Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? That’s a question surrounding the announcement that Harrods, arguably the most famous shop in the world, is opening a network of beauty stores.
The new concept is going to be called ‘H Beauty’ in a move away from the green and gold of the familiar Harrods branding. The first store will launch in spring 2020 at the Lakeside shopping centre in Thurrock, closely followed by a second store in Milton Keynes.
At the same time, Harrods has also opened an ‘H Café’ in Henley-on-Thames. Opened last month, it aims to be somewhere you can enjoy the Knightsbridge department store's food whilst also having a selection of food, drink and home accessories to shop from. You can also shop on the Harrods website and use click and collect to pick up your purchases.
Left - H Beauty is new for 2020
What both these concepts have in common is the lack of the Harrods name, arguably their greatest asset. Is this a branding mistake?
Eric Musgrave, fashion industry commentator and former editor of Drapers, says, “Apart from its less-than-impressive airport shops, which always seem like upmarket tourist boutiques, Harrods has resisted the chance to open stores beyond Brompton Road. I am sure the airport shops take loads of money, but the strategy of maintaining just one “real” Harrods seems eminently sensible.
“Harrods did not open regional satellites like its direct upmarket department store rivals, Harvey Nichols (six UK regional stores plus one in Dublin) and Selfridges (three regional stores, including two in Manchester). If you want the Harrods experience, there is only one place to go. It’s a compelling argument.” he says.
“With reference to its two ventures into beauty and into a café, it is significant it is not using the Harrods name.” says Musgrave. “It is using H. That seems sensible to me. Will the connection to consumers be obvious? These are clearly an experiment that could be quietly closed down if they don’t work and gently extended if they do. On the face of it, it is a curious move, but I do not think it is danger of diluting the main Harrods brand.” he says.
The new beauty boutiques will host new brands to Harrods and offer services such as blow-dries and facials plus a “coffee-to-cocktail” bar for the complete shopping experience. Harrods said the launch is part of its efforts to “disrupt the UK beauty retail landscape” by bringing its brand to a wider audience across the UK. No doubt they’ve looked at the demise of the traditional department store and the success of Sephora globally, but not in the UK.
Annalise Fard, director of beauty at Harrods, said: “Nobody is doing or investing more to showcase to customers what is possible in the world of 21st-century beauty than Harrods. H beauty is an opportunity to bring our mission to more beauty lovers across the UK. This investment demonstrates our belief in the strength of our beauty authority and the opportunities within the beauty industry here in the UK and represents a major extension to our current beauty business.”
Right - H Café Henley on Thames
David M Watts, Industry Consultant, says, “It’s potentially a great money spinner as beauty is fast becoming the entry into luxury (whereas it was accessories and fragrance) both designer brands (Chanel/DIOR/GUCCI) and celebrity Fenty Beauty and professional Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury have sold out in stores like Bergdorf Goodman in NYC. Beauty is a smart way to engage with customers with try before you buy, makeovers and allowing experimentation in store.”
“H Café is a good idea for brand extension again if done right. Ivy Club/Restaurant have done it and VOGUE Magazine has created there cafe brand in overseas territories like Dubai, Moscow and Berlin.” says Watts.
Is it a mistake not to use the full Harrods name? “Possibly, but one assumes it will ally itself to the Harrods brand in some way with branding-colour design. Plus they want to identify with a new market so a rebrand of the new offering is not a wholly bad idea.
“Beauty is an exciting category with big margins. The recent GUCCI lipstick in vintage packaging is estimated to have sold 1 million lipsticks in its first month of launch at £34 per unit.” he says.
What advice would you offer them? "Include men's beauty - hugely growing sector underdeveloped and a perfect opportunity to test customer reaction. ‘Men's Beauty’ (not grooming) is estimated to be 1.14 billion dollars in 2019.
“Develop new experiential in-store concepts for men’s and women’s that gets customer engagement and generates buzz, allowing customers to create assets for Instagram and other social media platforms.” says Watts.
Julien Sheridan,J Co-Founder &CEO www.sheridanandco.com, a global retail design agency, says, “I think it is a great idea. People like to buy luxury products in luxury surroundings, and I imagine that this will be a great success. They are extending an offering that they are already excellent at, not “having a go” at something new.
“The brands that they sell can only be delighted, as they know that Harrods will have studied intelligently in the data they hold before deciding to take this step.” she says.
“I like H Beauty. It gives them an opportunity to do their thing a little differently in here without upsetting the brand guidelines that they have in Knightsbridge. Harrods is Harrods, and H Beauty will be a little “lighter” perhaps and a plus side of being out of Central London and with parking at Intu this may be being positioned with a different customer in mind.
“Beauty, as a category is flying, and a career in beauty is now a very respectable, highly paid, arena to be in. I love the fact that they will be offering training, a beauty concierge and masterclasses.” she says.
“The advice I would offer them is “carry on Harrods, you know what you are doing, and you do it brilliantly” so do not listen to the doubters. Beauty belongs to beauty, it is it’s own category, and a buying it in chemist shops does not “do it” for a lot of people.” says Sheridan.
Other retailers will be watching what and how Harrods does here. Globally, the Harrods name is as strong as other great British luxury brands, regardless of ownership, such as Rolls Royce and Cunard, but, until now, and apart from the airport stores, it hasn’t tried to expand its footprint.
Why now? It’s a tough time in retail and many people say the beauty market, particularly the colour segment, has become saturated and is struggling.
Left - Recognisably Harrods?
Many people may wonder why Harrods isn’t putting its efforts into harrods.com. This has the potential to be a huge global player in e-commerce rather than a shop window for the Knightsbridge store.
“They have tried I understand, but inside sources tell me that it's so political and departmentalised that the e-commerce has always faced insurmountable obstacles.” says Watts.
“In terms of the business doing more online, I would counsel against that.” says Musgrave. “Except for a tiny bit of own-label merchandise (and more in food, obviously), Harrods sells only third-party brands. What it sells – and this is unique – is the Harrods experience that requires a visit to the store at Knightsbridge. I’d leave it at that.” he says.
With so much bad news in retail it will be very welcome, especially for the regional shopping store owners like Intu, to have a new successful chain, regardless of the name. Harrods aren’t the first people to think of this beauty idea though, you only have to look at the new fancy Boots in Covent Garden, which has become something of an unofficial centre of beauty brands in London, with its beauty hall and YouTube studio, to prove how people are piling into specific beauty retail.
While there is scope to pick up the slack from the closing department stores, offer something fresher and more contemporary than say Space NK, and get in there early before the rumoured relaunch of Sephora in the UK, it is becoming more competitive. The Harrods' H could just swing it.
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Is the sleeping giant, India, about to wake? There have been many false starts over the years predicting that India would become a major player economically. It’s certainly got the numbers of people, and, its middle class, with its growing disposable income, is expanding fast. Depending on the measures used, the estimated size of India’s middle class ranges between 78 million (Economist, Jan. 2018) to 604 million (Krishnan and Hatekar, EPW June 2017). Even on the lowest estimates this is a huge amount of potential consumers and retailers and brands are moving in.
Japan’s ‘Fast Retailing’ opened its first Uniqlo store in India this month in New Delhi. The company is planning to open two more stores in Delhi’s metropolitan area this autumn. Uniqlo said the three stores will be testing grounds before the company decides its long-term strategy in the country, The company says high import duties imposed in India have impacted the brand’s pricing, but no doubt it will remain competitive against other western chains.
Up until May, this year, India was the world’s fastest growing economy. It has a population of 1.3 billon with 65% under 35. There are an estimated 530 million people online and an 491 million smartphones by 2022.
Apple is rumoured to have finalised a short list of locations for its first retail store in India and Ikea finally opened in 2018 after 12 years of trying. It was prevented from opening stores because of government restrictions on foreign investment. The company says it aims to have 25 outlets across the country by 2025.
Aiming to tap into the young and affluent Indian consumer and become the ASOS of India is Koovs.com. Its corporate site says it “brings western fashion authority though the Koovs Private Label, curated global and local fashion labels and designer & celebrity collaborations to create and build the leading online western fashion brand for young, style-conscious Indian customers.”
Waheed Alli founded the company in 2012. He was previously Chairman of ASOS plc between 2000 and 2012. Based in London, it had full year sales of INR1,178m/£12.8m year to March 2019. While a relative retail minnow, recent forecasts show the ecommerce market in India growing from $24billion in 2017 to $84billion in 2021 and $200billion in 2026. Online fashion is expected to grow from a $4billion market in 2017 to a $15billion market by 2022.
Koovs concessions have opened in three central stores in Delhi over the period. They are now rolling out this concession model to another five stores in Bangalore (two stores), Hyderabad, Pune and Noida. The company has struggled recently because of the disruptions in India caused by demonetisation and the introduction of the Indian Goods and Sales Tax (GST).
Vibhuti Vazirani, founder of new Indian-made fashion start-up, Zavi, specialising in less environmentally impactful fashion, says, “A couple of years ago H&M and Zara entered India and have seen a great response. Such fast fashion brands are a hype in India now when a large part of the world has reached its peak of fast fashion. Within India too, there are many domestic players that cater to a large fast fashion industry.”
Zara currently has 16 stores in India and H&M has 47. The huge Tata Group which has been Inditex SA's - Zara's parent company - partner running Zara stores in India is building its own apparel empire as trend-focused as Zara, but at half the price. As per a Bloomberg report, Tata’s retail arm, Trent Ltd, has fine-tuned its local supply chain to deliver “extreme fast fashion” which can get runway styles to customers in just 12 days. Trent now plans to open 40 outlets of its flagship 'Westside' chain every year and hundreds of its mass market 'Zudio' stores, where nothing costs more than $15. “The middle class is growing, incomes have grown, Indians are travelling more and they have more money to spend,” Tata said. “Now that we’ve built this capability and this model that’s working so well, it’s time to grow faster.” it says. Zara is still expensive to the average Indian consumer and Tata Group is tapping into that cheaper demand for western fashion.
Zavi is being marketed at eco-conscious Western consumers rather than the domestic market. “I see Zavi entering the international space rather than India at this time because there are already some well informed countries that have made sustainability a priority and so that market is clear to respond better to what Zavi has to offer.” she says.
According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030, India is on course to witness a 4x growth in consumer spend. It will remain one of the youngest nations on the planet and will be home to more than one billion internet users. By 2030, India will move from being an economy led by the bottom of the pyramid, to one led by the middle class. Nearly 80% of households in 2030 will be middle-income, up from about 50% today. The middle class will drive 75% of consumer spending in 2030.
The Indian market isn’t straightforward due to government restrictions and import taxes, but, the size of the growing middle class should be both tempting and terrifying for many international brands dealing with saturation and maturity in their established markets. They should have learnt their lessons from their early days in China and will be no doubt want to time their entry right to start making money early on. Brands can no longer afford to heamorrhage money for years on a speculative market. What is clear is that India is getting richer and there is a demand for international brands from Indian consumers with more money in their pockets. But is this the right time?
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The government wants us to save for the future. It makes sense. We’re living long lives and we need to plan for our financial futures if we are going to be able to live more comfortably when we retire. Pensions can be complicated and difficult to understand and, up until a few years ago, people were often asked to actively opt-in to a pension scheme and as such it had a low level of take up.
Things changed with the 2008 Pensions Act, when ‘auto enrolment’ was regarded as the best way to counter apathy and persuade people to get saving. Larger companies started the process back in 2012. Small and micro businesses, employing from one to 50 people, had to have everybody enrolled by February 2018 at the latest. The levels started small with minimum auto-enrolment contributions of 2% (split equally between employee and employer). In April, this year, it rose to 8% (5% employee and 3% employer).
It is estimated auto enrolment has lead up to 10 million people to start saving for their retirement for the first time. This is great news for individuals and society, long term, but for retailers, already seeing sales fall, it is less money in people’s pockets and reduced spending power.
This has all been a long time coming. But, it’s still not enough. People will need to save an even higher percentage of their income. In 2017, the Pensions minister, Richard Harrington, set a target for savers to achieve a £250,000 pension pot by the time they retire. To reach this target, an individual whose salary builds up to £27,000 over their career and saves for 40 years with no breaks would need combined employee and employer contribution levels of 25% says research for Citywire's New Model Adviser® by pensions provider Aviva.
The statutory contributions rate looks like it will rise further, no firm plans have been set just yet, but are we starting to see the affects this new level of saving is having on retail sales?
September 2019 saw the worst retail sales figures since British Retail Consortium (BRC) records began in 1995. Sales decreased by 1.3% in September. Sales decreased by 1.7% on a Like-for-like basis from September 2018, when they had decreased 0.2% from the preceding year. The BRC said the “spectre” of a potential no-deal Brexit is weighing on consumers’ purchasing decisions, but surely higher levels of minimum pension contributions are resulting in lower retail sales?
Pension provider Royal London produced research looking into what would happen if someone who has only contributed the minimum to their pensions under government 'auto-enrolment' rules, decides to draw a state pension as soon as they can and immediately cuts down to part-time work. Royal London defines a ‘gold standard’ retirement - income at retirement is two-thirds of pre-retirement levels - or a ‘silver standard’ retirement - income is half of pre-retirement levels. Someone pursuing a flexible retirement would have to work until they are 79 to achieve the ‘gold standard’. The age comes down to 74 for a worker who defers taking a state pension and maintains full-time hours until they stop working. A worker targeting ‘silver standard’ retirement but who retires gradually would have to work on until they were 69 – or 68 if they defer their state pension and continue in full-time work. The report encourages workers to contribute more than the legal minimum of 8% (combined employee and employer contribution) to a workplace pension. It said a 10% rate allows an individual to retire around three years earlier, while a contribution rate of 12% allows an individual to retire around six years earlier than if they contributed just the minimum
The older you are when you start to save, the higher the contributions will have to be. So someone starting aged 32 should contribute 16% of their salary for the rest of their working life. While 16% may seem a huge commitment, this figure includes your employer's contribution. All employers must 'auto-enrol' their qualifying employees in a workplace pension. Qualifying employees are those that are aged between 22 and State Pension age, earn more than £10,000 a year and work in the UK.
According to a report by Scottish Widows, the average income that people state they will require for comfortable retirement is £23,000 a year and it recommends that 12% of income should be channelled into a pension throughout your working life.
Almost 50 per cent of workers are still not putting away enough to meet those expectations. In 2015, one in five weren’t contributing anything to any pension at all and out of 6,000 workplace schemes more than 5,000 were in deficit. Figures from the Pension Protection Fund in May 2016 showed that the shortfall was a colossal £300 billion.
“In future contribution rates are going to rise. There’s a consensus in the industry that even when we get to 8% that’s still not enough. That can’t be the end and we must not rest on our laurels.” says Emma Douglas, Head of Defined Contribution at Legal and General, told ‘Smart Pension’, a company founded by experienced finance & technology professionals and designed specifically to support UK businesses faced with the challenges of auto enrolment.
“We will need to raise awareness about the importance of saving enough to provide a really comfortable retirement. There may be some pain to come, but I think that once people see their pension pot growing there will be acceptance and engagement. We need to make sure pension statements are transparent and easy to understand.” she says. “Overall, I think auto enrolment has been very positive.”
Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell told Moneywise: “To put it into perspective, someone earning around £27,000 and paying in the auto-enrolment minimum will see their personal contribution rise from about £500 this year to more than £850 in 2019/20.”
£850 for somebody on a £27,000 income is a chunk of money. It could be a month’s rent. Looking at Millennials and Generation Z already spending significant amounts of their incomes on renting and paying pack student loans, it will put more of a squeeze on their already reduced disposable incomes.
“While for most people this is still not enough to enjoy a comfortable retirement, we are now getting to the stage where some reluctant savers could start to feel the pinch. Rising average pay should help ease the pain, but anyone missing out on a salary hike could well be tempted to prioritise spending today over saving for tomorrow.” he says.
People can choose to opt out at any time. “Anyone thinking of quitting their workplace pension needs to understand that they will be losing out on both tax relief and their employer contribution, which put together double the value of the money they put in. Put another way, opting out of your pension is a bit like taking a voluntary pay cut – so nobody should do it lightly!” he says.
According to Jenny Condron, the ACA's (Association of Consulting Actuaries) chairwoman, this phased increase in contributions is needed to ensure that many more people save sufficient amounts, for both an adequate retirement income and one where they have real choices to spend some of their accumulated savings, as they approach or reach retirement.
She said: “Actions are needed to draw more of those on lower incomes and the self-employed into auto-enrolment levels of contributions, beginning with the gig economy’s quasi-employers.
“Then, from 2025, with due notice having been given, there is the need to gradually phase in rises in total contributions until they reach 12-14% of earnings.”
Minimum contributions were increased overall from 2 to 5 per cent in April 2018, which for 85 per cent of employers didn’t have an adverse impact on scheme participation, the ACA said.
It’s obvious that those on lower incomes have always saved less for their retirement. They are also more sensitive to the increased contributions. Putting 12%-14% of earnings into a pension pot will be difficult for many and sacrifices will have to be made if they decide to stay in the scheme. It could see increasing numbers of people opting out or a marked decrease in disposable incomes. People on lower incomes will have to make a difficult choice. This is very large group of people who weren’t saving before.
More stats show how retail is seeing sales fall. IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index showed a drop of -22.5% in menswear digital sales year-on-year for September, with overall clothing sales seeing its first negative growth in over two years. Womenswear, footwear and accessories also declined with year-on-year growth rates of -13.3%, -9.8% and -9.0% respectively.
Auto enrolment is a fantastic idea for people’s long-term financial futures. Contemporary retail is in a perfect storm and auto enrolment pensions encouraging an estimated 10 million people to save at least 5% (& rising) of their income for the first time will only increase the squeeze and could be an extra of contributing factor to the current retail malaise. Will the British go from spenders to savers? Retailers will hope not.
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If things weren’t getting hard enough for ‘fast-fashion’ retailers along comes ‘Extinction Rebellion’ (XR). Protests the world over are warning of impending doom and trying to ram home and ostracise those who continue to shop at brands and retailers vilified for producing clothing that is deemed to be disposable.
While the traditional high-street has struggled, both here and in the US, Forever 21 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, for example, the winners of the fashion internet, such as ASOS and Zalando, appear to be slowing. Recent profit warnings and falling share prices have put a wobble in this bright spark of retail.
Left - An impromptu anti-fashion show in London's Oxford Circus
While ASOS is expected to show an uplift in revenues this week, could this be the peak for these types of retailers? Is the much publicised message of Extinction Rebellion cutting through to the buying public and will this prove to be a tipping point for ‘Fast-Fashion’?
Morgan Stanley recently said the volume of clothes shoppers buy has plateaued, "we suspect it's primarily because consumers are now buying clothing in such large quantities that they get very little marginal 'utility' from any additional items.” they said.
Retailers such as Primark, H&M and Boohoo rely on large volumes with small profit margins. Is this slowing more a result of saturation rather than the start of a boycott of ‘fast-fashion’ brands for environmental concerns?
“There is some very muddled thinking around the debate on how to make the 21st-century world more environmentally-friendly.” says Eric Musgrave, fashion industry commentator and former editor of Drapers. “I am sure the fashion industry is wasteful, but I’d like to know which large-scale industries are not. Who, for example, ever talks about mass-produced furniture, or pots and pans? I am not an apologist for the fashion business, but it is seen largely as a frivolous unnecessary luxury, not a necessity, hence it is an “easy” (or some would argue “legitimate”) target.” he says.
“I see no desire from the mass of the British public to change their buying habits. It would be wrong to confuse problems that may have risen at individual companies like Quiz and ASOS with overall trends.
“Too often overlooked in all this analysis is that the UK is a very troubled economy, with little sign of it improving any time soon. We have had 11 years of austerity and many people do not have much money. Asking them to forgo the pleasures they derive from cheap fast fashion is the epitome of wishful thinking.” he says. “Fast fashion is here to stay for decades to come – within the sector there will always be winners and losers.
And ask yourself, seriously, what lasting impact on fast fashion did the grim Rana Plaza disaster in Dhaka in 2013 have?”
“The fast fashion firms will not adjust their model. If some disappear, others will appear to take their place.” he says. “Finally, I await the explanation from Extinction Rebellion and the like about what all the many millions of people who earn a living in the fashion supply chain will do if it were to shut down tomorrow.”
Fast-fashion retailer Quiz, a fast growing newcomer to the market, recently announced lower sales in the first half of the year in the face of a “very challenging” high street. The retailer said its stores and concessions had suffered weaker-than-expected sales over the six months to September after a slump in footfall. Quiz reported that total group revenues slipped 5% to £63.3 million during the period, as online growth (7%) failed to offset its high street decline.
The entire fashion industry seems quite content to push all the heat onto these ‘fast-fashion’ retailers. Now public enemy No.1, ‘fast-fashion’ has become a scapegoat for the fashion industry in general. Arguably, all fashion is fast and in its nature it is disposable. People are being forced to question their purchases and asking themselves if they really need it, but is it significantly changing behaviour?
As part of Extinction Rebellion’s #XR52 weeks of direct action, they are urging people to #BOYCOTTFASHION for a whole year, in order to disrupt business-as-usual and send a message to government, industry and public alike that enough is enough.
Olly Rzysko CMO + Retail Advisor, says, “It will take something big for there to be a significant shift, eg the ‘blue planet’ plastic straw moment.”
Kathryn Bishop, Deputy editor - LS:N Global, says, “On Question Time last week, an audience member said David Attenborough spoke to her more than XR activity did. Sadly…”
It appears people are still buying clothes in volume, but we reached a peak a few years back. Kantar data suggests consumers in the UK are buying 50 items of clothing a year, up from 20 items in the 1990s but down from 52 three years ago. In the US the figure is estimated to be as high as 65 items a year, compared with between 40 and 50 in the 1990s and almost 70 in 2005.
"Put simply, consumers would rather spend their marginal dollar on, say, going out for a meal, than on buying a 60th item of clothing in a year,” Morgan Stanley analysts Geoff Ruddell, Kimberly Greenberger and Maki Shinozaki said in their report.
"It is our contention, therefore, that the apparel markets in many developed countries may now be entering a lengthy period of structural decline.” they said. The main catalyst for increased consumption was falling prices. "If clothing volumes are plateauing in developed countries, the only way the apparel markets there can grow is if clothing prices go up," the report said. "But (potential US tariff impacts aside) we think it more likely that they will continue to fall ... as production continues to shift from China to lower-cost countries in the region (such as Vietnam and Bangladesh)," it said.
US clothing prices have fallen by 0.8 per cent a year since 2001, while UK prices fell for 13 consecutive years until 2010. Volumes in the UK have more than doubled since 1998 and US volumes have grown almost 50 per cent since 2001, driving 28 per cent market growth. "Expecting consumers to buy clothing in ever-larger volumes, in response to ever-lower prices, was never likely to be sustained in the very long term," the Morgan Stanley report said. The allure of buying has also gone with consumers already own so many clothes that each new item they purchase doesn't spark happiness the report also said.
Personal stylist Elsa Boutaric with a focus on sustainable fashion and helping people build a sustainable wardrobe, and spend less, says with regards to the #ExtinctionRebellion movement, “I think it is definitely raising awareness of the issues surrounding fast-fashion, and putting it into the minds of the consumer. Publishing reports, stats and figures of the actual effect that the message is having has the potential to be more valuable in driving change.” she says
Is this the tipping point for fast-fashion?
“Consumer behaviour patterns are changing and though we still live in a generation of convenience, consumers are looking for more sustainable and ethical options than a cheap pair of jeans and shoes.” says Boutaric. “People shop on ASOS because it is a viable option compared to other online shops, so when their customer base moves away to look for sustainable alternatives, they don’t have anything to fall back on.
“ASOS is middle market, combined with high street and doesn’t really have a place in the future of fashion unless it learns to adapt, and this is what it is going to have to prove it can to do both its customers and its investors in order to secure its future.” she says.
“The disadvantage they (fast-fashion retailers) have is that they deliver huge volumes on low margins, so would need to change their business model drastically. This isn’t easy to do when you have developed a position in a market place and it would mean working with new designers and increase their prices. This not only has the potential to reflect badly on their own brand, but also the designers that they work with." she says.
Right - Are you ready to boycott fashion for a year? #ExtinctionRebellion
“They would need to introduce charitable angles or work with ethical designers without damaging their reputation or losing their market. Also, they would need to manage their stock and not have so much go to waste sitting in warehouses waiting to be sold. This could mean a change in manufacturers and distributors which could prove costly and time consuming. There are several factors that businesses would need to consider, and not all of them will survive.” she says.
“There has certainly been a shift, and it is being driven by consumers and some brands are struggling to keep up, but others are adapting and thriving.” says Boutaric. “I don’t think it’s a case of reducing their consumption, it’s more consumers buying more ethical options. More people are only buying what they need, or shopping charity shops, or attending clothes swaps. Buying new seems to be a new slur, unless it’s from ethical brands and designers.” she says.
We are constantly told that young people are the most engaged in these types of environmental movements and it’s their future we are ruining, but they are also fast-fashion’s target demographic and consumers. There’s a big disconnect here.
There could be a perfect storm brewing for fast-fashion with XR. If it connects with young people’s behaviour it could be significant. A swing away from this type of consumption could be detrimental to these giants of fashion.
Fast-fashion retailers are starting to make green noises with second hand stores - Read more here - popping up and others like H&M and Next moving into selling other brands to off-set the malaise in their own - Read more here - but investors think long term and will need to feel confident that these retailers will continue to grow and be profitable. One thing is certain, brands and retailers will want to distance themselves from the term 'fast-fashion' and its negative connotations. There needs to be a groundswell from the people passionately protesting at Extinction Rebellion to the average British consumer.
'Fast-Fashion' is the OxyContin of the fashion industry. Going cold turkey could have some serious side effects.
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We’re often bombarded with marketing speak talking about “local”, but it’s mostly just that, speak. Remember when HSBC used to refer to itself as the “The world’s local bank.”, it meant nothing more than operating in lots of different markets and countries. Local became more about geography than anything else. It joined the group of words, such as luxury, modern and sustainable, that get used all too often, but have become meaningless.
Trying to balance the idea of a much loved local, independent retailer and the scale of a larger chain is the dream of any contemporary brand or retailer. According to CACI Consulting Group’s ‘Location Dynamics” engine, 75% of the UK high streets have the same brand profile. They say “The concept of clone towns is well known, but we believe clone stores are the real issue.”
Left - Welcome to clone town - Can brands decentralise and empower its people on the ground to make decisions?
It’s boring and in a saturated market many cookie-cutter, anonymous chains are no longer appealing to consumers and as such we’re seeing those with too many stores close or reduce their footprint.
“In a market where consumers are seeking localisation and engage in brands that mirror their values it is essential that a store is part of the community in which it sits.” says Alex McCulloch and John Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
“Customers can buy generic product sold in a uniform way online, they seek out stores for the personal, curated, local and engagement. Brands that therefore dictate homogenous stock and store fit out regardless of the local customer will not deliver that experience and as a result fall away.” they say. “The brands that trust in their people on the ground, invest in them and empower them to know their shopper as well as supporting them with forensic data analysis on what sells, what doesn’t, which marketing worked etc are the ones that will succeed.”
“Data alone cannot fix the problem, but nor can people. Good brands leverage both. A great example of this is Waterstones, finding a similar one in the fashion sector is a challenge – typically independents lead the way here. One fashion brand that doesn’t shine in this area is M&S, which serve up the same store, stock and fit-out regardless of market, and have only just entrusted their store managers to know their own P&L; the antithesis of employee empowerment.”
The type of store finding it hardest to adjust to modern retail was, originally and ironically, the most localised. Nearly every town and city had their own individually named department store up until quite recently. It was only in the early 2000s that John Lewis, with the exception of Peter Jones and Knight & Lee, which is now closed, rebranded each store to the company umbrella name. Tyrrell & Green in Southampton, Bonds in Norwich, Trewins in Watford, Jessops in Nottingham, Bainbridge’s in Newcastle, Robert Sayle in Cambridge and Cole Brothers in Sheffield all disappeared. They were all recognisably John Lewis because of the store interiors and branding, but retained their historical monikers into the 21st century and the affection that each town would have for them.
DH Evans on Oxford Street was re-branded as House of Fraser in 2001 along with many other well known names such as Rackhams of Birmingham and Kendals of Manchester. (It will be interesting to watch House of Fraser’s next rebrand to Frasers in 2020, back to the original Glasgow store’s name, with a new store in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre following the exit of Debenhams. “Frasers of Wolverhampton” could have quite the ring to it?)
Up until 2018 the Newcastle based department store chain, Fenwick, had individual buyers for its 9 department stores. In order to save costs they centralised their buying last year saying, ”Fenwick has today announced a proposal to modernise and reorganise the business, moving to a functionally led structure while retaining our local focus.
“These proposals are part of a broader strategy to modernise the business and to invest in both Fenwick’s multichannel offer – including IT upgrades and ecommerce – and its flagship Newcastle store.” Previously each store ran autonomously.
It is understandable the desire to have everything centralised under one name and buying team. It saves costs and doesn’t confuse the customer. It also makes more sense because of the internet and having one unified website, but it loses the personalisation and affection that people had for these brands and nobody wants to think that their town or city is the same as everywhere else. (In out-of-town shopping centres it doesn’t matter quite as much because their isn’t so much ownership of place).
Right - Do clone towns need a pop-up Banksy store like this one in Croydon?
This reblanding doesn’t take into account British idiosyncrasies or quirks and our love of personality. Many chain stores want bland boxes. The historical nature of the fabric of many of these older brands and their buildings have been looked at as a problem, money pit and not conducive to modern retail rather than embracing their uniqueness. It’s only poor and long term under investment that has let these retailers down. Liberty of London wouldn’t be the same if it was in another building. The building is the brand.
"There is a fear that localised = expensive. It doesn’t need to – you know a Waterstones when you go in it and the branding is universal, but each store manager has autonomy over the look and feel of the product, what is on promotion and maintains local charts etc.” says McCulloch and Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
"Chains need to trust that their staff on the ground can make decisions on how they sell and give them space to do so within the brand framework. Equally they should be able to use POS data, online sales data and customer data to inform the manager on which lines have worked, which initiatives drove sales and how to better them.”
Engaged employees make better employees especially if they are personally invested in decisions. It’s the opposite of automation and the robotic attitude to manual shop employees.
“By trusting in the people on the front line, educating them, training them and supporting them through data will you also likely see key staff retention increase because staff will be empowered in their roles.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Is the design of stores an issue here and how can design catch up with consumer behaviour? “I’m not sure design is at fault here, there are many truly innovative stores and spaces in the market. The issue is more typically underinvestment in stores and a homogenous approach to stores. A brand can tailor its social ads based on geography and consumer (a 20-year-old single male in London will get served a different ad. to a 28-year-old mother of two in Liverpool) but don’t consider the same approach and nuance with their stores.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Facebook has been putting ‘Beacons’ into stores to send consumers personalised ads and to track their movements. Retailers also need to work backwards from this and tailor the stores to the people who are frequenting them. They could find out this information from peoples’ Bluetooth being turned on and then change the buy of the store according to the breakdown of the consumers and visitors.
Obviously, not each and every store is identical. Stores are different in size and can accommodate different levels of ranges. Some chains specifier different product for different locations, but, it’s more a mindset and preconception that they’re all the same which is the main problem here. People want to be pleasantly surprised. “I’m-not-going-to-go-in-there-because-I-already-know-what-they-sell-and-I-can’t-be-bothered” is the modern attitude to many chain stores. The more individual or local they were perceived to be, the more often you’re likely to take a look. If you want anonymous and clinical you’ll shop online, it’s about pride of place.
Just as Boohoo shutters all Karen Millen and Coast stores and relaunches both exclusively online, it could be worth rethinking their strategy. We often think of physical retail going head-to-head with online. It’s one or t’other. The digital upstart appeared, grew quickly and is making the former, and in many cases painfully, contract as we head towards a new balance of consumer retail. But, before you decided to close all your stores in your retail network, there’s something you should know. Ninety per cent of all UK retail spend if influenced by a store and, according to research by CACI Consulting Group, across the UK, online sales are 106% higher within a store’s catchment area. Fashion, in particular, was 127% higher.
CACI Consulting Group provides solutions to make the best possible location planning and customer targeting decisions for brands and this UK wide survey was conducted with over 2,500 consumers across 20 different brands. They are calling it the ‘Halo Effect’ and it describes the uplift in online sales due to the presence of physical stores. “We know that stores facilitate showrooming and click & collect and we can quantify them as well, but what was less known until today is the uplift that stores have on what were considered ‘pure play online sales’ – or what we characterise as the ‘sit on the sofa with an iPad, get it delivered to your house or office shop’. These sales are twice as likely to take place within a store’s catchment than outside it – demonstrating the effect that physical stores have in driving online sales.” says CACI.
The catchment area is defined using drivetimes based on where 80% of customers who spent in store come from according to the survey data. The size of the catchments therefore varies by brand so, for example, John Lewis has a much larger catchment than a Boots.
“The presence of a physical store gives a customer the security of knowing that should something go wrong there is a store you can go to. In addition, seeing the store as they go to work and shopping puts the brand front of mind and builds trust with the shopper, and store led marketing in the catchment area reinforces the brand. All of these secondary effects drive online behaviours up. It is no coincidence that bar a few notable exceptions some of the biggest online brands also have national store networks: Argos, John Lewis, Next. This is also why Amazon are increasingly exploring what a network might look like.” says CACI.
Fashion, in particular, was noticeably higher at 127%, why is this? “We believe that fashion is higher because it is more of a discretionary purchase. This has two impacts – you are more likely to see it, consider it and then purchase later, at home (a subconscious showrooming) and you are also more likely to return it, particularly if you live within a store’s catchment. Therefore, being near a store triggers increased engagement.” says CACI.
For every £1 spent online outside a store’s catchment, £2.06 is spent online inside a store’s catchment. According to CACI, consumers still value a trip to the shops. Although frequency is down, average spend is up per visit and net promoter scores in shopping locations have increased by almost a third. Suggesting we’re more, rather than less, satisfied when we visit. “In this environment the role of the store can be far more nuanced. No longer a place that just shifts stuff, it is simultaneously a marketing hub, fulfilment centre, experiential destination and showroom.” says CACI.
Norfolk Natural Living's founder, Bella Middleton says, "The fact that online sales are 106% higher within a store's catchment is not a surprise. Nor should it be. It is evidence that the internet simply cannot replace the trust and community feel of visiting a physical retail store.
"At Norfolk Natural Living, we have a retail store in Holt, Norfolk, and a website selling our products internationally. Despite some incredible media coverage having grown awareness of our sustainable products internationally, we still see more orders from within the Norfolk area than any other region.
"To me, this is an opportunity for retailers to remember that the internet isn't everything. It is fast, convenient and comparatively easy to manage your business online, but people still cling onto that desire for trust and community. Even if they ultimately put their card details into a website rather than a card reader.” she says.
It appears that people also like local online. “As an online retailer based just outside of Sheffield when we have looked at our regional sales we found it really interesting the sheer volume of sales we have in counties close to home compared to further away and when our website shows us the locations our customers are from there is a spike in cities within a 35 mile radius.” says Lucy Arnold from Lucy Locket Loves, a women’s sportswear brand.
Could these kind of stats be the motivator to see pure play online retailers open physical stores? “We already are and the false distinction between on and offline will only blur further.” says CACI. "If you are a pure online retailer today, you only have 15% of the available spend in the market open to you because 85% of consumer spend touches a store. In addition, your competition online will often already have a store network and operate at a competitive advantage in marketing and brand awareness. In those circumstances why wouldn’t you go play in store?”
Is there any evidence where stores have closed and online sales have gone down? “Mothercare is the clearest one. As they embarked on a store closure program, they have seen online sales fall as well.” says CACI.
Is this information compelling enough to keep stores open is the real question? If rents and rates drop then stores will have a far brighter future and this type of online ‘Halo Effect’ will be another reason to keep stores open or be reopened. Having the shops in the right places to maximise this catchment area theory is key and reducing overlapping stores will be the obvious step for those with a larger retail network. It’s all about finding the perfect balance and looking at physical and online working together rather than against each other.
To be a retailer today you need many fingers in many pies. Think a centipede Paul Hollywood and you’re getting some idea. So, it was with interest to hear the latest announcement from the world’s second largest fashion retailer, H&M. They’ve decided to start a pilot selling products from external brands.
While they have sold third party brands in some of their more premium chains before, it’s a first for the mother brand. H&M’s main, eponymous brand has been neglected and struggled as the company’s strategy was to roll out retail chains such as Arket, Weekday and &Other Stories.
The bottom end of the market is tough with margins continually squeezed. H&M’s huge undersold inventory, an undeveloped online offering and falling profits - for the eighth quarter in a row the Swedish fashion chain reported a decreasing profit, despite having recently achieved turnover growth - has taken its toll on this retail behemoth.
Left - Swedish fast-fashion giant is piloting a new strategy
It needs a new strategy and has clearly been watching the likes of ASOS and Zalando be all things to all people and expand rapidly.
A company spokesman said “The H&M brand will now develop our offer of external brands. The purpose is to complement our offer with external brands to add excitement and energy and we see great opportunities for growth and to find new customers,”.
You can charge more for branded product without the need to hold large amounts of stock. It also widens you target market, especially amongst men who still like branded items. While it’s not clear which brands will be sold, it’s likely to be dominated by sportswear. This is an area that has seen huge growth with the likes of JD Sports smashing their earnings. JD Sports’ last half-year revenues jumped 47% to £2.7 billion on the back of a 10% surge in like-for-like sales. Sportswear has higher margins and appeals to more age demographics.
One of the more traditional high-street retailers to make this third party brand strategy work is Next. Its ‘LABEL’ concept is now turning over £350 million in yearly sales with huge growth seen over the last few years. Brands such as River Island, adidas, Boss, Superdry and Fat Face sit alongside beauty and home. It’s the contemporary department store.
In their latest financial statement, they say they “continue to develop the business through the addition of new brands, increasing the breadth of offer with existing brands and (from early this year) offering items stocked in our partners’ warehouses through Platform Plus"
"‘Platform Plus’ allows our customers to order un-stocked items directly from our partners’ warehouses to be delivered through our network.
“In March this year we started selling items in this way with three of our partner brands. These items are offered to customers on a 48-hour delivery promise. Items are injected into our warehouse and then delivered through our courier and store network. For example, a Platform Plus item ordered on a Monday, is transferred to our warehouse by Tuesday and delivered to the customer on Wednesday.” they say.
“When customers order Platform Plus items with other items stocked in a Next warehouse (available in 24 hours) they can choose to receive one consolidated delivery, offered in 48 hours. Alternatively, customers can choose to split their delivery and have stocked items delivered in 24 hours. There is no additional charge for the split delivery. Currently, 50% are choosing to consolidate their order.”
Next says Platform Plus is more than a marketplace. “Platform Plus differs from many marketplaces because, rather than despatching parcels directly to consumers from third-party warehouses, items are inducted into our distribution network. The advantages of operating in this way are: We can consolidate orders into one delivery which can materially reduce distribution costs. Items can be delivered through stores which currently receive 50% of all our Online orders and we have visibility and control of all orders through our own trusted networks and tracking systems. This allows us to ensure quality of service and in the event of any delivery issues or queries, customers have one point of contact.
It seems to be working for Next with full price LABEL sales in the first half of this year up +26% and total sales (including markdown sales) up +29%. They expect full price sales in the second half top 2019 to be up around +13%, more in line with their original full year estimate of +15%. The expected slowdown in growth in the second half is mainly due to errors and stock shortages in their Lipsy - owned by Next - ranges which they believe will slowly be corrected.
For the full year, full price LABEL sales are forecast to be up +19%. Total sales (including markdown sales) are forecast to be up +21% with net margins, after central overheads, forecast to be around 15%.
In this retail environment this is very impressive. Sales are a combination of wholesale and commission, and although they make lower net margins on commission sales, they encourage their partners to adopt this model because they believe it generates higher sales growth. In the first half of this year commission sales grew by +32% compared to wholesale which grew by +18.5%. It's also less risky.
As of August 2019, they have four clothing brands operating on Platform Plus and plan to add at least ten more later this year, with more to follow in 2020.
Last month they also agreed a licensing deal with Ted Baker to create and sell Ted Baker children’s products. They intend to launch the first collection in Spring 2020.
Right - Next's Label sales over the last four years
Next, thanks to its Directory, has fine-tuned its delivery and database over many years and is trusted by its customers. H&M, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have the online reputation, but, being able to return to store could be a massive positive for consumers.
It will be interesting to see how fast and big they go with this concept and the brands they decide to stock. Third party branded goods allows for a faster turnover of brands and product, less risk, especially under this commission model, and the subsequent cool and elevation that can rub off on a tired umbrella brand.
Consumers are addicted to newness and H&M needs to try something new. This idea has the potential to work, though it is getting increasingly competitive, it just needs to judge when the sportswear trend will finally end, which brands connect with their customer and what the next big trend will be.
We’re halfway through #SecondHandSeptember and how are you doing? The idea, from Oxfam, was to pledge to not buy anything new for the 30 days of September. Oxfam says every week 11 million items of clothing end up in landfill and ‘throwaway fashion’ is putting increasing pressure on our planet and its people - it’s unsustainable and this is their way of making people think and act differently.
An already under pressure high-street isn’t taking this boycott lightly and many are starting to gravitate towards selling second hand clothing themselves. High street brands and retailers are piling into the second hand market trying to looking like caring, sharing and responsible custodians of the fashion industry. Offering to sell not only their’s, but other’s second hand clothes, often for charity, this is a new take on pop-ups and a perception of giving back and closing the loop on the fashion cycle.
Left - The George at Asda 'Re-Loved' pop-up in Milton Keynes
George at Asda has just unveiled their first in-store ‘Re-Loved’ charity clothing shop running for 4 weeks from 2nd September. Located in Asda’s Milton Keynes store it features donated second-hand clothes from a number of different brands, as the retailer looks at ways to encourage customers to reuse, repurpose or recycle their unwanted clothes. The move is part of a drive by George - the UK’s second largest fashion retailer by volume - to improve the environmental impact of its clothes and operations, following the launch of its new sustainability strategy and first range of recycled polyester clothing in the spring.
Melanie Wilson, Senior Director for Sustainable Sourcing at George, said, “By trialling our Re-Loved pop-up shop, we hope to help create another route for unwanted clothes to find a new home and encourage people to think again about throwing away that top or those jeans they no longer love.” All proceeds from the shop will go to Asda’s Tickled Pink campaign, which supports Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now.
As a whole in the UK, the average lifetime for a garment of clothing is estimated as 2.2 years. Extending the active life of clothing by nine months can significantly reduce its environmental impact. The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.
Many brands and retailers are starting to looking into the second hand market as the world is challenged with ever growing mountains of discarded clothes and unsold inventory. It was reported last year that H&M had an incredible $4.3 Billion in unsold clothes. Places like Topshop and Urban Outfitters have had vintage sections for years, and Marks & Spencers has its pioneering ‘Shwop’ scheme, which motivated consumers with vouchers, but to be actually selling second hand clothes alongside new is something new and the next logical step. The stigma around second hand is changing. It’s cool to wear older clothes and a badge of honour not to buy something new. Yet, consumers still get want to get that retail fix.
So, how can brands and retailers make money from this?
Olly Rzysko, CMO & Retail Advisor, says, “Ultimately, every second hand unit sold in the market is another brand new item a retailer isn’t selling. In a declining market, executive teams won’t like that and are responsible for protecting those sales. Second hand clothing is having a surge and it proves to be a logical route on paper.”
“Retail is hard right now and a number of elements are playing a factor in the growth of second hand.” says Rzysko. “Depop and Ebay are doing very well. They are ultimately taking sales from the high street, specifically taking sales of new product away from the retail brands. These businesses are making nothing when people are reselling their product and that will be challenging to accept. Depop particularly has kept its head down and built a sizeable business with only ASOS responding in the form of their Marketplace platform.” he says.
“Most brands experience double digit returns and some of these cannot be sold (as new) on for various reasons. Repairing product or repurposing them enables the returns to be more valuable and not a complete loss.” says Rzysko.
“Many stores right now are larger than required (having been built for a Bricks and Mortar landscape) and filling that space with low cost stock is crucial to prevent cash being tied up with inventory. Vintage / Reclaimed / Second Hand is a great way to fill these spaces.” says Rzysko. “Critically, it ensures the customer returns to the store at a time where footfall is in the decline.”
Right - Oxfam's new 'Superstore' in Oxford
“I think for a lot of brands it can work for their customers. It can also bring in new consumers to a brand where pricing may have been prohibitive before and serving as a gateway into the brand just like Outlet shopping does.” says Rzysko.
Besma Whayeb, Ethical Fashion Blogger, Curiously Conscious, says “With more and more shoppers conscious of the impact that fashion has on people and the planet, second-hand fashion is becoming more sought-after, as well as fashion retailers who outwardly show their sustainable practices.”
“There’s many ways retailers can promote second-hand fashion or circularity: many high street retailers already provide take-back schemes, inviting shoppers to return items when they’re finished wearing them, which they then use the materials for in new pieces or sell on to third-parties.” says Whayeb. “But when it comes to preserving the items (rather than dismantling or disposing of them), they could look at selling them as pre-loved pieces. There are already many independent second-hand and vintage resellers, however I don’t see why many brands don’t provide a second-hand section in their own stores and resell pieces they’ve previously made. This needn’t be a full-scale or full-time operation either; pop-ups to show they’re being more circular could be a promising first step.” she says. “I believe it’s a combination of lip service, taking advantage of the growing demand for sustainable fashion, and when (hopefully) they see positive results, it will become a more permanent fixture.” says Whayeb.
George at Asda says its concept is just a trial to see how customers respond to the concept. They’ll take feedback and learn from the trial to see how customers have responded to it. But, won’t these new schemes take away from the charity sector?
“It is not our intention to take away support from other charities. This charity shop continues Asda’s long-term commitment to fundraising for vital breast cancer research and support,” says a spokesperson for George.
Charities like Oxfam are fighting back though. The charity has just opened their first ‘superstore’ on the outskirts of Oxford. About 12 times the size of the average Oxfam shop at 18,500 sq ft, and run by 150 volunteers, it also works as a community space and includes an on-site café housed in an Oxfam water tank. They hope initiatives like Second Hand September will convert more people to second hand clothing. An Oxfam spokesperson said, ”We are delighted by the overwhelming positive response to Second Hand September and the huge public support it has received.
"The campaign is raising awareness about the harm fast fashion has on planet and people. Clothes that too often end up in landfill are frequently made by garment workers paid poverty wages in harsh conditions. Second Hand September is encouraging people to think twice about their shopping habits. There seems to be a real appetite for change, which some brands are responding to – but more needs to be done.”
The more clothes we have, the less we’re wearing them. This makes the majority of second hand almost like new. Second hand shopping is becoming cool and for brands it could be a good way of dealing with returns and old season stock while trying to look responsible. Fashion is addicted to volume, whether it is fast or not, so while consumers might not be buying anything new, they’re at least in your store buying something.
Below - The cafe inside a water tank in Oxfam's new mega charity shop
As nearly as delayed as the Elizabeth Line, well, not quite, the new Flannels on the eastern side of Oxford Street has been the most anticipated addition to London’s busiest retail thoroughfare this year.
Sandwiched between Marks & Spencer’s Pantheon store and Matalan, this four storey, 18,000 sq ft store, selling designer clothes and accessorises, has been 3 years in the making. The entire building was purchased for £108 million in 2016 by a Sports Direct subsidiary and doubles as office space for its parent group. Part of Mike Ashley’s growing empire, it is the debut of Flannels in Central London.
Left - Veja display inside the new Oxford Street Flannels
This is Flannels' 44th store in the UK, after a lightning expansion, with a further 15 stores coming this year alone. In 2012, sportswear giant Sports Direct bought a majority 51% stake in Flannels and in September 2017 they acquired the brand in full and began investing in and opening stores.
It is worth noting Sports Direct also own other premium fashion chains such as USC, Cruise and Van Mildert, but, it is Flannels which has been chosen to lead the designer crusade to “elevate” the company. Sports Direct currently has an obsession with moving from discounted sports to full price branded.
Mike Ashley said at a recent shareholder meeting regarding Flannels, “I think they are better than any other stores in the market. Now, I might have rose-tinted glasses but one of the reasons is because I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I just sign off the money. It has nothing to do with Mike Ashley.
“It’s not just a few show stores. When you have a pipeline it takes time. I’m telling you – this is for real. The reality is, I’m telling you it is real and the proof of the pudding will be when they start to roll out. It’s happening, it’s coming. It’s just not as fast as I would like it.
“I’m going to do the same with House of Fraser and get around to elevating. The modern-day consumer – that’s what they want. It could be Stone Island, it could be Nike and Adidas – it’s all about the branded world.
“Maybe I was late to the party, I accept that. Maybe my son-in-law should’ve gone out with my daughter when she was 12, but now we’re on it, nothing’s going to get us off it.”
Oxford Street is their new flagship and is a physical testament to their ambitious intentions of becoming “the biggest global luxury retailer,”. This is what Sports Direct Group’s head of elevation, Mike Murray, Mike Ashley’s daughter’s boyfriend, told Drapers in March. He went on, “We’re in the early stages, but we have a clear vision for Flannels, we have ambition and we are willing to invest,”.
Right - Art on the second floor
The £10 million new store has been designed by Italian studio P con P, and you can see the Gucci influence in the rugs, over blown William Morris type screens, 1970s brass changing rooms and waiting areas and contrasting use of materials.
The store is split into women’s accessorises on ground, womenswear in the basement, men’s designer on first and men’s accessorise and sportswear on the second, though there wasn’t much difference between the latter two. The second-floor will also house the first ever UK retail space for US footwear brand Flight Club and the store offers services such as Click & Collect and personal styling.
One notable difference was the huge amount of staff, all dressed in black. I was told 50 members of staff currently work there. I visited on a late Tuesday afternoon and the only people seriously buying were a group of Asian tourists in the Gucci men’s section. They’d probably never heard of Flannels before.
I expected to see the usual chav labels such as Off-White and Burberry, which were there, but, interestingly, there were also brands such as Barena, Brioni, Alanui and JW Anderson. There was even a diamond necklace for nearly £60,000. I did ask how many they’d sold that week?!
Cire Trudon candles, Acqua Di Parma fragrances and Ganni dresses were also spied, and while nothing particularly revolutionary, it is difficult to pick holes in.
“His whole plan for 100 Flannels stores is bonkers. Knock a nought off, mate!” says Eric Musgrave, former editor of Drapers and fashion industry consultant. “It will be a ghost town for 5 or 6 days a week. Wrong location. Too big. Offering nothing you can't get in the West End or Knightsbridge already.” he says.
“My guess is that they will leave it as it is for two or three years, then reorganise it, making the Flannels area smaller and bringing in USC and SD. But, I believe Ashley owns the building, so he can run it as a vanity project.” says Musgrave.
Left - Display in collaboration with artist, Alec Monopoly
The simile I would use is, it’s like an Essex nightclub, which, if playing the right music, you’d have a good time in. And that’s what the clothes and buy is, the music.
(The security guards do look a bit like bouncers though, and one made me delete a picture I took on my phone of the new store *eyeroll*).
There’s nothing to fault in the design and money spent, it feels premium and everything is nicely presented, but Flannels has a problem with the snobby stigma London has towards Mike Ashley. He needs to distance himself like he says above.
People will need persuading to part with their cash here, unless it is product they can’t get anywhere else. Flannels needs to change perceptions so people are happy to be seen swinging a Flannels bag when they leave. It’s just not cool right now. They need to turn into leaders rather than just flogging the same old mega brands to punters.
Right - That £60,000 necklace
They own the building here, so are here for the long haul, but it will be interesting to see how it develops and how long they stick to this initial format. Flannels recorded sales of £173.9 million in its latest financial year, up 12 per cent from 2018. It’s growing because it is rapidly expanding, it obviously wants to get to the point where is it more powerful than the brands, rather than the other way around currently. I can imagine many luxury brands, currently, being cautious about choosing them as a stockist, but watch this space as they grow.
Flannels will also struggle with some of the quality of the product, and disappointed consumers. Read Gucci Quality Is Rubbish - here - which isn’t their fault.
Left - Flannels Oxford Street exterior. Sports Direct own the entire building
Sports Direct want more elevation than the Wright brothers, but it’s going to be expensive and I can't help think that 100 stores is too many, especially when you’re trying to sell £900 Gucci hoodies. Even though this is on Oxford Street, it needs to become a destination. It feels like the kind of store going against the retail tide, but I certainly admire the ambition.
Below - Interior shot of the new Flannels Oxford Street store
Fashion often follows ‘wellness’ and CBD is the ingredient du jour, especially in supplements and beauty. According to Wikipedia, CBD, or cannabidiol, is a phytocannabinoid discovered in 1940. It is one of some 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants and accounts for up to 40% of the plant's extract. In 2018, clinical research on cannabidiol included preliminary studies of anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain.
The CBD chemical from the cannabis plant does not induce a high - that’s THC - and recreational use of cannabis is still illegal in the UK.
Over in Canada, where they have legalised all forms of its use, there’s been a ‘green rush’ into cannabis production. The Toronto stock exchange has more than 50 Canadian cannabis stocks now worth £37 billion. Investors are hungry for the cannabis boom and noises, from New York to London, are being made about legalisation.
Left - Afends, Australian fashion brand using hemp
But, what does this mean for fashion? With increased production and the world looking for less environmentally harmful fibres, could hemp be the new fashion favourite?
Jonathon Salfield, Marketing Director and Co-Founder of Afends, an Australian fashion brand known for its strong use of hemp within its clothing ranges, says, “CBD Oil is derived from the flowers of the hemp plant where hemp fibre is derived from the stalk of the hemp plant. So, in theory, the hemp grown for CBD production could also be turned in to hemp fibre. However to be more efficient with hemp for fibre, the ideal plant is a very tall Sativa strain, where the ideal plant for CBD is one that has thick flowers.” he says.
Hemp has many qualities. It is one of the strongest natural fibres on the planet, it is also one of the most resource efficient. The farming of hemp adds nutrients to the soil - hemp is only one of 6 genus of plants that enrich the soil - only requiring half the amount of water of cotton, and needs no herbicides or other agricultural chemicals. Hemp is also the only CO2 negative textile fibre, meaning its growth actually reduces carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
“There are many great qualities of hemp for fibre.” says Salfield. “What we love about hemp in clothing is the way it feels when you wear it. Hemp has had a saying that stems back to the days when cotton was becoming mainstream and that's ‘Hemp wears in, not out’. This is because of the length of the raw fibres are about 10 times longer than cotton fibre.
“We also love the fact that hemp has antimicrobial qualities. Antimicrobial is a type of bacteria which breaks down the sweat from your body, sweat smells so this is beneficial to us living in the tropics. However, the main benefit of hemp is the peace of mind that you are wearing a natural fibre that is good for our planet.” he says.
Hemp is also naturally UV resistant and hypoallergenic.
Demand is growing, Afends’ own Hemp production from 2017 to 2018 increased by more than 30%. The European cannabis market will be worth €123bn (£106bn) by 2028, according to the London-based analysis firm Prohibition Partners. The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis estimates that 1.3 million consumers spent over £300 million on CBD products in the UK last year and BDS Analytics, a cannabis research firm, said worldwide legal cannabis spending will expand 36 per cent to $15 billion in 2019, and pass $40 billion by 2024.
Hemp isn’t a new discovery, it’s been used for thousands of years - researchers have found hemp garments dating back as far as 8,000 BC - but we’re in an age of rediscovering fibres that take less effort and energy to grow. Just as we’ve seen a renaissance in linen, hemp is a natural and complimentary addition to fibres that are easily grown and have many natural benefits.
“As the world's population continues to grow we can't keep depending on GMO (genetically modified organism) cotton and polyester.” says Salfield. “We can't keep producing so many toxic chemicals. Hemp will eventually normalise as a common commodity. At the moment, hemp is very expensive to make clothing from, this is due to the infrastructure of hemp in the textile industry. Also its a lot easier for a farmer to farm and sell cotton.” he says.
“If hemp was grown on a commercial scale it would be a lot cheaper to make clothing from. Being an optimistic person I see hemp being one of the major materials we will use in the fashion industry. Hemp is considered an ‘Environmental Super Fibre’ and in the future, it will be considered an environmental superhero.” says Salfield.
Right - Afends in a hemp field
This huge boom in cannabis demand, whether, medicinal, CBD or recreational, where legal, will see this more expensive fibre grown in larger and larger qualities and, will, hopefully, reduce in price.
Hemp was once seen as a hippy fibre, worn by those who were probably smoking the stuff too, but that will change as it becomes more mainstream and affordable and people learn the benefits to both themselves and the environment.
“HEMP IS FOR THE PEOPLE!” says Salfield. “Before the industrial revolution hemp was one of the most important commodities. It helped to keep people connected to the earth, it regenerated the soil and fuelled the economy. The modern-day hemp industry could potentially be the main source of pulp for the paper, fibre for fashion and give people in developing countries added nutrients to help them thrive.”