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Charles Simons

Drapers probe leading Independents to get their View From The Shop floor.

Has your shopper’s spending been squeezed?
Not for us. I felt the market was going to change last year, and that’s why I made the brave decision to drop daywear. When times are tough, people still need occassionwear- we’re selling dresses for up to £2,500. The type of customer we’re trying to hit is still spending.

How is the womenswear market overall?
It’s very tough, the reason we’re taking money is because of occassionwear. Daywear’s in trouble, you can buy tops from anywhere, it’s very tough if you’re completely daywear based.

What are the biggest trends in womenswear at the moment?
We’ve sold a huge number of prints, geometric and bold, but are doing less beading. Customers want something elegant but not over the top. We are lucky because we cover a broad customer base, we can serve a girl of 20, or a woman of 90.

Is your buying more reflective of the trend for attitude over age in womenswear?
Yes, absolutely. A woman of 80 wants to look 60, she wants to feel good and look good. Women well into their 60’s are buying strapless dresses, my buying has changed as a result.

Who are your main competitors?
Robina in the West End and After Dark in North London. But our location is in a predominantly Turkish, Jewish and Greek area, so our customers often have lots for functions to go to, which is great for occassionwear.

Which brands are selling well in your store at the moment?
We stock mainly US brands such as Jovani and Tom Baker- which is very weddingwear and mother of the bride, which are selling well. I stock some UK brands, and I still buy daywear bits from France.

Are you going to any trade shows?
Yes, Pure in London, Magic in LA and I look for new brands in New York.

Will you be buying into any new brands for next season?
Yes, Anoushka G and Paul Vasseur. I’d also like to find a brand which does smart daywear with a twist.

How is trade at the moment?
Trade’s not too bad. We’ve changed our buying patterns compared to last year which has had a dramatic affect. We have shifted more into occassionwear and eveningwear, rather than daywear, and from our perspective, it has been very good. We are now 70% occasionwear/eveningwear, 30% daywear, we used to be 50:50.

Why have you changed your buying?
There is so much daywear, from Primark to Escada, the market is saturated. But it’s difficult for people to find great occasionwear; we are now a specialist shop offering superb cocktail dresses and eveningwear- few shops are doing what we do. We also offer additional services; such as fittings and alterations in store.

Have you seen a sales uplift as a result?
Yes, we are above last years sales figures, with single digit growth. It was a big decision to cut down on daywear, but we are now seen as a destination specialist occassionwear store, we have been recommended by so many people.

How do you compete with the high street?
We have a unique product offer, as I source a lot of my brands from the US, and we offer a fitting and alteration service. We’ve also just launched our own designer dress making service, from our showroom here, we’ve made 9 dresses so far- it’s going well.

Which trends will be key for next season?
Prints will continue to be popular and lace, there will be lots of lace.

Do you have transactional website?
No, we tried it but women don’t want to get eveningwear on a website. We have fitters here and customers can try on the items.

What can we expect from you next year?
I’ll be reducing daywear further, to 25% of the mix.

Are you expanding at all?
It would be hard to have more than one store, the type of business I offer means I have to be here. I would consider it in the future though.

Charles Simons is the owner of womenswear independent Donna in Cockfosters

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