Designed and manufactured in Istanbul, womenswear brand WTR – “Wear the Robe” – has a new managing director driving its growth
wtr vanessa toms
Nestling in the laid-back but affluent surroundings of Westbourne Grove in west London, you will find womenswear brand WTR’s warm and inviting shop. Step inside and there is a central walkway that takes you on a visual trip through Amsterdam, with its spring 16 collection adorning mannequins surrounded by a cute and quirky display on either side of bicycles and flower pots full of the country’s world-famous tulips
WTR – “Wear the Robe” – is a brand to watch. Launched in 2013 by brand director Esin Ogur Koçali, it began wholesaling from spring 16, picking up London independent Wolf & Badger as its first stockist.
WTR has been a hit with its customers. Henry Graham, the chain store’s creative director and co-founder, says: “I chose WTR because of its avant-garde aesthetic and commercial understanding of contemporary womenswear trends. [Spring 16] has already proven popular with our customers, who appreciate the flattering shapes, high-quality construction and beautiful fabrics.”
Each collection is themed on a city: the spring range is inspired by Amsterdam and the autumn 16 collection by London. The autumn 16 offering is all about tailoring paired with a crisp, contemporary aesthetic, which the brand says is influenced by “the city’s masculine side” with “fluid shapes and 3D textures”.
Buyers will find tweed, herringbone, pleats, and draping with hints of lace and silk to soften the look. Wholesale prices range from £30 for a V-necked Chelsea T-shirt to £240 for a Marylebone felt coat, with about 95 options in the collection.
“We have two customers: the businesswoman who is half American and half Ukranian, and she lives in Dubai. She wants something different that still feels luxurious. Then you have the woman at home with children who just wants to wear high-quality clothing,” says managing director Vanessa Toms over a coffee at WTR’s store in Westbourne Grove, west London, which opened in October 2014.
Now is an exciting time for the brand. Toms had been working as a consultant when she was appointed in February to grow retail and wholesale. From 2011 to 2014, she was director of retail at Perry Ellis Europe, and before that, from 2001, she was an area manager at Burberry, where she looked after all UK and Irish concessions, Heathrow airport and mainline regionals, as well as the French market. During that time Toms was part of the team that turned Burberry into a fashion leader.
“That is when I really got the bug for building brands,” she says. “I was attracted to the role at WTR because it’s a lifestyle concept, and I like the company that is behind it, Aster Retail [a Turkish manufacturer for Zara, Marks & Spencer and H&M]. It’s a really nice, family-owned business. They want to see it work and are willing to put the investment in.”
Koçali is married to one of the factory owner’s brothers. All of its product is made in Aster Retail’s factory in Istanbul with a dedicated WTR team of eight – two working on samples and six on production. The designs are created there too, by three designers led by new head of creative, Maki Aminaka Löfvander, who was appointed in March. WTR also has an office on Rathbone Street, in London’s Fitzrovia, where its retail team of six is based, including wholesale manager Maria Di Pasquale.
The brand launched its ecommerce site last December, which contributes 20% to sales. It exhibited at Parisian trade shows Tranoï Preview in January and Tranoï Femme in March, and is considering showing at Arab Fashion Week Dubai later this year. “We’ve decided now is the time to start moving things forward, with retail and wholesale,” says Toms.
She would like to open five new stores over the next three years. The aim is another London store this year – “We like the villagey character of Westbourne Grove, so somewhere like this – possibly Brompton Cross” – followed by Barcelona and Paris in 2017.
Toms sees opportunities to grow the WTR range with more accessories, shoes and knitwear, and the product has been well received so far. “At the trade shows, the most popular piece was the wool cape. In fact, I’m modelling it now,” she says with a laugh.