Concessions in John Lewis, a loyal online fanbase and an “uncommercial”, experiential approach are helping womenswear brand Hush to stand out.
Hush spring 17 index
Open a neatly packed parcel from womenswear brand Hush and you will find, tucked underneath your clothing, an A3 newsletter containing book reviews, recipes and interviews with inspirational women. It is an elegant touch that summarises the brand’s ethos: feeling good is an important part of looking good, and it’s the little things that make a difference.
“We make some really uncommercial decisions,” laughs Mandy Watkins, who founded Hush as an online-only brand in 2002. “A lot of work goes into the newsletter – it’s not filled with any old guff.”
There’s so much you can do online, you can move quickly, change the imagery
Rupert Youngman, Hush
Mandy Watkins and Rupert Youngman
Australian-born Watkins set up Hush after meeting her British husband, Rupert Youngman, and moving to London. Youngman, a former journalist, has been working alongside her full time for the past 12 years, looking after the finances, marketing and IT. But Watkins, who previously worked in marketing for Adidas in Australia and Hong Kong, is the creative force and it has her personality stamped all over it – from the relaxed clothing to the newsletters and the scented Hush candle burning in the meeting room at their offices in Battersea, south London, on the day Drapers visits.
Its “uncommercial” approach – which accompanies some very commercial product – is what sets it apart, Watkins explains. Spotting a gap in the market, she initially launched Hush as a nightwear and loungewear brand. She had the idea she could suggest films for people to watch, and sell hot chocolate and blankets, to “make it more of an experience”.
Food for thought
To this day, decisions are made because they are right for the brand and its customers, rather than because they make the most business sense. For example, Hush had a stall at the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall last summer – they invited people to relax on sofas, take part in disco yoga and learn calligraphy, but they did not overtly sell clothes.
This soft sell approach has resonated. Most of its sales come from its own ecommerce site and these have been growing at a healthy rate, up 40% year on year in 2016. Meanwhile, a decision to open concessions in John Lewis in September last year is steadily increasing brand awareness. Hush is in six John Lewis stores for spring 17 and will expand into another 11 for autumn.
Forecasting is so difficult, and, when you’re growing at a reasonable rate, it becomes harder
“It’s doing very well for us,” confirms John Lewis managing director Paula Nickolds. “They’ve identified what their customer wants – great basics for everyday wear – and they are single-minded about delivering it.”
Hush now offers several categories, including daywear, swimwear, footwear and accessories. A neat little navy jumper with silver stars quickly becomes a Drapers favourite, while other key pieces include wide-legged jumpsuits and loose-fitting summery dresses. As Nickolds says, the product is simple but well executed, and makes the occasional nod to key spring 17 trends such as “millennial” pink. Prices range from £27 for a slub cotton T-shirt to £280 for an onyx leather jacket.
Hush spring 17
The next challenge will be to add more depth: “At the moment, a number of items in the catalogue have sold out before it’s landed because they launched online [first],” says Watkins.
“Forecasting is so difficult, and, when you’re growing at a reasonable rate, it becomes harder,” adds Youngman.
It is also increasing the number of drops from the two main seasons to around 10 a year, so there is newness to offer when items sell out.
There is no intention to wholesale or open stores in the UK.
“There’s so much you can do online, you can move quickly, change the imagery,” explains Youngman. “With stores you spend a lot on the fit-out initially, but you can’t just keep ripping it up and starting again. And you hold a lot of dead stock.”
We want people to know we don’t just exist behind a website
Rather, Hush will focus on expanding its existing channels. The John Lewis concessions account for 10%-15% of sales, but Hush expects this to grow to around a third of its income next year.
International is a potential area of expansion for the future, and Scandinavia is an obvious target because of the preference for relaxed-fit clothing. However, the short-term focus is on growing its UK sales.
Youngman says: “The problem with going international is that you divert so much resource away from your domestic business. We were told: ‘Don’t do it until you’ve exhausted your domestic market’ – and we’re nowhere close to that.”
In the meantime, Hush is looking at doing more customer events, ideally including some outside of London. Last month it ran a pop-up – which it called a “pop-in” – in east London, which gave customers a chance to meet the team, and feel and try on the clothing.
As Youngman explains: “We want people to know we don’t just exist behind a website.”