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N Brown poaches Shop Direct designer to oversee fashion brands

N Brown Group has hired a head of design to oversee the modernisation of its core fashion brands as it attempts to boost sales in the second half of 2014.

Peter Moffatt took up the newly created role on September 8 and will be responsible for the design of plus-size womenswear brand JD Williams, womenswear brand Simply Be and menswear brand Jacamo.

Moffatt was previously senior womenswear designer - denim, casual wovens and Style Bible (a monthly trends magazine) - for Shop Direct Group from October 2004 to August 2014. He has also held design roles at outdoor brand Craghoppers and Matalan.

Design at N Brown was previously overseen by the seperate buying teams for each brand. Chief executive Angela Spindler said Moffatt’s appointment would make its fashion “more consistent”.

It comes as N Brown this week reported a 0.6% fall in sales in the first half of 2014, with like-for-likes down 0.5%. JD Williams saw sales fall 3% in the 26 weeks to August 30 which was said to be due in part to the ranges being less trend-led, while Simply Be and Jacamo’s sales were up 4% and 10% respectively.

N Brown said it was halfway through a “transitional year”, during which it plans to make the fashion brands more trend-led and shift investment from some of its paper-based marketing, such as leaflets, towards TV and digital campaigns.

The group cut its investment in catalogues by 24%, which contributed to the fall in group sales. However, it said this allowed funds to be redirected into customer recruitment initiatives, resulting in a 20% rise in the number of new shoppers to JD Williams this season.

Efforts to modernise the fashion offer included the appointment of brand ambassadors Lorraine Kelly for JD Williams and Kelly Brook for Simply Be. Brook starred in JD Williams’ first TV campaign, launched on September 5.

N Brown has also shifted more of its fashion marketing spend to the second half of the year, weighting it in favour of the autumn/winter ranges. “This better reflects how customers shop and spend,” explained chief executive Angela Spindler. “We’re moving away from everything coming in at the start of the season, so there is more newness on the websites.”

Across the group, store like-for-like sales rose 17%. N Brown opens its 10th dual-branded Simply Be and Jacamo shop on Oxford Street today (September 17). It also has one Simply Be standalone store.

Three more dual-branded stores will open by Christmas, in Edinburgh, Merry Hill in Dudley, and Norwich. Spindler said further stores were planned for next year, but would not disclose when or where.

Neil Saunders, managing director for retail analysts Conlumino, said: “Overall, while the headline numbers are not as robust as we have been used to from N Brown, the company is in a period of necessary transition. This change will ultimately create a platform for stronger future growth; all signs point to a healthier second half.”

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