Is there ever a perfect time to launch anything? Warehouse, the women’s high street brand founded in 1976 by Jeff Banks, is launching menswear this week. The traditional British men’s high-street has been in the doldrums for quite some time since the skinny suit was replaced by the branded tracksuit. So, the question is, does this ambitious new launch signal the start of a potential menswear renaissance or will it be simply too difficult in a segment that has seen other well known high-street brands crash and burn?
Jonathan Munro, Warehouse Menswear designer says, “We feel strongly that there is a gap for a well-designed sustainable brand at a great price point. We wanted to build on the success of the womenswear line, marking a new chapter in the brand’s history and fulfilling what we believe, is a gap in the market.” he says. It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time Warehouse has done menswear. They had menswear in the early days of Warehouse so they are not promoting this as a first.
Left - Warehouse Menswear SS20
The main focus is, the fashion word du jour, sustainable. The new range will be sold online via the Warehouse webstore www.warehouse.co.uk and through host e-tailers and retailers; The Idle Man, Zalando, JohnLewis.com, Next and the Australian retailer Myer. Price points range from £15 for a 100% organic T-shirt, up to £189 for a recycled polyester content suit and £229 for the chrome-free suede jacket.
“The core of the range is made up of high quality wardrobe staples that should last season-after-season, balanced with breathable cottons and linens in a wearable colour palette.” says Munro. “We have a great range of printed shirts, from monochrome geos to abstract hand painted illustrations which are all designed in-house. Key pieces include our heavy twill overshirts and slim utility trousers.” he says.
“Fashion needs to become more sustainable for the good of the planet.” says Munro. “100% of the range includes sustainable fibres such as organic cottons which use less pesticides and therefore less pollutants, recycled polyesters made up from salvaged plastic bottles and eco viscose which is derived from renewable wood sources.”
What will Warehouse Menswear add to the British men’s high-street market? “Sustainable clothing for the modern man who needs his clothes to last and work for him every day.” says Munro. “We know women buy clothes for men and we also know men buy clothes for themselves - it's aimed at whoever wants to buy it.” he says. “We are holding a pop-up store at Protein Studios in Shoreditch, running from the 2nd – 7th March. This is to allow customers to see the range first hand, interacting with the materials and learning more about the sustainability messaging which runs throughout.”
What does the future look like for Warehouse Menswear? “Our main focus will be to continue to research and develop new ways of working with sustainability in mind, supported by the knowledge of what the Warehouse Menswear customer is looking for in a sustainable clothing collection.” says Munro.
Brands such as Whistles and New Look both struggled in the menswear category. Whistles cancelled its menswear range this time last year and New Look removed menswear from its stores in April 2019, going online-only. The rest of the high-street from Topman to River Island to Jigsaw have struggled to compete with Zara and the sports brands. But, things aren’t all doom and gloom, according to a ‘GlobalData’ report ‘The UK Clothing Market 2018 – 2023’, menswear will be the driving force of the clothing sector, forecast to grow by 12.3% over the next five years as greater trend incorporation and newness drives volumes.
A British Fashion Council and Mintel report estimates that consumer spending menswear has grown 5.1% to reach £15.9 billion in 2018. Menswear now accounts for 26% of the total clothing market, whilst womenswear accounts for 51%. Consumer spending on clothing is forecast to rise 25% to £76 billion in the next five years to 2023.
Warehouse’s parent company, the Oasis and Warehouse Group, clearly sees potential in the menswear market having recently purchased online retailer The Idle Man for an undisclosed sum in Sept. 2019.
Right - Warehouse Menswear SS20
So, what do the experts think Warehouse Menswear’s prospects are?
“When this was announced, I’m not going to lie, I was very surprised, to say the least. I understand a lot of people keep on talking about the growth in men’s fashion & grooming, but when we see retailers from New Look to Whistles dropping their menswear offering, it does beg the question, is now the best time to launch a menswear brand extension?
“Additional to this, we have an awful lot of talk on sustainability and buying less but better quality, plus when well known names like TOPMAN are not performing particularly well at the moment, its hard to see a brand not known for their menswear being a success in these difficult, uncertain times. However, maybe this is what the menswear market needs, maybe Warehouse it going to target the ladies buying for their men, but this is an ever increasingly niche demographic. I do wish Warehouse all the luck in the world and hope their Menswear offering is a success, but I won’t be holding my breathe.” says Anthony McGrath, Founder of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com & leading academic.
“It’s certainly a challenging time to launch, but there’s an opportunity for Warehouse where other major high street names are stalling or retracting on menswear. There are multiple challenges for high street retailers; nimble online competition, prohibitive high business rates, persistent economic uncertainty and the fact that many of us no longer choose shopping as a preferable leisure activity. However, in my opinion the current menswear offer from the high street, with a few exceptions, is failing to offer well-made, well priced and exciting product. There’s a proliferation of dull, cheap clothes.
I’d like to see a certain amount of risk taking. Nobody needs another line of neutral, anonymous ‘wardrobe essentials’. Men shop for themselves. It’s not going to work if the strategy is to rely on existing customers.” says Jessica Punter, Stylist & Grooming Consultant, & former GQ Style & Grooming Editor.
“It'll be a tough fight, and depends on their marketing strategy I think. They have a nice campaign video and a pop up shop but is that enough? We'll see. They have an opportunity now to really nail it, to take the market share from the high street brands that don't do it particularly well, but time will tell! I think others failed because they weren't offering a mix of product for different customer groups, so hopefully Warehouse will.
“There isn't a 'good time' to launch I don't think, there's always going to be peaks and troughs in the industry, and right now we're just coming out of a terrible time for retail, so maybe it's a great time! To wait until fashion week or another event is pointless now as we know men don't really shop to seasons or events, they just shop because they need to. I guess it's a good time in the year though, because now is the time for newness, so makes sense from a business point of view.
“Initially, I think it'll be the aimed at the women for sure, because they are the ones going in store and online to buy Warehouse, but if they have a good marketing plan, and get it out to wider audiences, men will slowly show up. Also, I wonder who they are partnering with, if anyone, to wholesale? That'll be really important in pulling in a new menswear customer. It'll be slow, but maybe they might be able to do what others have failed to do!” says Simon Glazin, freelance fashion writer and blogger.
Left - Will it work? Warehouse Menswear SS20
“I think there's space for an affordable, fashion-forward offer now Topman is tussling with Boohoo over cheap sportswear, but Warehouse aren't going to be the ones to provide it. Well, judging from the images I've seen.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
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Superdry has been a British retail phenomenon. In under a decade, the brand went from its first store in Covent Garden to a huge multi-storey flagship on London’s Regent Street.
Established by James Holder and Julian Dunkerton, the Superdry name first appeared in 2003. It has been an unstoppable juggernaut since then, racking up yearly sales of over £750 million (2017) and operates in 55 countries.
Left - Superdry went from a single store to a huge Regent Street flagship in under 10 years
At the beginning of this year, the remaining founder, Julian Dunkerton, announced he was stepping down from the company. In a statement, Mr Dunkerton said he had “other demands” on his time, and stepping down was “the right point for me to transition my focus and responsibilities”. Handing the reins to new Superdry chief executive Euan Sutherland, Dunkerton bowed out quietly until this October when Superdry issued a shock profit warning blaming warm weather and bad foreign exchange hedging. Shares in the group crashed 20%.
Dunkerton has been vocal in his disagreement with the direction the company is heading in, saying, “I cannot sit back and watch my shareholding — and those off all the pensions invested in the company — be dissipated”. He’s trying to gather other shareholder support to return to and steer the company in his direction, but, have they got their strategy wrong or has the Superdry brand simply peaked and run out of steam?
Mat Heinl, CEO at global creative business Moving Brands, an independent, global creative company, says: “It has become unclear who Superdry is for and it feels like its brand and purpose has been entirely lost.
“There, now, seems to be a clear disconnect between what made the brand successful and its core base of customers. With the mid-market being hit hard by competitors, brands like Superdry fall into a sea of sameness,” says Heinl.
The strategy in question has been Superdry’s move into fast-fashion. In September, Superdry hired Brigitte Danielmeyer as its new chief product officer to launch a new fast-fashion range called "Superdry Preview”. Formerly Tommy Hilfiger’s global head of womenswear, Danielmeyer, leads the new Superdry Preview label aimed to attract a “younger, more fashion-driven” customer through limited-edition capsule collections. The range will go from design to delivery in just six weeks and be supported by a social media campaign targeted directly at 16 to 24-year-olds.
Yet to be tested, with no results yet for these ranges, Dunkerton thinks it’s a mistake for Superdry to move into the competitive fast fashion arena. He thinks Superdry should stick with fewer, core ranges in store and massively increase the designs and varieties (known as SKUs) being sold online.
“Last Christmas we were at a point where we could hit fast fashion online. We were such a strong brand that we could really increase our SKU count. But they [the new management] did the reverse.
“If you put that product online you would expand brand awareness and create excitement online while combining it with the classic store base.” he said.
Not everybody disagrees with the fast-fashion approach. Natalya Johnson, Marketing Manager, Shopest, who create location- based shopping experiences helping “independent stores to stay vibrant, profitable and nearby”, says “Early on the brand appealed to their target demographic which at the time was young men and women aged around 16-30.
“Over time, their consumer has changed, developed new interests and shop in a new way. Although brand identity is strong, the brand has failed with adapting into the fast fashion cycles, meaning their products seem to be outdated,” she says.
“Superdry are beaten by big brands such as ASOS and Zara, who not only offer consumers constant variety, but also a difference of style.
“Superdry do have great potential to revive the brand, tapping into current trends in the fashion industry that would attract their ideal consumer. It seems that they keep missing the mark in trends that would complement the brand e.g. streetwear and also brand collaborations.
“Once the product becomes more relevant, the brand can offer new innovations in store and develop stronger marketing strategies. In conclusion, Superdry appear to be very stagnant at the moment, but definitely have the potential to make things right,” she says.
The shares now sit at roughly 780p. They began the year above 2000p. The October profit warning said it expected to make £83 million in profit this year, well shy of the near-£110 million expected.
Superdry is heavily reliant on sales of heavy winter items such as jumpers and jackets, making 45% of annual sales. It said “unseasonably hot weather” in the UK, Europe and the east coast of the US was hitting sales.
“Superdry is a British phenomenon who’s growth has been nothing short of miraculous,” says Anthony McGrath, Lecturer and Editor-in-Chief of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com.
“In their heyday, celebs galore were spotted in their trademark casual wear and they set up home in a huge flagship emporium dedicated to all things Superdry on the retail Mecca of Regent Street. BUT! They have rested on their laurels and the whole nature of the beast, that is fashion, is that it changes at a break neck speed. Tastes, styles, trends change and unfortunately Superdry haven’t. So, yes, I do think Dunkerton is right,” he says.
Right - Is Superdry too reliant on coats and jackets?
Dunkerton, who retains an 18.5% stake, said “The management team remains hell-bent on their strategy, publicly supported by the chairman; but the numbers and the market warnings speak volumes. It is very clear that the company needs to change strategic direction; I have a clear and simple plan to correct the problems, and I have been explaining my plan to shareholders over the last couple of weeks.
“This company and brand has such a great opportunity - we must grasp it now,” he said.
This added pressure onto the Superdry management comes at a time when the retail landscape is looking schizophrenic. Long one of the darlings of the British retail scene, could this just be a case of the brand losing momentum and consumers growing tired of the Superdry brand regardless of the strategy? Has the ubiquitous Superdry branding reached its zenith, and, regardless of what the brand does, exponential growth can’t go on forever?
“Another challenge for brands like Superdry is the rise in people turning away from highly disposable and consumerist brands as they become aware of the massive pollution and poor working conditions associated with those brands which emphasise profits over ethical business practices,” says Heinl.
“To claw back momentum, Superdry, and other struggling brands, could do a number of things to help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. They could become a champion of sustainable fashion, improve and showcase high quality products, define a distinct design direction or take a leadership position in improving supply chain transparency and quality,” he says.
Dunkerton said, “My model means less wastage. It is far easier to manage and you have lower stock risk.
“There are too many products in the stores with short shelf life. You shouldn’t try and change it all the time. Get the product right and be confident in it. There’s no reason a jacket in October shouldn’t stay until March. Now, you see jackets on sale already. Can that be right?” he says.
Shareholder Aberdeen Asset Management is supporting current management, saying Dunkerton left after multiple profit warnings. Superdry chief executive Euan Sutherland has said “it will take up to 18 months for the benefits to come through” and Superdry chairman Peter Bamford said: “The Board of Superdry has huge respect for Julian Dunkerton as an entrepreneur and founder of the business. Julian has raised a number of issues with the board regarding strategy since he left the business. We have reviewed and discussed these issues and, while we have sympathy with some of his points, we have a different view on the best strategy or approach to addressing them.
“Superdry is an ambitious, global, multi-channel brand and the Board believes that Julian’s view of strategy has not evolved with the needs of the business. We remain fully committed to our successful global digital brand strategy and the board is confident that Superdry has in place the right leadership to ensure the continued development of our highly relevant brand.”
The management will have to start seeing the fruits from this new strategy and fast, otherwise shareholders will push for change. The next set of results will either quieten Dunkerton or add fuel to the fire for a reversing of the company direction. Superdry is too reliant on coats and jackets, but this has also helped them grow to the size they are. Regardless of strategy, what if consumers are simply bored with Superdry? That’s going to be an even harder job to fix.