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Special effects: the power of exclusive product

Zimmermann capsule for browns

Barely a week goes by without a retailer unveiling a new “exclusive” collection. But are one-off collections and products simply a way of making noise?

Visit the homepage of any multi-brand retailer and it is odds on it will be shouting about its latest exclusive products. One-off collections, limited-edition capsules and special items are hitting the market thick and fast as retailers attempt to lure customers with the siren of exclusivity.

Giving shoppers something that they cannot find anywhere else – be it an entire brand, a range or a unique colourway – is becoming an ever more important part of retailers’ strategies. Exclusives can and do drive sales, retailers tell Drapers. However, as more and more businesses bank on one-off collections, are exclusives at risk of losing their sheen? It is no secret that consumers are demanding newness but to remain exciting, these collaborations need to offer something missing from an already crowded market.

We approach exclusives as collaborations to really build a story with a designer

Natalie Kingham, Matchesfashion

The luxury market has long been hungry for exclusivity, and retailers are finding new ways to add uniqueness to their offer. Most recently, Net-a-Porter demonstrated the sector’s commitment to the cause when it unveiled no fewer than seven exclusive womenswear labels on its platform earlier this year. Cult brands Dôen, Reformation, Frankie Shop and The Line by K were all previously direct-to-consumer labels available only on their own websites, so Net-a-Porter was giving eager shoppers an additional and exclusive way to buy into them.

My fashion life margherita missoni the style report for, shot by trisha ward & styled by alessia simpson (5)

Margherita Missoni for Matchesfashion

Matchesfashion has launched exclusive pieces from 183 of its 450 brands so far this year alone, including a holiday range with Dodo Bar Or and capsule collections with Margherita Missoni and Ganni. An exclusive Emilia Wickstead collection will launch for autumn 19. Fashion and buying director Natalie Kingham stresses the importance of creating a narrative around special collections.

“We often find that customers like the story-telling element behind collaborations. They like to invest in luxurious pieces with an interesting provenance,” she explains. “We approach exclusives as collaborations to really build a story with a designer and think carefully about the times of year customers are looking for newness.

“As a result, we do notice a spike in sales. There was a great response, both in store and online, when we launched [new concept store] 5 Carlos Place last September with our 130-piece Prada exclusive. Key pieces from exclusives can sell out in hours, like our Simone Rocha hairclips. The spring 19 collection from [womenswear brand] Chopova Lowena also sold out and was reordered.”

Hat trick

Fellow luxury retailer Browns launched an exclusive collection of bucket hats created by such heavyweights as Prada, Burberry, Versace and Off-White to mark last month’s London Fashion Week Men’s. Other recent exclusives include a capsule collection with accessory brand-of-the-moment Danse Lente, as well as exclusive pieces from Australian womenswear designer Zimmermann.

[Exclusives] definitely have an impact on sales simply because it sets us apart from other retailers by staying true to the Browns DNA

Ida Petersson, Browns

“Our customer is always seeking newness and capsules, whether they be a range of entirely new styles or signature styles reworked and updated,” says Ida Petersson, director of men’s and womenswear buying. “This is such a great way to inject something new outside the traditional seasonal deliveries.

“When we launch capsules, we also like to look at a 360-degree approach, from online to in store and to how the concept is marketed. Every function across the business ensures our customers are kept in the know.”

She adds: “[Exclusives] definitely have an impact on sales simply because it sets us apart from other retailers by staying true to the Browns DNA, which is to offer the hottest product throughout the whole year.”

Emilia wickstead exclusive at matchesfashion (3)

An exclusive collection from Emilia Wickstead is launching with Matchesfashion for autumn 19

Brand bonus

From a brand’s perspective, collaborating with retailers on exclusives can stop their product being lost amid a sea of competitors.

“Exclusives with ecommerce retailers can really help boost your prominence on their website,” explains the brand director of one premium footwear label. “You get more attention and so the products are more likely to be seen [when customers are] browsing the site. Working with different designers and retailers is also mutually beneficial. We learn from the people we work with and they learn from us.”

And it is not just the luxury players experimenting with the power of exclusives. High street multi-brand retailers are also keen to harness their power. When powerful brands are stocked by a plethora of retailers, securing exclusive prints or colourways is key. Sneaker heavyweight Converse is stocked by Asos, Schuh, House of Fraser and Urban Outfitters, among others. To differentiate itself, Office offers an exclusive edit, which has included pastel tones and holographic finishes, each season.

Exclusives can also hold a particular power for independent retailers, who, by offering shoppers products that cannot be bought elsewhere, can give independent retailers a boost in the battle for consumer spend.

Exclusives are incredibly important. It gives people a reason to shop with us rather than anywhere else

Deryane Tadd, The Dressing Room

St Albans-based The Dressing Room works with labels including Lily & Lionel and Mercy Delta on exclusive collections, including one-off prints. Exclusives, owner Deryane Tadd tells Drapers, help tailor brand’s collections to her customer and have a concrete impact on sales.

“Exclusives are incredibly important. It gives people a reason to shop with us rather than anywhere else. It also means we can fill in any gaps that we felt might be missing from a collection or add something that we know our customer will want. Exclusive products are always among our bestsellers, and also work really well when we approach press or influencers: it helps to have something to shout about.”

Tadd adds that she only partners with brands she has built a strong relationship with. She advises retailers that want to launch their own exclusive collections to be comfortable meeting some “chunky” minimums.

“We only do exclusives with a brand that we’ve worked with for a few seasons and have built a history with us,” she explains. “It also needs to be a label that we’ve seen some growth with and we know customers are loving. You’ve got to be comfortable that you can sell through those pieces because you don’t want to be stuck with lots of the same item. It can be daunting when you look at putting down the numbers on an exclusive collection, so you’ve got to be sure you aren’t going to be left with the stock.”

Lily & Lionel exclusive for Anthropologie

Lily & Lionel exclusive for Anthropologie

Magic formula

As well as The Dressing Room, British label Lily & Lionel has launched exclusive collections for Asos and Anthropologie.

“Creatively, there is real magic when have you the opportunity to work so collaboratively with top stockists,” says the brand’s founder, Alice Stone. “Commercially, you get a completely clear view of a retailer’s customer.

We have to work with stockists who have the power to buy quite meaty collections to justify putting an exclusive into production

Alice Stone, Lily & Lionel

“You can’t beat a tailored approach, so everyone’s excited: the retailer and the customer. We try to be as accommodating as possible when we’re approached about exclusives. However, we have to work with stockists who have the power to buy quite meaty collections to justify putting an exclusive into production, and that boils down to quantities.”

With a careful combination of good timing, a strong narrative and exciting product, exclusives can bear fruit for both retailers and brands. However, these collaborations rely on strong relationships and a close understanding – on both sides – of the target consumer. As more and more businesses bet on special collections, retailers need to ensure they are standing out from the crowd to keep the magic of exclusivity alive.


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