The Mulberry founder tells Ruth Faulkner about life after the label and his plans for designer outlet Kilver Court.
Kilver Court opened just under a year ago – how are things going?
When we opened, we had the existing Mulberry factory shop on site and we added a Sharpham Park [Saul’s food and farming business] farm shop as well as the Designer Emporium, which is an outlet shop for about 15 brands. Since then, we have opened an Aubin & Wills outlet store. On July 14, we opened five more outlets – Jack Wills, LK Bennett, Toast, Hawick Cashmere of Scotland and Jane Clayton & Company.
Why did you choose to open a designer outlet?
It’s something I’d been thinking about ever since we bought the Kilver Court site back in 1996 when I was still with Mulberry. Then I left Mulberry in 2003 and in 2006 I set up Sharpham Park, so I focused on that project for a while. It wasn’t until about 2009 that I looked back at Kilver Court to pursue the idea.
Why did you decide on Kilver Court as a location?
The Mulberry factory shop was already at the site and that brings in about 60,000 visitors every year. Also, Somerset has become quite a hot spot of activity recently with lots of people setting up home here and then commuting to London in the week for work. Also, there is a real regeneration aspect to this venture; it is not about building an outlet in an empty field, it is really trying to use buildings that are already there and regenerate the area.
What sort of brands are you hoping to attract?
To start with we aimed at that 30 to 50-year-old woman who has moved down to Somerset, so we got brands on board like Toast and Aubin & Wills, all of which she would probably look at. Then our next step to bring in Jack Wills is a big move for us as this will allow us to target a younger customer. Getting the brand mix right in an outlet centre is absolutely crucial to its success.
How do you feel about the Mulberry brand now and where it is on the global fashion stage?
Where are your favourite places to shop?
Victoire in Paris, 10 Corso Como in Milan and boutiques in Bologna.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Well, I am already doing farming as my other day job so it would have to be a Wu Style Tai Chi master or an ageing racing driver.
Who are your fashion heroes?
Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood, Etro, Margaret Howell, Victoire, Loro Piana and Vitorio Solbiate.
What is your top business tip?
Believe in yourself, but take your team with you and most importantly enjoy the journey.