Back in February, I ran a piece on the newly-launched Winser London. An online-to-offline fashion start-up founded by Kim Winser (former CEO of Pringle Of Scotland and Aquascutum), it specialises in luxed-up working wardrobe essentials at a friendlier price point than you’d expect. Supplementing the online offer are pop-up shops, so far in Gerrards Cross and Harvey Nichols. Nine months on, I caught up with Winser to find out how the first year of trading is going, what the challenges have been and what’s next for the brand…
Disneyrollergirl: So nine months on from the launch, what has been the most enlightening and challenging feedback from customers?
Kim Winser: We have had very positive feedback from the customers via social media and directly too. The collection quality and fashion position are two main winners. The challenge has been our size range offer. Our fit is deliberately generous as we love our rich yarns and fabrics and like to feel we are not skimping with them, but it has caused some customers who prefer a neater fit to buy down a size and we have subsequently run short of 8’s and 10’s. Enlightening has been the amazing press and customer warmth about the website style and ease to use and most importantly their love of our clothes.
DRG: Is your customer who you thought she would be?
KW: Yes, they are into quality fashion and loving our affordable prices. What we hadn’t predicted is the response from overseas, in particular New York, Milan and Paris. We don’t plan to sell outside the UK until next year, so now have a growing reserved customer list of thousands in other countries.
DRG: What products are selling well?
KW: Top sellers are the silk shirts, in particular the Lauren collection, the one with the tie (below) – it’s a two piece and can be worn in multiple ways – and the simple vintage inspired Lauren silk top. The selection of cashmere knitwear remain top items both online and in Harvey Nichols. Our supersoft merino wool is a hit. The new fisherman’s knit jumper, the cardigan coat with leather pockets, and the Parisian tweed jumper and jacket will all sell out shortly and in some sizes are on a waiting list as we have one more delivery to come.
DRG: The quality is certainly high for the price, how are you able to keep the prices down?
KW: I have deliberately built a new business model, something that would have been difficult to do pre the digital development era. We have our designers work directly with the fabric and yarn specialists and then we produce in the same neighbourhood so we don’t waste time, money or air miles flying goods around the world and then sell directly to the customers online. It means we work with fast response to customer needs and trends, and there are no middle men adding to the price of the products.
DRG: Are there any products or services that you don’t do that customers are asking for?
KW: We are being asked for more size 8’s and even to introduce some size 6’s which we are doing shortly in selected items.
DRG: As a completely new brand, how easy was it to get the message out? Was it an equal combination of PR, social media, word of mouth etc or did some things work better for you than others?
Yes, definitely a combination. Starting with our disseminating news to our own network, supporting this with PR and growing our following virally online and through word of mouth.
DRG: What plans do you have for social media? What are the important platforms for you and how do your customers engage with them?
We are currently on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and have recently ventured into the world of Instagram. Social media is key for us as a primarily digital business. We are regularly interacting with our followers on all channels and finding the right way to communicate via each individually that feels right for the brand.
DRG: You’re an online company supplemented by pop-up shops, how has your customer responded to this? Do they understand that you’re both online and offline?
We have had a very strong reception to both so far. Online we are growing at quite some pace, word of mouth is spreading fast, coupled with our pop-ups in both Gerrards Cross and now Harvey Nicks. At Harvey Nichols our pop-up is one of the top performing brands on the floor. I wanted to support the digital business with strategic pop-ups as it is a great way to spread the Winser London buzz through word of mouth. I was delighted when Harvey Nichols approached me about the opportunity. The advantage of a physical presence also allows the customer to touch and feel that the fabric and yarn quality is real luxury which obviously they cannot do online.
DRG: What have been the challenges of this model so far? What is your long term strategy with the pop-ups?
KW: Keeping up with the pace of demand of certain products as we are growing quickly. I am now recruiting again, both experience and young talent. I really invest in good people and selecting the right balance of talent takes time and focus. Long term I am very happy with the online business coupled with quality pop-ups. I now want to open some pop-ups in some other cities across the UK because online we are spreading nicely into new cities and this should be supported with more pop-ups. Globally, we will open some pop-ups too. We have our first site and opening date to open in Asia and America is also in negotiation.
DRG: The Harvey Nichols pop-up looks great, especially some of the exclusive product. Are there things that sell better offline than online?
KW: Seven out of ten of the best sellers online and in Harvey Nichols are the same, the main difference is that Harvey Nicks was earlier in selling some of the new cocktail and evening wear options.
DRG: What do you have planned for the business for the next 12 months?
KW: Wow, the list is pacy! We will continue to grow our online business – currently doubling each month – and open the website to more markets overseas. We will do more with social media and using video, our first were launched last month. We will launch pop-ups in new quality places across the UK. We will develop our pop-up strategy into key cities globally, starting this month in Asia in a fabulous store called Galleria. And we will listen to what the customers ask for next.
Winser London is available at WinserLondon.com and at pop-up shops at 43 Packhorse Road, Gerrards Cross, SL9 8PE and Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1