International and physical store expansion will define Winser London’s year ahead.
Kim Winser obe portrait
After launching the predominantly online womenswear brand Winser London in 2013, and being shortlisted for Premium Brand of the Year at the Drapers Awards 2015, Kim Winser is gearing up for further international and store expansion. The growing brand has three UK pop-ups and one in the US, and is also stocked by John Lewis, Fenwick Bond Street and Rossiters of Bath. While she is unable to provide financial details, she says “we nearly trebled our turnover for 2015 on 2014”. The former M&S board director, who previously led Aquascutum and Pringle of Scotland, and has advised Agent Provocateur and Net-a-Porter. Recognised with an OBE in 2006 for services to fashion, Winser is now using her experience to give back, providing a leg-up for new entrants into the industry and advising growing businesses.
What prompted you to launch Winser London following a career at large corporates?
Winser London broderie anglaise top
I wanted a different business model to what I could find elsewhere. I looked at several existing companies to see whether they were worth buying, but they were structured for the way business used to be for retail. It’s not just the fact they were all around shop investment and not digital – it was bigger than that: it was the way they operated, the way production systems ran and the people employed. The whole heart of the businesses needed quite a big shift.
Many digitally based companies are multi-brand and I wanted to build a new brand and make its heart the website. Under our new model, in-house designers work directly in international fabric and yarn mills, making the response time very efficient.
I didn’t want one expensive London head office, so the business is built around a small office and remote working. Some of the team live in Oxford, Edinburgh, Hamburg and New York, yet they operate as if they sit together, which is perfect as the business grows internationally.
I’m committed to helping the young get into the business and support their early development, so every senior member of the 50-strong team has a young assistant direct from university or college, making dynamic teams.
What surprised you when building your business?
I was only planning to start an international business in year three but, because of the way word spreads across the world, especially with social media sites like Instagram, we found we were being pulled by the customer very quickly to certain countries, including the US, Italy, France and Spain.
Winser London cotton poplin wrap dress
After just a year we opened them all up at the same time. We launched delivery in nine European countries and America. When you’re building all of that into the way you operate, you might as well do it for a wider audience.
We’re now looking at extending website delivery to further countries. We have a growing business in Australia. Another key area is the Middle East, which I think began with [our 2013-2015 pop-up in the Knightsbridge] Harvey Nichols, as they have a lot of Middle Eastern customers who want to keep shopping from home.
What are your plans for future pop-ups, and could you open a central London flagship?
We now have pop-ups in Gerrards Cross, Marlow, Bath and St Helena in California. We are in talks on three other pop-ups, in Scotland, northern England, and another one in America.
As of today my flagship is my website, but I never say never as it’s all about the customer.
How do you ensure Winser London stands out in the crowded womenswear market?
The market space I saw is for product that’s beautiful quality with brilliant fabrics at sensible prices. We don’t chase the very latest trends but our collections will always look at the most forward-looking shows and see what’s likely to be sensible within that.
We do a lot with colour co-ordination, so you don’t have to throw away your whole wardrobe and start again, just keep topping up as all the colours tone.
Winser London casual luxe deep v neck jumper and casual luxe lounge pants
We have a lot of simple styles, so it’s all about your personality. At London Fashion Week model Yasmin Le Bon was wearing the Lauren blazer (£295) and wide-leg trousers, and her daughter, Amber, was at the New York shows the week before wearing the same blazer and a cute dress. It’s all about how you style it.
For spring 16 we’re predicting a strong season on stripes, textured cottons and broderie anglaise. Our cotton poplin wrap dress (£175) and a little broderie anglaise skirt (£89) and top (£69) stand out.
You also advise smaller businesses. What challenges do they face?
I get a lot of approaches from people looking to start up, small businesses looking for funding or medium-sized firms looking for investment and I try to advise a number a year as a charitable gift back to British business.
It’s hard to find really good talent where commercial meets digital. There are funding issues in smaller companies and some people don’t know how to raise additional funds. Sometimes it’s structural, so they’re not sure how to build for the next level.