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The reinvention of the Puffa jacket

Drapers finds out how Puffa’s licence holder plans to make the brand desirable for a new generation.

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Puffa is undergoing something of a renaissance. The British outerwear brand, which describes itself as “the original duvet clothing company”, has been around for more than four decades. However, sales have tailed off in recent years as high street retailers launched their own versions of its distinctive jacket style, and Puffa has been resigned to the bargain bin.

Now, UK supplier Rextrek, which acquired the licence for Puffa from CAA-GBG (Global Brands) last year, is determined to move the brand firmly back into the mid-market by making it more directional, with improved design and quality.

“Global Brands wanted to take the brand more upmarket, so we started working with Puffa under licence because of our strong reputation for good-quality outerwear,” explains James Barden, owner and managing director of Rextrek, which was established in 1989 and whose clients include Hackett, Crew Clothing and Barbour. “It’s a well-known brand. We felt it had some legs.”

Puffa was founded in 1973 by Penny Rogers, who was inspired by quilted jackets she saw on her travels to the US and Canada. It peaked in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, attracting high-profile fans such as Diana, Princess of Wales, and giving British model Jodie Kidd her first modelling job. It became so synonymous with its signature style that most quilted jackets are still referred to as “puffas”, although Barden points out that the name “Puffa” is a trademark and cannot be used by others.

Global Brands acquired Puffa from Rogers in 2009 and today it is stocked by Topshop, Asos, House of Fraser and Lipsy/Next.

Barden was aware of the challenges facing the brand when he agreed to take on the licence: “It was being sold all over the marketplace,” he says. “It needed to come out of the lower end of the market. 

“It has great potential for this coming season [autumn 17] and there will be a visible step change. We’ll buy a tight range, keeping the brand as exclusive as we can, and keep quality high with innovative fabrics.”

Rextrek has introduced more interesting and higher-quality fabrics, such as velvet and satin, and upgraded features, to make the jackets look more distinctive. Wholesale prices range from £33 to £130, depending on the fabric and finish.

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“It’s a good time to revive a brand like Puffa,” says Kirsty Sears, senior womenswear editor at trend forecasting agency WGSN. “Their sales flagged as they have lost their brand identity, but they can tap into the youthful retro sport movement happening now.” She points out that sports-inspired brands have made a comeback recently, among them Fila, Ellesse, Reebok and Champion, while the puffa style itself is having a “moment”.

Juls Dawson, co-founder of fashion agency Just Consultancies, agrees: “The puffa shape is absolutely on trend – we’re selling it across all of our men’s and women’s wear brands at various price points and under different guises.”

Puffa’s initial foray into daywear for spring 15, including T-shirts, polo shirts and sweatshirts, was short lived. However, once it has turned around the outerwear, Rextrek will look at the opportunities for introducing new categories, such as underwear, knitwear and shirts.

“We want to grow it slowly. We don’t want to do it all at once,” explains Barden. “We want to take the brand back to where it used to be, when people wanted a Puffa jacket because it was by Puffa.”

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