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The Drapers Interview: The Glamorous march from Manchester to the world

Drapers kim jin 101 web

Fast fashion womenswear brand Glamorous was born out of the last recession. Drapers meets Kim Jin, the entrepreneur who steered it to more than 4,000 doors worldwide. 

Standing on the top floor of the bright and airy 25,000 sq ft Glamorous headquarters on Great Ancoats Street in Manchester, it is hard not to be impressed by the scale of the nine-year-old womenswear business. Owner Kim Jin has achieved phenomenal success in a relatively short time.

Glamorous has a wholesale presence across 4,000 doors in 30 countries and an expanding retail business – and all of this in a highly competitive market. But the modest Chinese native brushes aside any praise.

“We’ve a lot left to do,” she insists. “There are a lot of areas we still need to grow into. We’re only in 30 countries and the world is a big place.” International sales account for 50% of the brand’s turnover, and further overseas expansion is a key focus.

We test in the UK first, but we want to be everywhere

“If you only concentrate on the UK, it’s risky,” says Jin. “To grow, you need to move into more doors, which isn’t good for the brand profile. We branched into Europe in 2009 and, because we were already in a lot of good stores in the UK at that time, we were able to get into great retailers like Galeries Lafayette and Zalando. It’s doing really well.”

Glamorous spring 17

Glamorous spring 17

Glamorous spring 17

Glamorous expanded into the US two years later, in 2011, picking up key accounts including department store chain Bloomingdale’s and etailer Nasty Gal. Sales in the region have jumped 200% in the last 12 months.

Jin has now set her sights on conquering the Far East: “China and the Asian market in general is huge, so we will look at expanding there, as well as in the Middle East.”

The growing international wholesale business has also paved the way for retail expansion abroad. Glamorous has three stores in Italy, one in the Middle East – in Lebanon – and one in Cyprus, and concessions in department store chains El Corte Inglés in Spain and in Myer in Australia.

“A lot of shoppers know us already through our wholesale business, so we are rolling out concessions and stores in those markets,” Jin explains. “Retail today is international and we are a multichannel brand. The plan is to roll all facets of the business – wholesale, concessions, online and standalone stores, both owned and franchise – to every single country in the world. We test in the UK first, but we want to be everywhere.”

Moving into retail

The first retail “test” for Glamorous took place in August 2015, when the brand opened its first and only UK store to date – a 1,900 sq ft unit in the Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester.

The move into retail was a “natural step” for Jin: “We work with a lot of wholesale customers and they all buy Glamorous in different ways according to their own customers. We have 600 to 800 pieces in the range at any one time, so we wanted our end customer to see what Glamorous is. With retail, we can increase brand awareness and show people what the brand is as a whole picture.”

Jin says retail is still a small part of business compared with wholesale. She declines to give the current split, but divulges that the aim is to grow retail to 50% of the business in the long term: “It is a different model, and we’re pushing retail both online and in bricks and mortar. It is still new for us and we are learning every day about how we can strengthen that side of the business.”

We will not be opening shops for the sake of opening shops

But that growth will be cautious as Jin says she has no firm plans on how many stores she would like to have in the UK and abroad: “It will all depend on locations, as retail in the UK and Europe is tough. Our stores are doing well but we are only looking for key locations in key cities. We will not be opening shops for the sake of opening shops.”

Glamorous.com, the brand’s consumer-facing website, was launched three years ago. It will also play a role in the strategy, as will social media.

Glamorous spring 17

Glamorous spring 17

Glamorous spring 17

“The world is changing and we have to adapt. Social is great for driving traffic to our own site but it is also important for wholesale”, explains Jin. “If a blogger or influencer is wearing something our wholesale accounts will jump on it too. When Kate Middleton wore one of our maxi dresses in April, not only did we see an increase in web traffic, but our wholesale partners wanted to repeat on that style, too.”

Dealing with digital

The rise of digital is one of the biggest changes Jin has encountered since establishing Kacoo Fashion, the holding company for Glamorous, in 2007: “When we started, independents were struggling and the high street was strong, but now a lot of multi-brand stores have closed and etailers like Asos have taken over. It’s tough for big and small bricks-and-mortar retailers. You have to adapt to the changing market, and strengthen your website and social media presence. It’s a different way of doing business, but you have no choice now if you want to do well.”

Jin came to the UK in 2005 to study the MSc International Fashion Retailing at Manchester University.  A year after she graduated, as the global financial crisis took hold, she began selling womenswear products she designed to a handful of independents from a small showroom in Manchester.

When the recession came in 2008 I saw an opportunity

“I didn’t think I would stay in this country but I’ve been here since,” she laughs. “I realised that indies were selling very expensive brands with long lead times, so when the recession came in 2008, I saw an opportunity. People needed a more affordable product that was still fashionable. We grew quickly in the first six months, then we started to do trade shows in the UK.

“We were in a lot of good indies at that stage and then the big customers came on board – Asos, Topshop and House of Fraser. You need a balance of both the independents and the bigger customers for stability.”

Looking to the future

Today, Glamorous is stocked in 1,600 doors in the UK. The success of the brand lies in its strong sourcing capabilities and its speed to market. Glamorous produces 7,000 SKUs each year – from T-shirts to bomber jackets and embroidered denim – and fresh styles are constantly added to maintain a sense of newness in the collection. All pieces are designed in house in Manchester by the 12-strong design team, and made in factories across China, India and Europe, on a four-to-six-week lead time. Wholesale prices for the spring 17 collection range from £6 for jersey T-shirts to £50 for outerwear.

Jo Diggle, head of creative at Fabric Boutique in Manchester, which stocks Glamorous, says: “Glamorous is just a really good fast fashion brand. It’s always on trend. It uses quality fabrics, and it has a wide range of fits and price points. It always performs really well for us and it’s very much a staple brand. Our most popular items are the long-sleeved, strappy body suits, and knitwear always sells, too.”

Kacoo Fashion launched a new, more premium womenswear brand called True Decadence into 50 stockists in the UK for autumn 16. The collection, consisting of dresses, skirts and occasionwear, taps into a gap in the market for quality. Standout pieces retail between £100 and £200, says Jin, while wholesale prices range from £20 for tops to £70 for dresses.

“It’s more dressy and expensive than Glamorous,” Jin explains. “It will have a completely different customer base and we’re keeping distribution tight.” True Decadence will roll out to international markets for spring 17 and a retail website will launch next year.

Glamorous spring 17

Glamorous spring 17

Glamorous spring 17

In the year to 31 March 2015, turnover at Kacoo Fashion jumped 19% to £22.8m, and its operating profit soared 69% to £2.9m. In April, the 120-strong team moved to a new four-floor head office two miles from its former location in the city centre of Manchester. The old office was upstairs in the brand’s 40,000 sq ft warehouse, which is now too small for the level of stock Glamorous is trading. Jin is currently on the lookout for a new warehouse.

Rarely have I seen a brand take such market share in such a short space of time

Juls Dawson, co-founder, Just Consultancies

The firm’s phenomenal growth has drawn admiration from its fast fashion counterparts, including young fashion agent Juls Dawson, co-founder of Just Consultancies: “Kim and the Glamorous team transformed young fast fashion when they entered this sector a decade ago, and rarely have I seen a brand take such market share in such a short space of time.

“Their trajectory to the top has been continually upwards, and testament to their sourcing ability, pricing, amazing team, breadth of range, speed to market and omnipresence at domestic and international shows. Kim has managed to put together a winning formula and infrastructure that is hard to replicate, and long may they continue to give others in this arena something to aim for.”

Jin is not resting on her laurels, however. The market is increasingly competitive and the 35-year-old says her business needs to get “better and better” to stay on top. You need to continue to invest. Eight years ago everyone wanted better prices, but now so many people are doing cheaper prices. The quality of the product is now really important.”

Currency is really important and the pound dropping is not helping our margins

One challenge facing Jin, like all other fashion businesses in the UK, is Brexit and the implications leaving the European Union might have on trade.

“Currency is really important and the pound dropping is not helping our margins. We might have to increase our prices marginally, although, as a global business, we haven’t been hit as hard as others, as we spread the risk,” she says.

To further alleviate financial risks, Jin is planning to use some UK manufacturers to produce trans-seasonal product for spring 17. She is still deciding on which ones to use and negotiations are at an early stage.

Despite the uncertainty around currency and consumer sentiment, Jin is confident that adapting to the changing economy will secure her ambitions for global domination: “The world doesn’t seem very stable at the minute. So the challenge will be to maintain price and quality, and make the designs and lead times even better. We also have to try to be more efficient.

“The economy is tough, so you have to make sure your sell-through is strong and costs are monitored. Adapting to external factors is essential. In five years we want to be a global brand. We’ve built the base, but we’re only getting started.”

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