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Close-Up Preview: James Brown, head of clothing at Sainsbury’s

Drapers gives you an exclusive sneak peak of our Close-Up interview with James Brown, head of clothing at Sainsbury’s , ahead of the full interview in this weekend’s edition.

What does the future of your collaboration with Gok Wan for own-brand Tu at Sainsbury’s look like?

“We have another four collections with Gok this planned year. We have a fantastic relationship with him. He’s really involved in the design of it, the samples, the fit, the shoot. For someone who is so busy he spends an awful lot of time making sure all this is right.”

And looking ahead beyond the current agreement?

“As far as the future’s concerned, let’s just say we love working with him.”

Which are your best-selling items?

“We have sold 155,000 pairs of jeans since we launched Gok, and 185,000 of his dresses. You can see from that there are items here that really drive it. And we don’t mess around with the fit or the quality. People need to trust that the fit stays the same, and they trust him to get it right.”

Who are your main competitors; other supermarkets or the high street?

“Everyone in the clothing market is a competitor. Our vision is to differentiate ourselves from other supermarkets, and as a result of that we begin to benchmark ourselves against the high street, not only in terms of style but also for quality.”

Have you noticed much change in consumer habits as a result of the recession? Do you find a different customer shopping at Tu, for example?

“I don’t think our customer base has changed because of the recession, but their disposal income is tighter, and they are becoming more discerning on what they are buying. That is why now is the time to invest in quality, design and differentiation, which gives them a reason to buy it. Now that is coming through, we are seeing market share growth.”

How does it feel to head up clothing in a supermarket, in what is effectively a commodities, volume-focused business?

“Ultimately food is first in Sainsbury’s, which is absolutely right. Over 20m people a week come here to shop for food. But the compelling non-food and clothing offer is paramount to growth. This [Sainsbury’s new concept store at King’s Lynn] is a 70,000 sq ft store, and we have just under 30,000 sq ft dedicated to non-food – that shows you our intent and also where investment is going.”

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