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Jo Davies

By sticking to a simple plan, womenswear indie Black White Denim has quickly made a bold impression. Its founder reveals the philosophy behind her store’s buy now, keep forever concept.

The idea for premium womenswear indie Black White Denim came from a baby shower. “[The mother-to-be] was and still is exceptionally stylish and always looks great. I suddenly realised it was because she always wears black, white and denim,” explains founder Jo Davies. “I had the idea and that was that, it just clicked.” Within months, Davies had a business plan and was looking for premises. By March 2010 she had the keys to the store on Alderley Road in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and by September the shop was open.

Fast-forward just one year and Black White Denim finds itself shortlisted for this year’s Drapers Fashion Awards in the Best New Business category. But not only is the store new to the industry, so is its owner. Not that you could tell. Dressed on-brand in a stylish all-black outfit, with sleek blonde hair, perfectly polished nails and exceptionally high Camilla Skovgaard wedges, it’s hard to believe that Davies hasn’t always been a fashion insider. But as a former regional director for beer distributor Molson Coors, this was her first foray into fashion.

“My background isn’t in fashion, so the concept [of offering wardrobe staples] felt like it took a little bit of the risk out,” she says. The ‘black, white, denim’ formula obviously appealed to brands – and to super-cool ones at that. From the outset, Davies convinced the likes of Acne, J Brand and Marios Schwab to join the roster. “The one I really wanted was By Malene Birger, but it was quite tough because a neighbouring retailer stocked it already,” says Davies. “We were able to come to an agreement because we were only after black, white and denim pieces, which meant we would only buy a certain portion, so that has worked really well.” So well that By Malene Birger is now the store’s best-selling brand.

Another sign of the store’s strength is the raft of exclusives it has secured from big-name designers. Richard Nicoll, Mark Fast, Eudon Choi and Preen have all designed and customised pieces specifically for Black White Denim. “Our customers know they have something that no one else is going to have, which is great. It also shows that the designers have a real confidence in us as a store and concept,” says Davies. Ever direct and to the point, she explains how she secured these exclusives: “We just asked. I’m realising more and more, you just have to ask.”

Bucking trends

Although the store’s unique concept has its strengths, how does Davies react to changing seasonal trends, particularly with autumn 11 and spring 12’s focus on colour? “We don’t break the rules,” says Davies defiantly. “We won’t buy a neon blazer just because it’s on trend, because part of our concept is ‘buy now, keep forever’. If we do buy into trends, such as colour or print, it will be through accessories. And denim is denim regardless of colour so we work colour in that way, or with texture, metallics and sequins to break up the rails.” So far this ideology is paying off, with sales hitting £500,000 in the first year of trading, meaning the store broke even in its first year.

Upstairs, above the beautifully executed store, is the backbone of the business – a hard-working team decked out, of course, in black, white and denim. Statistics from Google Analytics and projected targets for every day, week and month cover the office walls. Just like its owner, behind the polished exterior is a highly organised business machine. What stands out is how clearly Davies and her team know their customer. As part of their business plan they identified four key shoppers: “‘The Prep-School Mum’, ‘The Beautiful Girl’ who is a working professional, the ‘WAGs’ who we see from time to time and then there’s the ‘Haven’t a Clue’, who are rarer because they don’t actually like shopping,” explains Davies.

Within months of opening, Davies says she discovered another shopper. “For every single piece I buy, I have to think of three customers I know personally who would buy it,” she says.

“The customer we didn’t think we were going to get were the ‘Older Fashionistas’, who are aged 40 to 50 and still love shopping.”

Six months after opening the store, Davies launched a sleek website, www.blackwhitedenim.com, and two months after that signed up to Farfetch, which runs the website. “Farfetch is like a global shopping mall of all the world’s best independent retailers. We think we are one of them, so wanted to be part of it,” Davies explains. Online sales now make up a third of overall sales.

Part of the online business’s growth is down to the store’s social media strategy, with its Twitter and Facebook pages, blog and BWD:TV video site working together to push awareness and, most importantly, drive sales. “Social media is all about trying to convey the personality of the brand, the fact we love what we do and we don’t take it too seriously,” says Davies.

Although Black White Denim is a great example of how indies can utilise social media and have fun with it, Davies says she still has a lot more to learn: “We need to keep updating and growing. You can’t just keep up; you’ve got to stay ahead.”

Spread the message

An example of how Black White Denim is pushing the boundaries is with the opening of a pop-up shop in Manchester city centre on November 1. “The location [in the city’s luxury Spinningfields development] is a key traffic location for the business district and will really push the brand awareness,” says Davies.

Other projects include travelling flash Sales, in which the team set up temporary shops in neighbouring towns. “It raises awareness and draws people in who would never come to the store.” But how do these Sales affect margins? “It does impact our margins because it is reduced,” says Davies, “but it clears Sale stock quickly. It’s just another way to push sales, while getting the name out.”

She adds: “You’ve got to chase things, keep your foot on the gas, take every opportunity. If you work very hard then at some point you will get payback.

I find that the harder we work the luckier we seem to be getting.”

When asked where she sees herself in the next few years, Davies jokes that, unfortunately, it won’t be on the big yacht she’d originally hoped for. “I’d like a few more stores and for online to be really effective,” she says. “Black White Denim is like a baby, it’s very precious and totally runs through my blood.

My passion is people and product, and I like touching and feeling it and talking to people and relating to them; that to me is what it’s all about.” 

Key dates

November 2011 Pop-up store opens in Manchester city centre

July 2011 Hits first-year trading target of £500,000

May 2011 Joins Farfetch

March 2011 Launches website

February 2011 Secures exclusive collections from Eudon Choi, Richard Nicoll, Preen Collection and Mark Fast

September 2010 Opens Wilmslow store

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