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Jens Eilhardt

German brand Basler consistently keeps the mainstream womenswear tills ringing. Its managing director for product and design hopes its new contemporary MYBC sub-brand can do the same

Tearing down the motorway towards Basler’s head office in Aschaffenburg, some 50 miles east of Frankfurt, the German brand’s UK managing director Christian Lawaczeck is taking Drapers to meet the man behind Basler’s new directional sub-brand.

That man is Jens Eilhardt, Basler’s managing director for product and design who, with Ingo Hesse, the managing director for marketing, advertising and sales, heads up the German mainstream womenswear brand.

Eilhardt himself is buzzing with excitement about the spring 10 launch of the German company’s new sub-brand MYBC. The collection was conceived after Eilhardt spotted a growth opportunity within the premium contemporary womenswear market.

MYBC, which stands for My Basler Collection, will be positioned alongside Marc Cain, Luisa Cerano, Nice Connection, Airfield, Cambio and Orwell, and Eilhardt says MYBC has more of a nod to trends than Basler but it is about being contemporary rather than younger.

Prices are about 25% higher than the mainline, which is being rebranded as Basler Black. Trousers will wholesale from £50 to £70, tops £35 to £70, knits between £70 and £90 and outerwear from £120 to £170. The mark-up is 2.85.

MYBC will have six delivery programmes for spring 10, which Eilhardt hopes will not only increase overall sales but will also boost the fashion credibility of Basler Black.

Some of Basler’s rival mainstream German labels that traditionally target a more mature customer have already developed sub-brands to target a more youthful customer – one example being Gerry Weber’s Taifun brand. However, Basler’s managing directors previously rejected this strategy. So what changed?

“At the time, we were actually in the market for acquiring another company, but times have changed and the suitability of what brands were on the market didn’t quite fit with our philosophy,” Eilhardt says. “We prefer to make our own mistakes than buy other people’s.”

The spring 10 programmes are called Romance, Fashion District, Casual Concept, Desert Mood, Harbour Village and Indian Summer. In Romance, key pieces include a leather jacket, jewelled gilet and a pure silk printed shirt. Fashion District is casual and sporty with key pieces including a yellow top with zip detail and a lightweight polyester black jacket. Casual Concept continues the casual feel with denim, printed silk tops and a silk printed cardigan, with colours including emerald, orchid and taupe. Harbour Village features blazers with piping and panel detail, linen polo shirts and knitwear in indigo blue and red, while Indian Summer includes olive green, purple, khaki brown and white safari-inspired pieces. Desert Mood details revolve around an African theme with black, terracotta, yellow and beige. A key piece is a striking safari-print dress.

Eilhardt rejects the idea that MYBC could cannibalise Basler’s sales. He says: “The target customer for MYBC is stylish, self-confident and buys single-item pieces rather than outfits. Unlike some of our competitors, we are a strong company. We have recognised there is room in the bridge-brand segment of the market for MYBC.”

Sales of Basler itself certainly don’t seem to have slowed. Basler had a record year last year, with sales of €173 million (£149m) for the year to October 31.

The mainstream brand has 75 standalone stores worldwide, and 22 in Germany. About 15% to 20% of group sales across wholesale and retail come from the UK and Republic of Ireland, its biggest export market, where it also has four standalone stores, five franchises and 10 concessions. Another four are planned for August. It has 220 stockists with about 250 doors in the UK and RoI.

Eilhardt says the target for MYBC is to reach sales of €50m (£43m) in the next three years. He says the sub-brand will initially focus on wholesale for the first year, but that he will then look to open standalone stores and concessions dedicated to MYBC.

MYBC has its own minimal and modern shop-in-shop concept, created by international store design firm Blocher Blocher. Hesse chips in that investment in marketing will reinforce MYBC’s independent positioning. The sub-brand has its own campaign model – an above-the-line advertising campaign with catalogues, look books and mailing cards, along with an independent media strategy and PR activities.

Eilhardt says the UK will get the full MYBC offer. He adds that despite the brand being more premium, Basler did not want to price it out of the market. “Every market has its own strategy with price points. The UK is not in the Eurozone, it has different market conditions, so we will take that into account.”

In the UK, the MYBC brand will be sold by fashion agency De Keyser, which also handles sales of premium labels including Rock & Republic and which has a reputation for breaking new brands into the UK market. Basler Black will continue to be managed by Basler’s UK managing director Lawaczeck to maintain the distinction between the two brands. MYBC has already secured 30 stockists including Harrods and independent department store group Hoopers alongside independents including Angela Beer in Stockport, Greater Manchester, plus department store Brown Thomas in Dublin.

 With all this groundwork, the pressure is now on to succeed. Eilhardt says: “The product will make or break the season. We have worked exceptionally hard over the past 12 months and have done everything that is humanly possible. We are confident.” 

CV

2006 Managing director for product and design, Basler

2005 Product manager, Basler

1996 Product manager for jackets and coats, Basler

1994 Student in textile engineering and garment technologies, Münchberg University

1992 Product manager, René Lezard

1987 Merchant in wholesale and export at clothing brand Portobello’s

Q&A

Who in fashion do you most admire? Ralph Lauren for the way he works with detail. His product is a logical fashion offer, very wearable but also aspirational. He gets the balance just right. It is commercial but also high end.

What is the best-selling product you have worked on? I would say a category, rather than a specific product. At Basler 12 years ago we were selling fewer than 5,000 coats annually, but now outerwear makes up 40% of sales.

What is your favourite shop? The Polo Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue in New York. It is incredibly creative within the confines of a retail store; it completes an ideal vision of retail
with both theatre and lifestyle.

What has been the proudest moment of your career? Being promoted to managing director for product and design at Basler, after having worked exceptionally hard at the company for 13 years.

When you are not at work, what do you like to do? I like to be with my family. I have two sons, who are eight and 10. We have another baby due in six weeks.

When will buyers be able to see MYBC? The first and second drops for spring 10 will be shown at the fashion houses on Kaiserswerther Strasse in Düsseldorf during [womenswear trade show] CPD [July 26-28]. The first drop is being sold at the De Keyser showroom in London at the moment, the second will be sold from August 2.

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