British heritage brand Laura Ashley will return to its archives in a bid to reverse its poor performance, new CEO Katherine Poulter told Drapers.
“[Customers] are telling me to be bold and sending me photographs of vintage dresses and the message is very clear: update them in a cool modern way,” said Poulter, who this week took over the CEO role from incumbent Kwan Cheong Ng two months earlier than planned. “That is exactly what we’re going to be doing – reconnecting with our traditional values and strong British heritage and develop Laura Ashley as the original lifestyle brand.”
The company’s losses before tax widened by 166% to £4m for the six months to 31 December 2019. However, Poulter assured Drapers “in the past seven weeks we have moved from being in [sales] decline to getting our sales flat and just nudging now into the positive”.
Laura Ashley will use its extensive archive fabric and shape records in its new product designs, alongside continued partnerships with heavyweight brands. These include Barbour, Urban Outfitters and Rag and Bone.
After exposure from presenters Holly Willoughby and Kate Garraway sporting a new Laura Ashley dress on air, the brand is pulling in a lot of new customers according to Poulter.
“With the Kate and Holly dresses 60% of customers were new customers,” she said. ”We’re bringing in new customers and targeting a multigenerational [customer]. I think when you get the product right people will buy into it at all ages – I don’t think it’s an unusual thing.”
To back this up the business will also accelerate its digital platforms, the first focus of which will be email marketing.
“It’s making sure we light the fire and get those ideas out there to show customers the newness,” said Poulter. “We’re also looking at real fashion drops to come through [online] and collaborating with customers to show some of the archives and ask what do we make next.”
The business plans to do a full cost review, but chairman Andrew Khoo confirmed that all funding requirements have now been concluded and it is “business as usual” for the brand.
Despite a “disappointing” set of results, both Khoo and Poulter were confident in the outlook for the brand after a strategic review in autumn 2019. This review identified six areas of focus: improving our brand and customer strategy, accelerating digital, increasing store productivity, improving products and trading, growth opportunities, and focusing on our organization and culture.
“It’s still very early days, but I am confident that by bringing Laura Ashley back we will make it great again,” said Poulter.