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Beauty and the beach

Heidi Gosman and Penny Klein launched premium beachwear brand Heidi Klein after working as retail management consultants. Tapping into the holiday wardrobe needs of the jet set, the company opened its first standalone store in London's Westbourne Grove (below) in April 2002. A second London store followed in 2004, and a website was launched a year later. Since September 2006 the brand has been sold in Harvey Nichols in London and Barneys in New York.

What sets Heidi Klein apart from other beachwear companies?

Penny: We recognised a huge gap in the market when we came up with the concept for Heidi Klein. With the rise of low cost airlines, winter sun was no longer out of the grasp of holidaymakers, but good quality, well-cut swimwear was a rarity at the best of times, and in the winter months nobody was targeting this market.

Heidi: Buying a bikini can be a really emotional experience. We wanted to help women find the best fits and feel comfortable and excited about what is largely a dreaded shopping mission.

What is the breakdown of own-label to designer brand in the store?

P: At the moment, the Heidi Klein stores consist of 50% own brand, which shares rail space with brands including Thomas Maie, Eres and Missoni. Next year the own-brand figure will increase to 60%.

Which currently untapped market is the most significant for the Heidi Klein brand?

P: We're scouting for more overseas locations at the moment, mainly in St Tropez and Marbella, where we're focusing on smaller-footprint stores.

H: There are opportunities in the Caribbean, Dubai and Russia as well.

How about the UK?

P: We'll be focusing the business towards concessions and wholesale.

You opened a store in New York in August 2006. How does the US retail environment differ from the UK?

H: Retailing in the US is a tough proposition, but we have a niche offer. There's nothing like the Heidi Klein concept in even the most obvious beach areas of Miami and LA, so we thought the risk was worth taking.

P: Having control over the brand is great because we can adapt the collection for each market. In the US we've learnt that women are more conservative and so we cut our swimwear to suit their requirements.

Would you consider launching a diffusion line?

P: Not at this stage, but it's not something we'd rule out completely. At the moment I think it would dilute the message of the brand just when we're trying to establish its identity.

H: Price isn't really an issue for Heidi Klein customers. It's a premium concept and people don't mind paying more for something that they feel fantastic wearing.

How has the trend for organic clothing affected your business?

P: To be honest, it's not at the top of our customers' agenda. Their lifestyles are often dictated by flying to where the sun is shining and so carbon footprints and organic fabrics aren't really an issue.

H: It's also not the most cost-effective move for us at the moment. It's hard to compete in this market when you're such a small business, and so for us to introduce an organic line would be a marketing tool more than anything.

P: But we are very ethically driven. We check on our factories and all the beauty products we sell are fair trade.

How is the online business performing?

H: The website is going well and accounts for about 10% of all sales at the moment. Year-on-year sales are growing organically.

So what's next for Heidi Klein?

P: We'd love to have a presence in airports, which is the ultimate retail space for beachwear. I think it's too soon for us to make that move, but it's definitely a consideration for the future.

THIS FASHION LIFE

What is your biggest fashion weakness?

P: Ugg boots.

H: Ballet pumps.

What was your best fashion moment?

P: The day I wore the first Heidi Klein one-piece on the beach.

H: Seeing a woman in Miami wearing one of our pieces soon after we launched.

And your worst?

P: We lost our bags in Hong Kong and had to wear our Juicy Couture tracksuits for four days.

H: We were too tall to buy anything new.

Who is your industry icon and why?

P: Anya Hindmarch always has time for us.

H: Sir Philip Green - I'd like him on the board at Heidi Klein.

What would you be doing if not fashion?

P: A gardener - I love my vegetable garden.

H: Interior design.

Where do you shop?

P: Gap is great for casual pieces.

H: I love Zara.

What books are you reading?

P: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

H: Redeeming Features: A Memoir by interior designer Nicky Haslam.

Who is your style icon?

P: Elle Macpherson.

H: Grace Kelly and my mum.

Who's on your iPod?

P: David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.

H: Classical music.

Who is on your mobile's speed dial?

P: The congestion charge hotline.

H: Nicky Haslam.

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