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Tonia Bastyan

After building her brand, Bastyan, via retail concessions since 2009, the designer is moving on to the next stage of her plan, saying autumn 12 ‘is all about wholesale’.

The aim is world domination,” quips designer Tonia Bastyan when she meets Drapers at the Hoxton Hotel in east London, to talk about the wholesale launch of her department store concession brand Bastyan.

As one half of 1990s design duo and premium womenswear label Press & Bastyan, Tonia is no stranger to the wholesale model, but she explains that with Bastyan, which is also a premium womenswear label and launched in 2009, she wanted to build the brand slowly, getting the name recognised before moving into wholesale.

“We wanted to start off small and have been working tirelessly behind the scenes for the past four seasons to really get the name out there,” she says. “The thing with wholesale is, if you don’t have that massive advertising budget, it’s really hard to get the kind of reach you need to be successful.

“By starting with retail, we’ve been able to get the name out there and now we are really pleased with where we’ve got to with that part of the business.”

Bastyan is sold through concessions in selected John Lewis and House of Fraser stores, and Brown Thomas’s four stores in the Republic of Ireland, as well as via its own website, www.bastyan.co.uk. The concession business will continue, despite Bastyan’s wholesale move.

As well as showing at premium womenswear exhibition Scoop for autumn 12, the brand is also being represented by sales agency The Gallery, based on London’s Great Titchfield Street. Tonia hopes to secure around 25 accounts for the first season and will target department stores Harvey Nichols and Harrods, as well as indie mini-chains Matches and Flannels.

“We’re not adapting the collection at all for the wholesale market,” she explains. “Bastyan has always had a very boutique feel to it, so in that sense the range is well suited to the wholesale market quite naturally.”

Since its first retail season in spring 10, the brand has been financially backed by Aurora Fashions, the parent company behind womenswear chains Oasis, Warehouse and Coast. Although the financial arrangement between Aurora and the brand has never been fully disclosed – it is unknown what stake Aurora holds – Tonia explains that Aurora has provided ongoing support, allowing Bastyan to benefit from its network, including its supply chain and operations.

Support network

“I’ve worked with Aurora for a long time,” she explains. Womenswear chain Karen Millen, which bought Tonia’s former label Press & Bastyan in 1998, was previously part of Aurora, before the group split from the retailer in March 2011 in order for it to operate as a separate entity and focus on international expansion plans.

“They [Aurora] have supported us from the start and we’ve been able to tap into their distribution network and IT expertise. We’ve been able to get a space within their offices, so all of those things have enabled us to launch a brand that is very professional,” Tonia says.

However, since Bastyan announced its move into the wholesale market, Aurora is looking to sell its stake. Aurora chairman Derek Lovelock says Bastyan needs expertise in wholesale and that Aurora is not a wholesale business. The sale process is still at an early stage, but according to Lovelock there are a number of interested parties.

It is clear that, as well as keeping busy with the launch of wholesale, Bastyan is never going to stop innovating when it comes to the brand. For spring 12, it has launched its first collaboration collection, Bastyan Collaborare. The collection has been designed in conjunction with textile designer Vanessa Harrington and womenswear designer Yong Fong for its first season, and Tonia says she will continue to collaborate with different designers for future seasons.

“I’ve worked with graduate students from Bath Spa University for autumn 12 but for the future, who knows? We’re constantly on the lookout for interesting designers – it could be a jewellery designer or a handbag designer,” she says.

Ready to collaborate

For spring 12, Collaborare will be available exclusively to Bastyan’s concession partners House of Fraser and Brown Thomas, and will also be sold via Bastyan’s website. From autumn 12 it will be available to wholesale stockists too.

The transactional website, too, has proved a successful channel, enjoying a 290% like-for-like sales rise for the year to date. To capitalise on this success, Bastyan has just launched Bastyan Society, a member’s area of its website where customers can network and get more information about products.

“This is going to be a key area for us,” explains Bastyan. “It’s the most immediate and the most social way for us to keep in touch with our customers and that is the point of launching something like this. If people join, they become part of the family and it ensures they are constantly engaged.

“In this economic environment, I feel customer engagement is really important to make the customer feel special and give her a service that is personal. That service can be something like access to me to talk about what they should wear tonight, or access to a third party to talk about something like dressing for a certain body shape. With that in mind, online focus is going to be a key area for the business, as is wholesale. Autumn 12 is going to be all about wholesale for us.”

Even bricks-and-mortar is part of Tonia’s to-do list, after Bastyan opened a pop-up shop in a prime location on London’s Regent Street over the key Christmas trading period.

“It was a huge success,” says Tonia. “Not only from a retail point of view, but also from a PR point of view. People were introduced to the brand who wouldn’t normally have found it. There are people that don’t shop in department stores, so they wouldn’t have had any contact with the brand, so we’ve managed to get a lot of new customers on board.

And what about standalone stores, rather than just pop-up shops? Tonia smiles: “Of course, one day we’d absolutely love to be able to do that, but let’s take things one step at a time.” 

CV

2012 Launches Bastyan into wholesale

2009 Bastyan launched as a concession brand

2003 Joins Whistles as design manager

1998 Karen Millen acquires the Press & Bastyan label. It folded in 2003

1993 Sets up Press & Bastyan with friend Madeleine Press

1990 Graduates from Ravensbourne College

Q&A

What is important to you when designing the collection?

One of the most important things is that we use the best fabrics available, so we make sure we use things like the best Italian leather for our accessories and the best production for our tailoring, which is all based in Europe. Our denim also comes from Italy, while some of our more embellished pieces are produced by factories in the Far East who work with the likes of Alice Temperley. 

What items from the collection sell particularly well?

The jeans have become absolute best-sellers. We put them into Mary Portas’s space in House of Fraser and they were one of the best-selling items in there. I repeat them season on season but change the colours. They’re all made in Italy, so they look designer but are actually a lot cheaper.

What countries, other than the UK, will you be looking at for wholesale?

Germany would be a great place for the brand. We’ve talked about Russia, the Middle East and Canada, so we’ve got some big plans and hopefully we can pick up an agent who will take us into new markets.

Which are your favourite pieces in the autumn 12 collection?

There is a lot more daywear and casualwear that is casual in a dressed up kind of way; pieces that can carry through from day to evening. We’ve enlarged our workwear offer for autumn. We’ve listened to our customers and that’s what they want.

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