Mamas & Papas’ fashion director tells Lisa Berwin how the maternitywear and kidswear retailer’s focus on quality is paying off
How has the clothing market changed since the recession and how does this affect maternity and baby wear?
Everything is about perceived value and choice. The customer is much more demanding and knowledgeable. The clothing market has become a battleground fought on price, with huge growth in the value sector, and many retailers have lost their identity, quality and point of difference while obsessing about price. There are more working women with a higher disposable income and women are having children later. They see the maternity market as highly fashionable - with celebrities paving the way - and don’t want to compromise who they are while they are pregnant.
How does a brand like Mamas & Papas respond to the value-led market?
People want something different for their precious baby and we step out of the chaotic arena that is now the high street and focus on giving them something extra special. People are savvy. They recognise quality and outstanding design when they see it - hence our sales growth. Our buying teams have an end-to-end vision that goes all the way from product design to visual merchandising in store or on the web.
How does the business plan to grow?
We are increasing our UK presence by opening new stores and online is a real focus for us - it gives us the opportunity to reach a wider audience and we can offer exclusive product online. We now sell our product via Shop Direct Group as well as our own website and are focusing on expanding our channels of distribution.
Which brands and retailers do you admire and why?
I like to seek out new talent and one new brand on the horizon is [kidswear brand] Tea Collection from San Francisco. Its brand story is about empowerment, change for good, ‘the future citizens of the world’ and its collections are distinctive. I admire Asos for its entrepreneurial can-do approach. [Asos chief executive] Nick Robertson has led the way in how to be an etailer. [Boden founder] Johnnie Boden I admire for creating such a strong brand and breaking the US - a feat many bigger brands have never achieved - and Whistles boss Jane Shepherdson, because she has belief in her own qualities and strengths.
What would you like to do if you weren’t working in fashion?
Be an actress. Maybe that’s why I approach my work with the passion and visualisation of a film director; creating the scene, influencing all the players.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
See my kids, Ellie and Max. I see them so little in the week - although as they’re teenagers I’m not sure they want to spend much of their weekend with me. I love being outdoors and am an avid reader.
What was the last thing you bought?
I recently bought a simple black dress from Whistles. It’s great for work with leggings.
Who is your favourite designer?
Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative director. To take such a long-standing brand that enjoys such an ingrained heritage and turn it into something fresh and
über-cool is pure genius.
Which is your favourite shop?
[US homewares store] ABC Carpet and Home in New York. From the moment I stand on the front doorstep I’m desperate to get inside. It is so innovative and unique - mixing old and new - and I love browsing every little corner for special gifts or more things to put in my home.
Karen Tyler is the fashion director of Mamas & Papas