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Jo Hooper: cashmere is 'democratised luxury'

Speaking at the Drapers Fashion Forum, Jo Hooper, product director of Pure Collection, tells Drapers why the business is seeking to bring newness and luxury to a fast fashion world.

Why do you think cashmere is making a comeback?

Once you’ve had cashmere you never go back. It’s a beautiful, everyday luxury and a natural product. If you look after cashmere then you’ll have it forever. Marks & Spencer democratised cashmere, and gave that sense that everyone should have some cashmere in their wardrobes. Cashmere is only produced in inner and outer Mongolia, so it’s a very finite resource and that is partly what makes it so special.

As well, in an uncertain world, the rise of loungewear and cocooning and wrapping up has been huge and cashmere is very much part of that. It’s about treating yourself and making your own safe haven. The material has been democratised but also feels a bit luxurious.

What makes Pure Collection stand out?

Our supply base. I thought I knew a bit about cashmere from my days at John Lewis, but I did not. In terms of where the yarns come from, the fibres the farmers, the microns. Our suppliers make us special. If you have a compact and responsive supply chain you can work with them to develop exciting new products. People don’t necessarily know what we do but once they experience the quality and know the provenance they come back to us.

Is having an experimental mindset important?

You have to do that, or you don’t learn. If we didn’t we’d still only have 10 styles and 10 colours. The consumer is in charge so you have to follow her, but also have to bring surprises to her. We’re always looking to innovate. Blends are important and there’s a lot of blend technologies coming up on the radar.

Why do you think sustainability is on the rise?

You have to have a story. The factories we work with have organised cooperatives from the farmers. The sustainability aspect of Pure Collection is a well-kept secret, but we could easily turn the volume up about our providence and sustainability.

How have you seen seasons and production cycles change?

We used to put two or three catalogues out a year and hope for the best. Now we’re working on a newness model, meaning customers will see something new every 3 to 4 weeks. Versatility is key – bringing the consumer the piece that will transform the look.

What are some of the biggest challenges?

The exchange rate has been a challenge. As well, we were very much wedded to discounting and there was an expectation of that from the consumer. But we know if you create a beautiful product people pay.

What are some key opportunities?

The way people are shopping now, with the likes of Zara and Primark, is changing all the time. Fast fashion is huge. Whether or not your product is disposable –  and we’re definitely not – the opportunity we have is to show our consumer regularly that there’s lots of newness.


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