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Andrew Townsin

Aigle has just opened a UK showroom in an Oxfordshire manor house. The outdoor brand’s country manager tells Laura Weir it is all part of its lifestyle focus.

Why did you join Aigle?
I’ve always been linked to denim in my career, and I love it, but I wanted a new challenge. [This move] added to my bow and was a leap of faith but I’ve not regretted a second. Building a brand is exciting. I knew the brand and I thought ‘I know what I can do here’. It has great potential.Aigle has an outdoor heritage, hence the decision to open a UK showroom at Cornbury Park in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. Do you have plans to diversify the brand? Aigle was born in the same year as Levi’s, 1853, and the brand has been built on rubber boots, which are made in the factory in France. The plan is not to reposition, but to leverage our current distribution to build the lifestyle side of the business. The traditional side of the business is quite solid and Barbour, for example, has stretched from one side [of the market] to the other. We are not turning our back on our heritage - we are looking to increase our distribution in lifestyle.

How will that affect your distribution policy?

We have two showrooms and those that buy traditional won’t be able to buy lifestyle and vice versa. There will always be some product that will cross over, and we will always resort back to our loyal customers. We don’t need to chase the volume.

How did Aigle manage trading through the recession?

It was an interesting time and still is. People are buying, but it’s tough. We looked at a consultative approach [with stockists]. There has been a paradigm shift in
cost. Cardboard, rubber, cotton - everything has gone up. We are big enough and strong enough to absorb the majority of cost to ensure consistency, and that’s where our heritage comes in. On rubber boots, prices have only increased between 5% and 7% and that’s reasonable.

How has the menswear market evolved since you started your career?

Like the womenswear market, the menswear landscape has polarised over the years, with entry-level and high-end players gradually stealing market share from the middle ground. For consumers, it’s increasingly about investment pieces. Men tend to shop less than women but they are brand loyal and when they do purchase, they now want a tangible USP, be it genuine heritage, long-lasting value or a specific function. So even though retail in general has become more difficult, it is still possible for independents to thrive so long as they offer the sort of quality men demand.

Andrew Townsin is country manager UK and Republic of Ireland at French heritage brand Aigle

Quickfire questions

Which retail personalities do you admire and why?
Apple boss Steve Jobs. He has done an incredible job, controlling distribution efficiently and whipping up a horde of feverish consumers.

What was the last book you read?
Captain in the Cauldron: The John Smit Story. I’m a huge supporter of Rugby Union and this book is an autobiography by the current South African rugby captain about the challenges he faces as captain both on and off the pitch.

What was the last thing of note you bought?
I’d have to say the holiday to South Africa in December for the family.

How do you unwind?
I like to keep fit and I set personal challenges for myself. This year I ran the London marathon for charity.

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