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Matalan refocuses ranges for 'confident' autumn 16

Matalan has redefined its proposition around core ranges and sub-brands for autumn 16 in a bid to get the value retailer “back on track”, brand director Bernadette Lusher has told Drapers.

Lusher joined in September last year, when she left her role as commercial director of general merchandise at Tesco, which she held for two years.

She was UK clothing director of Tesco’s F&F clothing division from 2011 to 2013 and spent 12 years at Marks & Spencer, rising to the role of trading director for womenswear from 2008 to 2011.

She has been focused on breathing new life into Matalan’s offering, which includes its core womenswear and menswear ranges and sub-brands such as Soon, FWM by Fenn Wright Manson and Morley, amid intense competition in the value sector.

“From my time at M&S, I’m very aware that too many brands can be confusing for customers,” she said, explaining that her team has spent a lot of time on the design and range structure of each, looking to its extensive data to extract customer insight.

Matalan’s core womenswear and menswear ranges sit at the “good and better” end of its pricing architecture, while sub-brands such as Soon, FWM by Fenn Wright Manson and Morley are at the “better and best” end, retailing at £40 for a dress from FWM or £60 for a waxed jacket from Morley.

“One of my biggest challenges is duplication across the brands, so that is something we have worked hard to remove,” she said. 

“Our customers can be anyone from a young mum to an older mum shopping with her daughter, so it is also about having pieces that you can buy into at any age. I would wear some of the pieces from Papaya – for example, the £10 pyjama-style top – but I perhaps wouldn’t wear it with the trousers like my daughter would. Similarly, I would wear the black lace dress from FWM but probably not the cami.

“We don’t want to be patronising,” she added. ”I don’t like it when sub-brands are all about age.”

Papaya, the core womenswear range, is focused on “accessible, broad appeal fashion with all the right influences from the catwalk through to the shop floor”, she explained. Key pieces for autumn 16 such are the shearling coat at £40, a floral-printed bomber at £18, statement heel boots at £25 and a Chloé-inspired bag at £14.

“Some of the changes we’ve been making can be seen in the spring ranges in store now but it is this autumn collection where it has really come together. This is confident and really shows off our ambition and quality.”

She said the design team has been working with suppliers to improve fabrics, pointing to new cotton-linens, polyviscoses and denims, in a bid to move away from price “to focusing on value”.

Matalan is also holding a lot more budget as open-to-buy, to make sure its strategy is weatherproof in the face of the changeable climate.

Another big opportunity is the Candy Couture range, which targets girls aged eight to 13, and features fringed ponchos from £12 and print dresses at £12 that are similar in style to those in the Papaya womenswear collection for £20.

“We’ve upped the fashion stakes for autumn with trend-relevant styles but they’re never risque,” she said. “We believe there is a real opportunity there, especially depending on what happens with BHS [and its girls’ range, Tammy].”

Matalan had been reeling from a problematic move to a new 575,000 sq ft Knowsley distribution centre at the end of 2014. It has since said the situation is improving.

Lusher confirmed this: “The distribution is much better and the team has really focused on availability, so we’re on the right track.”

It is also working on visual merchandising to help customers navigate its large-format stores, as well as identifying trends and new season pieces. Paul Andrews joined in February as head of visual merchandising to work on a consistent message in stores and online.

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