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N Brown's Angela Spindler and Coast's Kate Bostock collaborate on a plus-size range

N Brown chief executive Angela Spindler and former Coast boss Kate Bostock talk to Drapers about the mutual benefits of collaboration, the plus-size market and democratising fashion.

Two womenswear powerhouses have teamed up to create a new plus-size collection. The 29-piece range has been selected from Coast’s existing autumn 15 line and will be available in sizes 20 to 26 for the first time, sold exclusively at N Brown’s plus-size specialist Simply Be.

The collaboration, called Coast at Simply Be, is the brainchild of former Coast chief executive Kate Bostock and N Brown boss Angela Spindler, who have remained friends after working together at Asda more than a decade ago. Spindler joined the supermarket as unit director in 1997 and became managing director of George in 2005 before leaving in 2008. Bostock was product director at George from 2001 until 2004. She announced at the start of this month, after this interview, that she has stepped down as CEO of Coast but will remain with the business on a consultancy basis and will be focused on product and customer relationships.

Prices for the collaboration range from £25 for a jewel cuff bracelet to £169 for a pleated dress. It launches online and in the Simply Be brand book on October 13.

Ahead of the big unveiling, Drapers talks to Bostock and Spindler, two of fashion’s most experienced female CEOs, about working together and the untapped potential of the plus-size market.

Where did the idea for the collaboration come from?

Angela Spindler: “At Simply Be we’re always looking for something new and different for our customers. They told us they were looking for something special for going out and occasionwear, so what better brand than Coast to deliver that to them? Kate and I have known each other for years.”

Kate Bostock: “We got to know one another at Asda and got on really well. We always had the same passion for product and womenswear, so it was a no-brainer when Angela said ‘Let’s have a chat to see if we can do something together.’ It’s been such an easy process; that’s down to the trust between us.”

Tell us about the collection.

AS: “The lines we’ve selected have been based on our understanding of what ladies at the larger end of the size spectrum are flattered by in terms of fabric weight, shapes and cut. The product is by Coast and the fit is by Simply Be. That way we can be confident it will be a great fit for our customers. Key styles include pleated skirts, chiffon maxi dresses, statement jewellery and tailored jumpsuits.” 

Why is it important that the designs are the same as the mainline range?

AS: “We don’t want people to feel they have to compromise. The fabrics and shapes we’ve chosen are sympathetic to someone in a larger size but are the same as those offered in a smaller size.”

KB: “I’m not sure I would have been interested if we had to build a separate capsule range; that doesn’t feel right to me. It’s also vital that the selling prices are the same. Our suppliers were great. They have been very supportive and worked hard at ensuring as little upcharge as possible.”

What are your expectations for the collection?

KB: “We expect the range to sell out; I’m confident it will. We have seen significant growth in our larger sizes over the last couple of years, particularly since we have been broadening the choice of product that is able to suit the larger sizes and shapes. We now go up to a size 18 and have a few items in a 20. More than 15% of our total sales are from these sizes, so we already know our brand appeals to the larger lady. We used to be skinny-fit and very tailored, but we’ve made ourselves more aware of different body shapes and broadened our offer, and we’ve seen growth. After chatting to Angela, we thought we could learn so much more from this.

“We haven’t done this for fun; we’ve done this as we absolutely think it has a future. As long as it works we’ll continue. If it doesn’t, we will adjust it.”

AS: “It’s an example of how business can collaborate to mutual advantage and the customer is the winner. Our customers will absolutely love buying into this product and the fabrics and design Coast is known for in a Simply Be fit that they trust and know works for them. The product will be made in our factories using Simply Be’s technology, templates and models.”

What will it add to the bottom line?

KS: “For Coast, this is incremental business as we don’t have anything in those sizes. The one thing I’ve always had a passion for the whole way through my career is broadening the offer and making the brand more accessible to the customer. In business, why wouldn’t you do that? I know some would argue that brands should be more niche but we have a ‘nicheness’ as we are about dressing up; we’re not about jeans or sportswear. We are seeing the growth in this area and we know there is more to be had there; at the moment we are under-potentialised. To have the opportunity to work with Angela and tap into her market and customer base is fabulous.”

AS: “It’s interesting as both Kate and I came via George. This whole idea of democratising fashion is a real passion. You want clothes to be accessible to everyone; to make it more accessible whether that’s about price in the George model, or size in Simply Be, or accessibility in terms of multichannel. We don’t want it to be exclusive and niche; we want fashion to be available to people.”

What about the plus-size market in general? How is it performing?

AS: “The average woman in the UK is now a size 16. It’s just about size-inclusivity. We are size-inclusive as we start at a size 10, but our specialism is in larger sizes. That part of the market is definitely growing and it will continue to do so over the next three years. It’s not just about people getting unhealthier but people getting bigger through athleticism as well. It’s about frame, height and foot size. There is a definite underlying dynamic around people getting larger.”

Is the industry now waking up to the opportunity of plus-size?

AS: “Retailers are waking up to the importance of catering for larger ladies, but I think choice is always going to be a bit limited.  A lot of businesses are also introducing a capsule range or a sub-brand name for larger sizes and it’s quite alienating in a way. It’s at the back of the store and the selection is quite poor, so when the size 28 sells out it doesn’t get replenished.”

KB: “I think it’s also important to get the message out there that different brands and businesses can have a lot of fun when they do things together. Too many of us focus on our own businesses and worry about what everyone else is doing rather than thinking outside the box and working together on something they both can benefit from.”

AS: “Exactly. Everyone’s wardrobe is full of a collection of brands, so the opportunity to collaborate rather than just compete and batten down the hatches benefits everyone – especially the customer.”

Plus-size market stats (provided by research firm Conlumino):

·         £5.4bn – how much the UK plus-size fashion industry is worth in 2015 for men and women

·         23.8% – how much the UK plus-size market will grow by 2019

·         £6.4bn – how much the UK plus-size industry will be worth by 2019

·         18+ sizes account for 1 in 5 women; the market is worth £3.1bn

·         57% of women in the UK are overweight or obese (according to the Office for National Statistics)

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