Bonobos' CEO Micky Onvural says the men's clothing brand has learned a lot since it was acquired by Walmart for $310 million two years ago, but it's benefited from being able to maintain some space from the big-box retailer.
"There are so many businesses that reach the scale that Bonobos had [in 2017] ... and flounder and die," she said Tuesday at CNBC's Evolve Conference in Chicago. "We had this strong brand growing really fast. And we needed to get to that inflection point. I think that's where Walmart has really helped us ... to continue to scale."
Behind the scenes, there are other ways Walmart has helped. From shipping contracts to real estate deals, Bonobos has benefited from Walmart's experience.
"What hasn't changed is we want to really protect our culture, our brand and the customer experience," she told the audience. In other words, customers shouldn't be able to notice many differences when they go in one of Bonobos' showrooms.
Onvural said that when Bonobos was acquired, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said he wanted to "hug [Bonobos] — but not too tight." McMillon didn't want to "strangle innovation" at Bonobos after the deal was done, Onvural said. "We've been very lucky ... [and] it doesn't look like [that's] going to change anytime soon."
The brand did see some backlash when the deal was announced from shoppers who took to social media to vow they would no longer shop there. They were afraid it would lose its authenticity. Vox reported earlier this year that Bonobos was still unprofitable but that Walmart was planning to hold on to the brand after contemplating a sale.
Onvural became Bonobos' CEO after co-founder Andy Dunn stepped down from the role last fall to head up Walmart's digital brands strategy. She was previously Bonobos' chief marketing officer.
Onvural notably spearheaded a controversial ad campaign for Bonobos last year, called #EvolvetheDefinition, which aimed to redefine what masculinity means for men.
She joked on Tuesday that she didn't tell Walmart about the ad before it was released. "Walmart was [ultimately] very supportive of it. ... But the important lesson for me was to tell people what you're doing."
CNBC Evolve will return, this time to Los Angeles, on Nov. 19. Visit cnbcevents.com/evolve to apply to attend.