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Simon Poole

A consolidation of its ranges, a revamped footwear offer and a firm commitment to indie stockists are streetwear brand Luke’s formula for growth, its managing director believes.

Commuting between Luke’s Birmingham HQ and its London showroom is time consuming, but the streetwear brand’s managing director Simon Poole was particularly excited about his last trip as he was meeting with planners to discuss the Camden showroom’s revamp.

“We are planning to make it more industrial, adding more branded visuals, changing the flooring, layout and lighting and adding our logo to give the space more brand identity,” he explains.

This overhaul goes hand in hand with the restructure of the menswear brand’s offer for autumn 10. Poole is planning to consolidate the Luke mainline, premium brand Luke Roper – where prices sit roughly 15% above the mainline – and denim range Forever in Luke into one account base, and rebrand Luke Roper as Luke Limited Edition to form part of the main Luke range as a sub-brand.

“Consolidating the ranges will allow retailers to buy into all three collections rather than having separate account bases for each of them,” says Poole.

It is decisions like this, with its stockists’ best interests at heart, that makes Luke stand out from other brands.

Luke has some 140 doors made up predominantly of menswear indies or, as Poole calls them, “the arteries of the British fashion industry, and Luke’s natural home”. An example of this commitment was Luke’s passing on to stockists of a 5% discount on autumn 09 orders off the back of savings made as the pound strengthened against the dollar earlier this year.  “Luke has clearly made its line in the sand – we support those who support us,” says Poole.

He is sympathetic towards brands that have offloaded current season stock onto discount websites, but he hasn’t gone down that route himself. “Hard times bring hard decisions. I’m sure there are lots of brands sitting on warehouses full of paid stock so are talking to online companies like Brand Alley as an alternative to losing money from their product,” he explains. “Fashion product isn’t like fine wine – it doesn’t mature with age, it just loses its value. We just try to order what we truly think we can sell and try not to make too many mistakes with it.”

‘Crazy’ multiple strategies

But he takes a much harder line with multiple retailers’ buying and discounting strategies. “If you are on a brand-building exercise you won’t build your brand through the multiples.
The standard of buying in these groups is poor as the buyers no longer have any power – it’s all down to merchandisers,” he says. “And mid-season discounting of new stock by 40% is crazy.”

The scathing remark is both a brave and controversial one, given Luke is stocked in three House of Fraser stores.

It’s a move appreciated by his stockists. Mike Lawrence, owner of Projekt in Sutton, south London, which has stocked Luke for one full season, says he will “stick” with the brand. “It’s been steady for us so far, with polos and shirting doing really well and we’ve bought more heavily into these for spring 10. It’s a brand with a lot of potential for us,” he says, but goes on to add that certain elements of the collection, such as jackets and heavyweight knitwear, haven’t sold quite as strongly.

Poole is all too aware of this, admitting the brand has focused on its strengths during the recession – Luke began as a T-shirt business – at the expense of other product categories. “We’ve maintained our momentum during the recession but may have come in second best with our jackets and knitwear,” he says.

But the consolidation of all three brands and an improved footwear offer mean Luke is making the transition from “label to brand”, as Poole says. He attributes the brand’s gradual growth to strong foundations, a talented designer in Luke Roper and a wife, Deborah, who worked tirelessly for three years to set up the business while Poole kept his day job first as managing director of Boxfresh and later as brand director at menswear label Peter Werth (Luke was launched in 2001 and Poole joined full time in 2004).

All of Poole’s current plans come off the back of a successful year for the – in Poole’s words – “unlikely football terrace favourite”. A highly commended accolade in the Drapers Awards Young Fashion Brand of the Year category last week and a turnover that is on schedule to be up nearly 50% on last year to £6.5m for the year to January 31, 2010 is impressive.

He sees the biggest growth opportunity coming from Luke’s footwear offer, following the recent appointment of Michael Singh, ex-owner of Midlands-based footwear mini chain Solution and owner of footwear brand Yesterday Tomorrow, to consult on the designs.

“The [autumn 10] footwear range will better reflect our handwriting than the previous collections, and although it only accounts for 5% of our profits, this is the biggest potential growth area for us,” says Poole.

Realistic about the impact of the recession on the brand, Poole concedes Luke is performing “probably 30% to 40% less than our real potential”.
But despite this, he remains positive  about Luke’s progress in the past two years, which he puts down to a focus on brand identity and product. “For spring 10 we concentrated on fresh, vibrant colours, fantastic quality jerseys and an improved denim offer. As a result, spring sales rose 54% year on year.”

Poole also plans to make a break for the overseas market, debuting in US indie Project in Las Vegas next February, followed by a long-term goal to open 150 quality US boutique accounts.

Alongside this, Poole also intends to open the brand’s first standalone store in 2010 following the successful opening of a 1,700 sq ft franchise shop in Bristol, run by Rob Clarke, former co-owner of Bristol menswear indie William Francis. “The franchise store is performing well, he says. “We are also in negotiations for two more franchise stores and an international site. There is plenty to keep Luke busy in 2010.” 

CV

2005 Managing director, Luke

2004 Brand director, Peter Werth

1999 Managing director, Boxfresh

1992 Head of menswear, French Connection

1990 National accounts manager for menswear, Mexx UK

Q&A

Which designers do you most admire?

Vivienne Westwood has spanned generations, and I remember her cutting-edge clothing from my punk days of bondage trousers and blond spiky hair. She is so identifiable, and people have often said Luke is a bit of a commercial Westwood in terms of identifiability.

Which is your favourite retailer?

[Streetwear indie] Wellgosh in Leicester has tapped into a phenomenal student market and has always been ahead of the game. Its owner Pete Turner bought French Connection from me when no one else would in the 1990s, and he also makes a great cup of tea.

What has been your proudest achievement?

It was great when French Connection won FHM magazine’s Menswear Brand of the Year while I was working there, but the success I’ve had with Luke has been so important to me. I have to pinch myself because I’m so blessed to have such a good, well respected business. You can’t be any prouder than when your own brand is doing so well.

If you could do any job outside fashion, what would it be? I’d like to be Hugh Hefner’s butler at the Playboy mansion. Of course I’d like to keep my marriage to my wonderful wife, but it would be great to enjoy all the trappings of living in that house too.

Who do you consider to be your fashion mentor?

My mum – she was a costumer designer in the 1960s and I grew up surrounded by buttons, needles and pins. In fact, I was named after a button seller from a nearby market.

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