. To our eye there was nothing particularly progressive or interesting.
(Having said this, Kmart devotees are clamouring for this flattering black mesh one-piece swimsuit which seems to be selling out around the country.)
General manager of apparel, Sharon Rooney, said the styles were an "exciting chapter for Kmart" - but news.com.au was left a little uninspired.
"The key styles of the range are stylish, affordable and suited to any occasion," Rooney said in a statement.
"We believe that fashion should be accessible to everyone and we strive to provide our customers with quality pieces at irresistibly low prices."
At the launch, much was made of the low cost of the garments, because people love a bargain and - lets be honest - nothing gets us going like a cheap and cheerful haul at your local Cotton On or H & M store.
But this raises questions about how ethical the items are - low cost usually equates to dubious ethical practices and conjures images of Bangladeshi sweat shops.
This year Kmart Australia's grade on the Ethical Fashion Guide improved to an overall score of 'B' (though this included a C- for worker empowerment).
But the fashion team at Kmart argues that the costs to consumers are kept down thanks to the sheer volume of merchandise manufactured, and the fact that so much of the production and design is done in-house.
Earlier this year, Kmart confirmed shoppers were set to save hundreds on clothing items, after the retail giant announced it had started manufacturing in Java, Indonesia.
"Customer expectations are rising at an incredible rate," Kmart managing director Ian Bailey told Nine's A Current Affair.
"We sell 800 million things a year. You don't have to make a lot of money on each thing for it to still be a very profitable business."
Kmart promised it will not produce "cheap and nasty" clothing items as it increases sales by keeping prices low.
Mr Bailey said a lot of Australians were "doing it tough" and a few dollars saved on clothing could make a huge difference.
The company also vowed to not let profits get in the way of protecting the environment.
"All of us are looking for factories that do the right thing and pumping waste into rivers is no good to anyone in the long run. No good to us, no good to the community," Mr Bailey said.
Kmart's design manager, Sally Forrest, said the design board behind the new range had come from fashion houses around the world - which is what gives the summer apparel a designer look.
"We have 50 really talented designers," she said. "They come from around the globe, some of them have designed for labels and high end retailers".