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Q&A: The White Company takes on New York

The White Company is taking on America. People and retail director Steve Morris tells Drapers about its plans.

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Steve Morris, The White Company

It has been 22 years since Chrissie Rucker started clothing and homeware business The White Company. Now a well-established presence in the UK, with around 50 stores, it now has the US firmly within its sights. Last month it open its first US bricks-and-mortar store at 155 Fifth Avenue in New York’s bustling Flatiron district.

America is the The White Company’s first international market and its impressive 3,000 sq ft flagship brings the brand’s sense of serenity to the city that never sleeps. Large windows decorated with ferns and fairy lights show off its summer collection of light dresses and denim.

The greenery continues inside, where plants and flowers displayed throughout the store give it a homely feel. Full use has been made of the building’s period features. Dramatic columns and arched doorways, combined with the brand’s creamy palette, create a fresh, airy ambience.

The White Company is hoping its relaxed, classic style will be a hit with US customers so it can expand rapidly in the market.

Drapers caught up with people and retail director Steve Morris to find out about The White Company’s American ambitions.

Why did The White Company want to launch in the US?

We’re fairly established in the UK: the brand is 23 years old and we have a good store footprint, so looking beyond the UK for growth was the next natural step. We have a direct website to the US, so we have a good idea where our customers are. It’s a sensory brand whose products need to be smelt and touched, so we wanted a beautiful physical space to give customers the whole picture.

Why choose the Flatiron district?

We spent a few days pounding the streets of New York, from the Upper West Side to Midtown Manhattan and Chelsea. We loved the mix of customers [in Flatiron] – it’s about 30% residential, 30% workers from offices in the area and 30% tourists. There are also some really good homeware, fragrance and clothing brands – like Club Monaco and Ann Taylor – in the area, so there’s a good representation of all the product categories we play in.

How have you approached clothing in the new store?

We planned around 30% of the space for clothing. It’s very early days for the New York store but clothing sales represent around 55%, which is exciting. It’s a handpicked range for New York. In the US market you get more demand for size zero (UK 4) and double zero (UK 2), so we’ve addressed that in the range. The price architecture is comparable (UK prices range from £40 for a T-shirt to £595 for a sheepskin biker jacket). For us, it’s about quality proposition. It’s performing incredibly well.

How does the store differ from others in the estate?

I would describe it as similar but it has some different features. We have a clear aesthetic with our stores. The New York store has high ceilings and is a beautiful period building, so we can play with the architecture in a new way. We’ve approached it so there are “shop-in-shops” for different categories as you journey through the store. Because of the grandeur of the space, we’ve been able to up the scale of the fixtures from what we have in the UK.

What are US customers looking for from your fashion offer? Does it differ from UK shoppers?

What we’ve found from running the US website is that a bestseller in the UK also tends to be a bestseller in the US – the beautiful white linen clothing on the front of our summer catalogue has done well in both markets. Our customers, wherever they are, want quality, timeless style and value for money.

What else does The White Company have planned in the US?

We have a significant rollout plan in the US and our second store will open at the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey before Christmas. It’s a premium shopping centre, quite similar to the UK’s Bluewater. We’ll have the flagship at Flatiron and then the shopping centre model, so we’ll be able to see how both work. Stores one and two are the test phase.

The White Company’s NYC flagship

Address: 155 Fifth Avenue, New York

Size: 3,000 sq ft

What does it sell: Clothing, homeware and fragrance

Neighbours: Club Monaco, Ann Taylor, Anthropologie

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