Mover and shaker Debbie Moore is enjoying a resurgence of the trailblazing dancewear-inspired clothing brand she launched in 1979.
Pineapple founder Debbie Moore’s office is a riot of colour, and a window into her passion for fashion and dance. I count at least three pairs of pink ballet shoes strewn among the rails of clothing, as well as history books, and, of course, quite a few pineapples (the kitsch fake kind, not actual fruit).
On one wall hangs a sequinned Pineapple dress once worn by Tina Turner. Framed photos line the others, showing Moore with former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the Prince of Wales, the Beatles and others. Among them is the iconic photo of her standing in the middle of the London Stock Exchange, in her sweats, surrounded by men in suits – a reminder that she was the first woman in the UK to take a company public in 1982.
It has been almost 37 years since that day, and 40 since Moore first founded the Pineapple Dance Studios and women’s and children’s wear brand. As part of the celebrations to mark its 40th anniversary, Moore will host a series of dinners at The Ivy – the prestigious restaurant near Pineapple’s studios in Covent Garden, which Moore jokingly refers to as her “canteen” – and in March English artist Frances Segelman will sculpt her live in front of an audience.
Meanwhile, Pineapple will make its debut on Next’s Label platform, which hosts third-party brands, at the beginning of February, and is ramping up its wholesale partnerships with River Island and JD Williams after coming out of a longstanding licensing deal with Debenhams.
Plans are afoot to relocate the Covent Garden store, and the company is investing in replatforming its website and improving its digital engagement.
“The Debenhams partnership restricted our trading with other retailers, and a lot of opportunities passed us by,” says Moore. “Now we have a sense of freedom. That door’s closed, but lots of others have opened. A lot of people who wanted us before but couldn’t have us, now can.”
I meet Moore at The Ivy, where we talk about Pineapple’s history and the many career highlights she has experienced to date, which include receiving an OBE from the Queen in 2010 for services to business. Ever the brand ambassador, Moore is wearing a long-line black mesh Pineapple hoodie and a ra-ra skirt with a touch of on-trend animal print.
We have met before at industry events, and Moore has always been warm, gracious and refreshingly candid. A former model, she tells me her love of dancing began after her husband left her in her early twenties and she put on a lot of weight quickly, which forced her to stop working. She was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid and was advised to take up dance.
“The doctor pointed out that it exercises every muscle in your body, it’s social and the music is uplifting – and it was obvious that I was deeply depressed,” she explains.
The Debenhams partnership restricted our trading with other retailers, and a lot of opportunities passed us by
She found a dance studio on Floral Street in London’s Covent Garden, where one of the teachers was choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Philips. However, in 1978, the owner decided to close the studio to make way for what became the Sanctuary Spa.
By then hooked on dance, Moore decided to open her own studio. At the time, Covent Garden was derelict. The fruit and vegetable market it had been famous for had found a new, bigger home in Nine Elms, in south-west London.
One of the empty buildings was an old pineapple warehouse. Moore borrowed the money to buy it in 1978, and the Pineapple Dance Studios opened the following year.
Launch of Lycra
The clothing range was a natural addition, she says: “When I started Pineapple, I realised the dancers were wearing these shiny Lycra and nylon piqué leotards, and they would use safety pins or cut them to make them a sexier shape and fit. I knew we had to get some better dancewear, but I didn’t like this awful nylon piqué – I wanted cotton.”
Moore approached DuPont, the chemical company that invented Lycra in 1949, and asked if they could produce a cotton/Lycra blend.
“They were excited because Lycra had been used mostly in corsets before then, and they were looking for more ways to use it.”
At first, Moore used the new cotton Lycra fabric to make leotards and leggings, but she soon realised its wider potential: “I thought, why don’t I make a little pull-on skirt for the dancers to wear to and from their classes? And then I thought, ‘It would make such a great dress.’”
Jackets and skirts in woven cotton with Lycra followed. Moore also developed the first leotard with poppers at the crotch – coining the name “body”.
“Her roots are in clothing for dancers, and that is still at the heart of the brand today, in whatever iteration it takes,” says Jo Hooper, a consultant and the former head of buying and design for Debenhams, where she worked with Moore. “Everyone in the dance world, from Royal Ballet principals to the Strictly stars, still rehearses at Pineapple, and they know and genuinely love her.
“Authenticity is a much-used term currently, but that is what Pineapple has.”
Moore decided to float Pineapple in 1982 to raise money to expand its wholesale business and to launch in New York, which allowed her to open a store and studios in a former warehouse in SoHo.
By 1984, Pineapple had 12 retail stores in the UK and one in New York, 50 concessions in Miss Selfridge, 150 independent stockists, and had opened two more dance studios in London, in South Kensington and Marylebone.
However, that year Moore’s daughter Lara suffered the first of two spinal haemorrhages, which ultimately left her paralysed. As Moore spent less time at the business, its profits stagnated, while costs continued to rise – and it was soon operating at a loss.
But Moore is a pragmatist. Once she was back in the business full time, she scrutinised its costs and brought in fresh talent. The New York building’s value had soared as the area became more gentrified, and it was sold at the behest of the company’s shareholders. In 1987, Pineapple returned to profit, and in 1988 Moore bought the core of the company back to regain creative control.
Dupont was excited becaue Lycra had been used mostly in corsets before then, and they were looking for more ways to use it
The studios in South Kensington and Marylebone closed in the early 1990s – the former after its lease ran out, and the latter following a rent review. Pineapple took over more space in the Covent Garden building, which became a “one-stop shop” for the studios and head office.
In 2000, Pineapple signed a lucrative licensing deal with Debenhams and the retailer began manufacturing womenswear to sell under the Pineapple brand, adding childrenswear two years later.
However, there were more challenges to come. Responding to a steady decline in footfall, Pineapple closed all but one of its own retail stores between 2008 and 2013. In 2013, it outsourced its manufacturing and wholesale relationships, but the quality suffered and so, in 2015, Moore decided to take these functions back in house.
“She has never given up,” says Hooper. “She has tenacity in spades, in her personal and professional life.”
”Debbie’s passion, energy and commitment to Pineapple is incredibly inspiring,” agrees Julie Alderson, trading director at The White Company, who worked with Moore at Miss Selfridge, where she was commercial director from January 2016 to February 2018.
The end of the licensing deal with Debenhams could have been crippling. Pineapple was stocked in 200 Debenhams stores for 20 years, but the deal ended last year and this is the last season it will be stocked by the embattled chain. Moore says the relationship had been in decline for a few years after Debenhams’ buyers came under pressure to increase margins, which led to a reduction in the quality of the product and “dilution” of the Pineapple brand.
However, it was the retailer’s decision to move away from licensing that finally ended the partnership. Moore points out Pineapple’s own ecommerce site should benefit from an increase in traffic now that customers will no longer be able to buy the brand online via Debenhams.
The split has also opened up new wholesale opportunities, as Moore is no longer restricted from partnering with other retailers. New stockists include River Island, Next Label, and plus-size retailer JD Williams, for whom Pineapple extended its womenswear sizes up to a size 32.
“We’re now in charge of making our product,” Moore explains. “We have control over the quality, the look and the brand, which you don’t have when you license.”
Our top 10 sellers are similar to 40 years ago. The most important thing is the fabric and fit, and the colour
The Pineapple clothing brand currently has a turnover of £10m, about half of which comes from wholesale, and the rest from retail and licensing. It still has about 150 independent stockists, including a small but growing number in continental Europe.
It will relocate its own retail store from 16 Langley Street to 8 Mercer Court at the end of March, and is focused on growing its ecommerce sales. Moore will not disclose figures, but says she expects sales from its own website to double this year: “We’re spending some time and money bringing it up to speed. I’ve been wanting to do it for about 10 years.”
The clothing itself has not changed much over the years: key styles include footless tights, long-line hoodies and tops with mesh inserts, as well as 1980s-style ra-ra skirts and oversized “monster” sweats.
Retail prices for its womenswear range from £12 for a cropped top or vest to £35 for a monster sweat, while childrenswear ranges from £10 for shorts to £28 for a cropped hoodie. Most of the clothing is manufactured in Turkey, and a small amount in China.
“We’re not fast fashion, we keep running and replenishing our bestsellers,” explains Moore. “Our top 10 sellers are similar to 40 years ago. For us, the most important thing is the fabric and fit, and the colour.”
Bath Dancewear has stocked Pineapple for the past five years. Manager Sue Wilkinson explains that its affordability appeals to customers: “It’s very reasonably priced compared with some of the other dancewear brands, like Bloch and Capezio.”
Away from the world of dance, Pineapple’s look is enjoying a fashion revival thanks to the retro and athleisure trends. When we head from The Ivy to the studios, Moore suggests a detour through H&M’s Covent Garden shop, where she points out a lacy black body that could be from Pineapple’s original range.
Indeed, Pineapple’s look lends itself to collaborations, which in recent years have included successful tie-ups with Oasis and Finery. A joint collection with Miss Selfridge is just coming to an end, and a new women’s and children’s wear collaboration with Hello Kitty launched in November.
Opening the dance studio was responding to a need, and there was the need for dancewear that was comfortable
As we arrive at the studios, where Moore’s photoshoot is to take place, she explains that she has always looked for where there is need, which is how Pineapple has stayed relevant for 40 years.
“Opening the dance studio was responding to a need, and there was the need for dancewear that was comfortable, and not restrictive. Cultures change and needs change, and we respond,” she says.
Moore’s passion for dance, fashion and the Pineapple brand, which is so evident in her office, shows no signs of waning.
“Most people I meet now can’t believe I’m still running Pineapple, but what else would I be doing? All the time it’s changing and things are different, and I love it.”