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Dress debate causes online sales stampede at Roman Originals

Womenswear retailer Roman Originals is enjoying an unexpected moment in the global spotlight, after a debate over the colour of one of its dresses went viral last week.

The Birmingham-based company found itself at the centre of a social media debate on February 27 after a picture was posted online of a dress that some people see as white and gold, but is actually black and blue. It gained widespread media attention in the UK and as far away as Colombia, Brazil and Japan.

Roman Originals said the debate drove sales up by 560% on the day, compared with a typical Friday. It has 1,800 back orders for the £50 dress, including 1,200 from the US, a country which usually accounts for about 2% to 3% of its online sales.

“I was woken up at 5am on the Friday to everyone going crazy that our dress was all over the internet,” creative manager Ian Johnson told Drapers. “The dress in a size 10 has been like gold dust and we’ve seen them selling for £500 each on eBay.

“It sold out online and every shop had sold out over the weekend, with maybe the odd one in unpopular sizes left. Our store in Wood Green sold out an hour after it opened on the Friday and in Enfield it was a couple of hours after that.”

The retailer has now created a white and gold version of the dress, which is being auctioned on eBay until March 15 to raise money for Comic Relief.

Roman Originals has been pursuing a rapid expansion plan in recent years by opening stores at a rate of approximately one per week since last June, with particular focus in the North and around London.

Its 150th UK store opened in Doncaster on Friday and it expects to open a further 12 by August. It also has eight concessions in Ireland.

“Our existing customers are very loyal, but where we don’t already have stores people don’t tend to know about us. [The dress debate] has been absolutely fantastic,” said Johnson.

Roman Originals was established in 1970 by Peter and Erich Christodoulou as a manufacturer and previously supplied retailers such as Arcadia Group with its womenswear ranges. It opened its first store in 1995 and now has about 100 staff at the Birmingham head office, with in-house design and sampling capabilities.

According to the most recent results filed at Companies House, Roman Originals made sales of £35.2m for the year to December 31, 2013, and a £2.4m profit.


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