Overhauling Boxfresh’s collection isn’t enough for Mike Stopforth – he’s also plotting overseas expansion at the young fashion brand.
On the wall of Boxfresh managing director Mike Stopforth’s office, a slogan reads ‘Thinkin’ of a masterplan’. And just six months into his role at the young fashion brand, Stopforth is cooking up his own master plan, with international expansion at the top of the agenda.
Although the brand is already distributed in more than 50 markets, Stopforth is not content with its international leverage. “Our ambition internally is very clear – we want to be a global brand,” he says. “I think we are very international but we’re not quite global and that’s what we’re trying to do over the next one, two, three years.”
Stopforth joined Boxfresh in January, replacing outgoing managing director Daniel Morris. He arrived fully armed with an array of international experience having previously worked at Italian sportswear brand Ellesse and footwear brand KangaROOS, both of which predominantly focus on international sales.
Boxfresh already has distribution networks in most of Europe, Southeast Asia and Canada. However, Stopforth says there is plenty of room for growth. Asia is first on the to-do list, with Boxfresh recently launching in South Korea and set to branch into the Chinese market next month.
The US and Russia are due to follow in the next 12 to 18 months, with South America another territory earmarked for expansion.
“Our first port of call will be Mexico. It’s a very mature market and it’s very influenced by Western culture with it bordering the US,” says Stopforth. “If we can build a presence in the US, we’ll naturally get some traction and interest from the likes of Mexico, Panama, [and] Colombia in Central America.”
Boxfresh recently carried out a global insight project across Asia, North America and Europe to establish how the brand sits within different markets. “If you get into these markets, talk to these people first-hand, [and] show them product, then you can really find out what people think of your brand,” Stopforth says in his Liverpudlian lilt. “If we want to be truly global, we have to listen to global consumers.”
International sales make up 75% to 80% of total revenue and Stopforth says he is not looking to alter this. “We have a good strong market [in the UK]. We’re in the key stores we want to be in,” he explains. “If we can build a strong foothold and a strong brand here working with key retailers, that gives us the platform to grow our business in a much wider world.”
Although Boxfresh has just one store in the UK – in Shoreditch pop-up mall Boxpark – Stopforth says it is looking to open standalone stores internationally to add to its one store in Berlin. “We are looking at opportunities in Asia and I think we will have stores [there] by next year,” he says. “We’re also looking at France.”
With the backing of parent company Pentland Group, Boxfresh is well primed for growth. In its latest set of financial results, Pentland defied the high street gloom to report a 17.3% rise in sales to £1.5bn in 2011. Pre-tax profit surged 17.5% to £114m for the year to December 31, 2011.
As well as international growth, Stopforth is also focused on its footwear business: “We’ve had fairly stellar growth in the footwear category in the past couple of years and the plan is to grow it further.” For spring 13 Boxfresh is offering about 150 style colour options (SCOs), but will grow this by 20% as it looks to add popular silhouettes and trend products to its range.
However, over on women’s footwear it is a different story, with Boxfresh reducing its women’s line after just three seasons. “It’s a whole different ball game,” explains Stopforth. “Girls would buy a pair of Converse for the weekend and a pair of trainers for the gym but nothing else really.” However, the brand is committed to continuing with items that have sold well (unlike with its womenswear range, which was axed after spring 09), including vulcanised styles, with the offer dropping from 60 SCOs for spring 13 to around 20.
Despite the challenges with its women’s footwear range, Stopforth is positive about the overall streetwear market. “Streetwear is on the up,” he says, brightly. Although he admits streetwear is difficult to define, Stopforth believes its strength lies in branded product. “Streetwear continuously evolves and it’s up to us to interpret that,” he says, pointing out that in the past streetwear meant shell suit bottoms or poppers, but that now chinos are firmly included in the category.
Boxfresh is a repeat exhibitor at young fashion show Bread & Butter Berlin, and Stopforth says the spring 13 edition was quieter but still a solid performer for the brand. “The way the world is at the moment, the expense of either showing at one or travelling to one is difficult to justify. But for us, I always bring it down to quality of people on the stand and we still get a high calibre of people on the stands.”
He says Boxfresh will continue to show at Bread & Butter, despite major brands such as Levi’s, Diesel and Replay pulling out. “It’s still a very international trade show, so there’s still huge value in us being there.”
Boxfresh also exhibited at Berlin show Seek for the first time, where it showcased its new collaborative range with men’s T-shirt brand Passarella Death Squad. The 18-piece capsule collection of T-shirts, sweats and outerwear, which sells at a more premium price, has opened the brand up to stockists it would not normally work with, such as etailer My-Wardrobe.com.
Boxfresh has been working extra hard with retailers to provide product the consumer wants. “We are working really closely with our retailers to figure out the best product mix, the best price points, the best marketing that we can give to help sell-through and [provide] the consumer with the best experience,” says Stopforth. One of the biggest challenges, he says, is convincing consumers to buy Boxfresh because there are so many options on the high street, while online means shoppers can buy products from all over the world at the click of a button.
For spring 13, Stopforth says consumers will see a “marked difference” in the collection as Boxfresh aims to create a point of difference, giving the consumer more of a reason to buy the brand. “I’d say it’s less subtle, there’s more detail.” The brand has paid attention to details such as fabric, the back neck tape, the sign-off on the sleeve and the logo application.
Ed Quiligotti, head of menswear at young fashion chain Bank, says he is impressed with the spring 13 collection: “It has cleaned up a bit and there seems to be a lot more commercial awareness about it. The prices are getting a lot more competitive. It’s good commercial product that would sit well with our audience.”
The collection has so far been met with a positive reaction and, despite daily reports of doom and gloom, Stopforth is optimistic about the future. “It’s like anything, when something goes really wrong it takes you a while to get over it. I think now people are optimistically thinking, ‘How do I survive in a world like this?’”
Another poster on Stopforth’s wall says ‘Don’t worry, everything is going to be amazing’. And judging by his confidence in the brand, it could very well be.