The womenswear brand is growing globally on the back of women’s increasing demand for modern workwear.
Kim Winser has quite the CV. She started at Marks & Spencer’s management trainee scheme in 1977 and rose up the ranks to become its youngest board member, as director of womenswear, in the early 1990s – despite being told three times that women “didn’t follow the commercial path”.
She went on to become CEO of Aquascutum and Pringle of Scotland, leading their turnarounds and putting them on the global map. Both British brands now have substantial Asian and European businesses.
This determination and commercial nous is in evidence at her eponymous brand, Winser London, which launched in 2013. Winser has attracted big-name guest collaborators, most notably US actress Gillian Anderson, whose second collection for the label launched on 8 September.
Retail prices for the Gillian Anderson collection range from £195 for a cashmere jumper to £495 for a silk georgette dress or wool swing coat.
Focused predominantly on selling direct to consumers through its own site, Winser London is now available to buy in 76 countries. Winser declines to share figures but says international revenues have grown by one-third on 2018.
Its biggest international market so far – and where Winser is focusing her efforts – is the US. Its success there was helped by the Duchess of Sussex wearing a coat from Anderson’s first collection for the brand in October 2018.
Winser says 20% of its business is international, and she predicts that this will eventually grow to 50%.
“That for me is very exciting,” she tells Drapers. “From day one I wanted this to be a global business, so I’m really excited about the fact that we very quickly took off in so many countries.”
She explains that the brand has a minimal aesthetic that appeals to working women globally: “Modern workwear, which is one of our key areas, is under-supplied in every country. Women are coming up through the ranks, although they are still not 50:50 [with men], and they want workwear that is modern and versatile.”
The brand wholesales with a handful of “carefully selected” retailers, including John Lewis online, independent boutique Rossiters of Bath and and Stitch Fix in the US. It declines to provide wholesale prices.
When developing the collections, Winser aimed for a gap she felt had been created following the 2008 recession, when many high street brands reduced product quality in a bid to protect margins. Winser London sources from four countries, including the UK and Italy.
“I was driven by this idea of buying from the best mills in the world, the best fabrics and yarns, and producing them in the best possible way with not a lot of transport and no middle man, so keeping costs low and the model more sustainable.”
As well as stores in the Buckinghamshire towns of Gerrards Cross and Marlow, Winser London is testing a pop-up store opened in London’s Canary Wharf, which opened in early September. The brand is also in negotiations to open a pop-up in uptown Manhattan this autumn after a successful trunk show in New York earlier this summer.
Winser says her move from the corporate world to launching a start-up was prompted by her time working in an advisory role with Dame Natalie Massenet when she was setting up at Net-a-Porter.
”I was very interested in the online selling business model and where it was going. Obviously, it was a very successful business she had launched, so I was keen to work in this dynamic growth area with a dedicated brand.
“But 10 years ago it was very difficult to find and invest in an exciting brand that was doing a fabulous job online. A lot of brands were looking at developing an online offer, but of course the way you need to structure that business model is very different.”
She decided the answer was to create something new: “That way we could have a much more versatile business structure.”
With its focus on modern, high-quality workwear, and versatile approach to business, Winser London has found a niche it can exploit to support its rapid and global growth.