From their founders’ bedrooms to multiple stockists, emerging labels inspired by sportswear and streetwear are shaking up the fashion industry.
Gym king womenswear
A new wave of power players is fast emerging in the UK fashion industry. So-called “bedroom brands” – started at home by ambitious entrepreneurs with little experience in retail – are overcoming their humble beginnings to nip at the heels of more established names thanks to a winning combination of trend-led product and social media prowess. Modelled by gym-honed social media stars, sports-inspired labels such as Gym King, Sik Silk and Good for Nothing are finding favour with powerful high street stockists including Asos, Footasylum and Topman.
“The 16-to-24-year-old consumer is heavily influenced by social channels, such as Instagram, and other stimuli, like reality TV stars,” explains agent and Just Consultancies co-founder Juls Dawson.
“These brands are championed by and – in some cases – even owned by these stars. Retailers have jumped all over this trend and are further feeding the demand for this new genre. The independents in the young fashion market have also lapped up young consumers’ insatiable appetite for these brands.”
Today’s young shoppers, particularly men, are losing interest in global brands able to spend big on glossy catwalk shows, high-profile marketing campaigns and flagship stores, Dawson adds.
“He wants to discover brands through other media. He wants to see the guy he aspires to look like or the reality TV star he relates to wearing the product. As well as key stockists, these brands often also have great ecommerce platforms of their own, which enable them to see what works on the coalface immediately when they launch a product.”
This ability to be nimble and react quickly to what customers want is a key advantage these upstart brands have over more-established competitors, argues Liam Green, founder and creative director of men’s, women’s and accessories brand Hype. He launched Hype in 2011 while still studying graphic design at De Montfort University. Hype now has 1,250 UK stockists and has collaborated with globally recognised names such as Coca-Cola and Star Wars. Net sales reached £11m in 2017 and the brand is targeting £19m this year.
“There was never any massive plan to become a fully-fledged brand – we were just having fun. We started by making lighters because that’s all we could afford,” Green explains. “We’ve found that most big labels have long lead times and are working in quite a dated way. The way Hype is structured means we work mostly out of season. We can react to the market. Bigger brands often come with bigger teams and more red tape, whereas we can be really agile.”
Social media, combined with close relationships with key influencers, has been central to the success of athleisure brand Gym King. Started by former personal trainer Jay Parker, the label has grown rapidly since its launch in 2015. Turnover hit £10.5m from 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2017, up from £800,000 in the year from 8 March 2015 to 31 December 2015.
Gym King’s form-fitting clothing is designed to show off its customers’ muscular physiques and is frequently worn by reality TV stars such as Love Island’s Alex Bowen and Big Brother’s Alex Cannon. It launched its first womenswear collection for autumn 17 and is stocked in more than 300 retailers, including Asos and Footasylum in the UK.
“Three years ago, I was selling Gym King out of the back of my car to my network at the local gym. We are now stocked in more than 300 retailers around the globe,” Parker tells Drapers. “Entrepreneurs are risk-takers by nature. We have no problem being the underdog and starting with nothing but an idea.”
“Social media is the driving force behind our marketing strategy,” says Parker. “We have a strong presence and the number of bloggers, celebrities and influencers in the sector continues to grow, as does the number of our followers [221,000 on Instagram at the time of writing]. While many brands use social channels to showcase their product, their relationship [with followers] is purely commercial. Ours goes way beyond that – it’s personal.”
The brand’s association with aspirational TV stars and focus on fit has made it a bestseller for Wrexham menswear indie Chevron, says owner Tim Steele: “Gym King has really taken off for us and we’ve sold an awful lot of it since we first started stocking the brand around 18 months ago. The lads, particularly the youngsters, see it on social media and on the TV. They also like the fit and details such as deep scoop necklines.”
For Marvin Morgan, founder of men’s, kid’s and accessories brand Fresh Ego Kid, a growing international spotlight on British music and culture has provided a particular boost for emerging streetwear brands. A former professional footballer, Morgan says people scoffed when he outlined plans to launch a clothing label in 2010. It is now stocked by Footasylum and has been spotted on teenage celebrity Cruz Beckham, England footballer Danny Rose and boxer Anthony Joshua.
“A prime example is Nike’s ’Nothing Beats a Londoner’ campaign,” says Morgan. Released in February this year, the advert features an array of music and sport stars playing sport across the capital. “That’s a global giant celebrating UK culture, and we’ve also seen huge music stars such as Drake turning to the UK and making superstars out of our artists. That’s been great for brands like us and for streetwear culture as a whole.”
Fresh Ego Kid’s director Jon Reuben adds: “It used to be that brands tried to emulate what was happening in the US, but now young guys are interested in what’s happening here. It’s the UK’s fashion and culture that is hot right now.
What bedroom brands might lack in experience and industry know-how, they make up for with an intuitive understanding of their customers and marketing flair. In an increasingly competitive market where businesses are looking to stand out and capture customers’ attention, retailers are waking up to the power of these brands.
Brand insight with: Tommy Mallet
Why did you launch the brand?
In 2015, I was wearing a high-end pair of shoes on a photoshoot, which I really wanted, but couldn’t afford to buy. I’ve always loved footwear and decided to have a go at my own designs. I asked a footwear manufacturer I knew if he could make me something based on a drawing I’d made. When I look back on it now, it was the worst drawing you’ve ever seen, but the product ended up being better than expected. We started with 50 pairs, launched a website and somehow ended up creating a monster.
Has your personal following helped the brand succeed?
I think people like my story – I was a normal working-class kid. But it is much more about the quality of the product, the designs and the level of detail we put into the brand. Our shoes come in a premium box to make the experience really special for customers. We’re now stocked in stores in Paris and in the Netherlands, where people don’t know who I am.
Footwear is a competitive market – why has Mallet been a success?
Everybody want something new and different. When it comes to price, we’re also in a bit of a sweet spot [trainers and boots retail for around £165]. It is a premium product, but it’s much more affordable than the big luxury players.