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Debenhams' menswear relaunch promises differentiation

As Debenhams relaunches its menswear own brands, trading director for menswear Andrew Lepp sat down with Drapers to discuss how changes in the design team structure have “empowered newness” and created clear brand differentiation.

Following the launch of its new own-brand womenswear collection, Kley, last month Debenhams has revamped its in-house menswear offer for autumn 19.

Premium brands J by Jasper Conran and Hammond & Co by Patrick Grant have been relaunched, alongside mainstream labels Maine New England, Mantaray and Red Herring. The department store chain has axed its Collection range and replaced it with 1778, a new casual workwear collection designed to create a staple wardrobe for Monday to Friday.

Retail prices for 1778 range from £8 for a T-shirt to £90 for a quilted jacket. Across all menswear ranges, this extends to £160 for a duffle coat from Hammond & Co.

The menswear relaunch has been headed up by a new senior team: Andrew Lepp as trading director, Marcus Rigg as head of design and Ross Wilson as head of buying. All three have been with the company for just over a year.

“When we walked into the business a year ago, we looked at the seven brands and there was a lot of duplication,” said Lepp. “The brands weren’t necessarily looking like brands.”

To create differentiation, Debenhams changed its design team structure. Previously, design teams were responsible for product types across all brands, but now a buyer, designer and planner looks after each brand as a whole.

“For example, we had someone who would look after polo shirts for every range. But it’s really hard to make seven ranges of polo shirts look different,” Lepp explained.

“That was the problem that we were running into – everything was starting to blend. We had things in the range that were bestsellers for years and at some point, you’ve seen it all before so the floor started to feel a little bit sad and it wasn’t as fresh as it needed to be.”

The team changes have bolstered Debenhams’ “unique selling proposition”, says Lepp: “It is now a cohesive team that looks at that brand and is empowered. And that was the brief – you’re building brands, you’re not just building private-label product for a department store – because [that] is our unique selling proposition. Through that process, it allows us to differentiate.

“What’s very interesting is that the early signs that we’re seeing from the customer is that they’re buying the new products.”

This is the first time Debenhams has strategically marketed its menswear, and a new menswear Instagram account launched to mark the occasion.

“Menswear never received any marketing, or very little,” said Lepp. “We’re talking about menswear in a big, bold way, which we have never done before.”



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