New CEO Suzie de Rohan Willner revamps the retailer’s core womenswear offer and pricing, ahead of wider expansion.
toast autumn 16
Lifestyle retailer Toast has revamped its womenswear offer and reviewed the pricing architecture as part of a new growth strategy under its first chief executive, Suzie de Rohan Willner.
Next up will be its loungewear, followed by nightwear, homeware and bedding. After that, Toast will relaunch its menswear, before eyeing international expansion.
De Rohan Willner joined Toast in November 2015, taking over the day-to-day operations from founders wife and husband Jessica and Jamie Seaton. The Seatons are still involved and have been helping with the overhaul.
Over the past few months, the top team has been spending time in Toast stores to gain a better understanding of its customer. This had led to changes in the product, de Rohan Willner told Drapers.
“Our customer is a self-assured woman who wants simple design and beautiful fabrics,” she explained. “We needed to create pieces that have longevity. We are not a fast fashion brand.”
De Rohan Willner has increased prices at the top of Toast’s structure to reflect the improved quality of fabrics and added details. On average prices across the range have gone up by 6%. Coats now go up to £345 while entry prices were maintained at £35 for a jersey T-shirt.
“We sit at an accessible price point but we have quality fabrics and our customer is willing to pay for quality,” she explained. “We weren’t always doing ourselves justice. Some categories were at the right price, others have been tweaked.”
De Rohan Willner suspended menswear for this season while the team focuses on getting the core womenswear offer right.
However, she said it will be reinstated: “We’re taking it in stages. I’ve honed in on womenswear and we’re putting that same attention into loungewear, which is the heart and soul of the brand. For spring 17 we will look at nightwear then homeware and bedding, menswear will come after that. We will come back to it but we want to do it properly.”
The autumn 16 womenswear collection is the first under de Rohan Willner and head of design Laura Shippey, who joined Toast at the end of 2015. She was previously senior designer at Margaret Howell and J Crew.
“We’ve really invested in our design and buying,” said de Rohan Willner. “Every piece is important – there is no ‘filler’, which hasn’t always been the case.”
She explained that, when she joined last year, she saw a “huge opportunity” to return the retailer to its lifestyle roots: “It was a beautiful brand that had lost its way. Different design teams had pulled it in different directions through the years and it hadn’t stayed true to its original intent.
“It was really a case of back to basics for me, I wanted to return to the original intent of the brand, a mix of Asian- and French-inspired pieces.”
Since her arrival, sales at Toast have increased 18% year on year. The business, which is part of French Connection Group, would not disclose sales or profit figures.
Toast has 12 stores in the UK and concessions in 14 John Lewis stores. It will open in further locations “if and when opportunities come up”, de Rohan Willner said, but she would not be drawn on possible locations.
The chief executive also has plans to expand the business internationally in future: “We’re focused on the UK right now, as we want to make sure we are getting it right here first, across the categories. As soon as we’re there, we will explore international territories.”