Matteo Sinigaglia has revitalised the 35-year-old Italian jeans brand with innovative “multi-tasking” stretch denim
“We all have our favourite pair of jeans and it’s not easy to change that, as jeans are so personal,” says Matteo Sinigaglia, the chief executive officer of Fashion Box, the group that controls Italian denim brands Replay, Replay & Sons and We Are Replay. “And I believe that denim is a technical product that you need expertise to handle. So to create something that is really special takes a lot of manpower, craft and vision.”
Ahead of Replay’s 35th anniversary, which it will celebrate for the autumn 16 season, Drapers meets Sinigaglia at its central London showroom to discuss the manpower, craft and vision he has engendered since taking over as CEO in 2012 and changing its direction. Epitomising the brand in his favourite pair of jeans – artfully distressed with an oversized turn-up – Sinigaglia is in the UK to host a party to celebrate the latest “Flexibles” collection from Replay’s pioneering Hyper range of stretch denim. It takes place later that day in partnership with department store stockist Selfridges and the collection’s ambassadors, supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio and FC Barcelona footballer Neymar Jnr.
Born in 1970 in Padua, northern Italy, Sinigaglia moved to Hong Kong aged 21 to join his family’s business, creating private label and licensee footwear. By 2001, he had met Replay founder Claudio Buziol and taken on the licence for the brand’s shoe collections.
“There are brands that you can [work with] to either make a lot money or lose a lot of money. But there are also brands that you get close to because you share values and basically fall in love. It was the second for me,” he says of Replay.
That love affair led Sinigaglia and his brother, Massimo, to acquire the majority shareholding (51%) of Fashion Box in 2010. Matteo became CEO and took over the Replay brands in 2012.
“The first three years [we] did not change much,” he recalls. “We went deep into looking at what we did right and what we did wrong. Then one and a half years ago we defined what our path should be. We brought in changes because we understood that denim has an authentic origin but needs a contemporary relevance. To do that you have to innovate everything: in product, in the way you talk to people and in how you place product in store. And in that one and a half years we made dramatic changes.
The biggest and most impactful change was the introduction of Replay’s Hyperflex, Hyperfree and Hyperskin ranges, which the brand describes as “the stretch-denim revolution”. First came Hyperflex for men and women (wholesaling for £58), which balances elasticity, fabric recovery and comfort with its innovative three-layer fabric composition – a Lycra central corespun, wrapped in polyester with an external cotton layer, which protects the Lycra core to keep its stretch.
“[Stretch denim] was something everyone was talking about but no [brand] was really able to bring this level of flexibility. We did not just influence ourselves, but with some of our innovations we influenced the entire market. That brings us joy because out of one idea and good execution we helped to make a better business frame for everyone,” says Sinigaglia. “I’m confident to say that our product, in that regard, is the best in the market.”
We believe that China in five years could be a market that would be very sensible for us
Replay is now sold in more than 50 countries. Group turnover is split 15% from its domestic market and 85% from export – 67% in the European Union and 18% from the rest of the world. Sales are 65% wholesale and 35% retail. It operates 200 retail stores and more than 190 shop-in-shops worldwide, including three UK standalones on Carnaby Street in London, in Glasgow and Belfast.
Launched in 2009, replayjeans.com accounts for around 7% of sales. In terms of wholesale, the brand’s network includes 3,000 outlets with 200 stores, including department stores Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, and independents such as Xile, Choice, Diffusion and Richmond Classics in the UK. As well as the core Replay collection, childrenswear line Replay & Sons and higher-priced We Are Replay, brand extensions include eyewear, underwear and fragrances.
Although the brand is reticent on financials, Sinigaglia does comment: “I would say that there is a frequency of progression now, which I am very happy about,” adding, “the market presence we have from last year to this year increased approximately 180%, so it’s a triple-digit growth and that’s to do with the Flexibles.”
Neymar Jr wearing Replay Hyperfree
Leeds independent retailer Accent Clothing has stocked Replay since it opened in 1984.
“We feel that for fit, quality and value for money Replay is the best product on the market. It’s our number one brand,” says buyer and general manager Jack Schneider. Describing the Hyper collections as a “real game changer”, he adds: “Hyperflex was an instant success. We sold out of our original delivery within a few days and the dark wash has become one of our most successful jeans ever. Most customers who buy one pair end up coming back for more washes and, whenever a new wash is released, we know all of those customers will buy into it. Since Replay launched Hyper, most brands are offering their version, which shows what an instant success it has been.”
Ravi Grewal, buying and merchandising director at independent Stuarts London, has stocked Replay for four seasons and agrees that it led the trend for super-stretch denim: “It’s a great brand with a strong devoted team behind it. Thanks to the fits available it’s got a broad audience – young and old.
“It introduced and executed Hyperflex really well. Over the seasons most brands are now producing a version of their own.”
Kashif Qaz, owner of Utter Nutter in Romford, which has stocked the brand for more than five years, agrees: “Replay is a great brand to work with – it’s so innovative. In terms of its Hyperflex offer it was the first to offer this product to the mass market. It took time to catch on but now we have a very strong following.”
And although Qaz believes the brand has been rebooted, he hopes it will continue to innovate: “[It] was out in the wilderness for many years, but thanks to its innovations in terms of fabrics and washes coupled with its new marketing agenda it has leapfrogged other denim brands. I just hope it can continue to push fabric boundaries or it will suffer against more established brands.”
So what are Sinigaglia’s plans? In what seems characteristic of the CEO, he hints at future strategies but is cagey on details. He lets slip that he “wants to move The Stage concept to the UK”, replicating the flagship “experiential” store that opened in Milan in 2014.
“We have a plan. But it’s too early to talk about. It’s a very aggressive plan,” he says.
Further international growth also appears to be high on the agenda: “We believe that China in five years could be a market that would be very sensible for us. We’ve just signed off a very big venture in China, which is a strategic co-operation with one of the largest retailers in the world,” he says of an agreement in March with Belle International Holding, the number one women’s footwear retailer in China. “They own around 20,000 stores across China and now they want to be a part of the fashion industry.”
Then he adds: “Then let’s see what we can do in the big land of denim, which is the US. I’m not I’m the position to say when this will really be, but our expectation is next year.”
The topic about which Sinigaglia is most excited – and most secretive – is Replay’s product developments. When asked about the split of the Replay business between menswear (65%) and womenswear (35%), he lights up: “We’re confident that within less than a year’s time [this will change a lot]. I believe that very shortly we will bring something [new to the market] and another innovation, specifically in womenswear. I can’t say, but we are confident that we will excite the market with it.”
Very shortly we will bring something [new to the market] and another innovation, specifically in womenswear
Considering the impact Replay’s Hyper range has had on the ever-growing – some say over-crowded – denim market, it will be interesting to see how Sinigaglia keeps Replay expanding.
Giving away some clues, he says: “Denim is becoming very relevant for every price point and everyone is trying to work on something. But what people like now is multitasking things, and they want to have natural things because wellness is very important today. If you can find a more multitasking fabric in your fashion wardrobe than denim and one that is more natural, then will change my business,” he says with a confident smile. “Denim is exactly what people want right now.”
Replay at 35
Claudio Buziol founds the Fashion Box group, and launches the Replay brand
Replay reinvents double-ring denim jeans, production reaches 1 million garments in two years
Expands to full ready-to-wear, launches kidswear line Replay & Sons
High-end collection jeans and clothing line We Are Replay launched
Sinigaglia brothers Equibox Holding acquires 51% of Fashion Box group
Milan flagship The Stage opens