VF Corporation is betting on its new Soho hub as the base for its UK growth ambitions.
US brand powerhouse VF Corporation, the owner of brands such as Vans, The North Face, Timberland and Dickies, has unveiled a new 16,000 sq ft home on Warwick Street in the heart of London’s Soho. Described by the 199-year-old business as an “experiential brand showcase”, VF has overhauled Soho’s Axtell building to create a hybrid workspace and showroom. It hopes the space will allow it to strengthen relationships with trade partners, as well as add fuel to its growth in the UK.
Martino Scabbia Guerrini, EMEA group president for VF, describes the UK as its most important market in Europe. It accounts for approximately 20% – £500m – of its total annual revenue from European Union countries, and VF hopes to increase this to 23% by 2021. London, meanwhile, represents 20% of its total UK revenue, driven by the success of footwear brand Vans.
VF Axtell Soho is spread across six floors. Four are dedicated to discrete brand experiences, and the building also houses offices, a showcase space, a digital innovation and design studio, and a rooftop garden. The building dates back to the 1920s and has been renovated by architect Darling Studio – a complex black and gold staircase welcomes visitors to reception in an acknowledgement of its Art Deco history. Light, bright and modern, the space feels fresh and polished.
VF declines to reveal how much it spent on the building, but says it represents “an important investment.” The brand house employs 1,820 people in the UK across offices in Nottinghamshire – in Nottingham and Calverton – and its 57 UK retail stores.
The building has been designed to help immerse wholesale partners in the brands. At Vans, for example, the space is littered with skateboards and painted with vibrant colours in a nod to the label’s heritage. Timberland’s space, meanwhile, is decorated with rubber soles and cotton plants, reflecting its ongoing to commitment to sustainability.
Digital technology has been integrated throughout the building. Large video walls help bring each brand’s floor to life, and virtual mannequins on large screens display the season’s core looks in 3D – they can be shown to wholesale partners and help to speed up supply chain decisions.
Data from the digital avatars can be sent to factories, cutting down on the often wasteful and lengthy sampling process and giving suppliers more precise information on how VF envisions the end product – from how the fabric should drape to the exact position of a logo. The touch-screen displays can also be used to help envisage products in different scenarios by changing the lighting.
VF Axtell Soho’s location puts it close to many of the group’s 20 stores in the capital, including Vans and The North Face shops on nearby Carnaby Street. VF also plans to use the space to help educate retail store teams on their brands, to drive better customer service and engagement with shoppers.
As the pace of fashion continues to ramp up, brands and retailers need flexible spaces that can adapt to the ever-evolving needs of a business. VF Axtell Soho is a modern re-imagining of a showroom that allows the brand house to effectively communicate with its industry partners and retail store staff. The building is also an impressive mark of VF’s ambitions in the UK – despite a turbulent high street and ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit. By focusing on fostering closer relationships, VF should be able to capitalise on the current success of hot-ticket brands such as Vans and The North Face.