Eveden Group is best known for its Freya and Fantasie lingerie brands, but overseas its plus-size labels are driving growth. Now its chief executive wants the UK to think big too.
2006 Chief executive, Eveden Group
2003 Marketing director, Eveden
2001 Head of sales and marketing for kidswear, Marks & Spencer
1997 Head of retail, Etam
1992 Regional manager, Mothercare
1990 Area manager, Alexon Group
1985 Area manager, Next
Walk through the lingerie area of most UK department stores and you are likely to see at least one of Eveden Group’s six lingerie and two swimwear brands. Best known for Freya and Fantasie, the lingerie brand house has every customer covered, but it is plus-size brands Elomi and Goddess that are driving global growth for the group, according to chief executive Tracy Lewis, and she is hungry for the UK to contribute to that sales rise. “The UK department store retailers are a little bit reticent to put [plus-size] lingerie on their sales floor. In the US, they just do it and they get it and are selling it extremely well,” she says.
“I think it is a kind of education and we are going through that at the moment.”
Lewis, a former head of kidswear sales and marketing at Marks & Spencer, joined Eveden in 2003 as marketing director and was named chief executive in 2006. Under her stewardship, the group created premium lingerie brand Fauve, for larger cup sizes, which she says was designed to be “that little bit more indulgent”; developed trend-led plus-size lingerie brand Elomi in 2008; and bought premium French lingerie label Huit out of administration in April last year.
All of this, as well as the continuing development of Eveden’s mainstay larger-cup brands Fantasie and Freya, has seen the business grow both in terms of sales and stockists, doubling its global distribution to cover 50 countries worldwide. In the year to June 30, 2010, Eveden reported a 7.8% growth in sales to £69.2m and a 18.2% rise in pre-tax profits to £9.1m.
And Lewis is looking to continue this growth via the plus-size labels: “We’ve got Goddess and Elomi positioned in two different places. Goddess is doing a bit more of a mature job, a little more classic in its look, a little lower-priced and it is pretty much for the US market.
“Elomi gives us a different option as it is still very much designed for the fuller figure but is a little bit more fashionable.” It is the back size, rather than the cup size, that defines plus-size lingerie, and the core sizing for Elomi ranges from a 38 to 48 back size. From spring 12 the brand will go up to a K cup. For Goddess, sizes range from a 36 to a 52 back size and a C to a K cup.
Lewis says Elomi has gone from strength to strength since its creation in 2008 and has been well received in the US, as well as being picked up in the UK by specialist lingerie indies and etailers including Figleaves. However, getting Elomi stocked by department stores in the UK has not proved as easy.
“We are trying to educate the UK department stores that they need this product and I think we will get there,” says Lewis. “I can understand that they think it isn’t going to look attractive on the hangers but actually it does, and therefore it is just an education and about letting the consumer know it exists and what it can do for her.”
Plenty of plusses
It is no wonder Lewis wants to convince her stockists to sell plus-size lingerie. Data from Kantar Worldpanel shows that the size 16-plus customer now accounts for 34% of all lingerie sales in the UK (as of May 15, 2011) compared with 32% in May 2010.
“Bigger girls used to be a lot more self-conscious,” says Sadie Ayton, owner of lingerie indie Sadie the Bra Lady, which has four standalone stores and one franchise store in the Northeast, and sells the Elomi, Fantasie, Fauve and Freya brands. “They would just buy a bra and hope it fitted. Now they are more aware of fit and are better at finding the right product.”
Helen Spencer, buyer for lingerie, swimwear and nightwear at John Lewis, agrees that Elomi might have something to offer the fuller-figure woman. “We don’t stock Elomi currently, but we are constantly reviewing the range and do feel it has evolved in the last few seasons as it has understood its customer more and more,” she says.
Retail prices across the Elomi collection range from £12.50 for its smoothing short to £61 for an underwired basque. Bras range from £26 to £41. For spring 12 Elomi has launched a swimwear collection, which comprises three co-ordinating pieces: a bikini, a tankini and a swimsuit.
Away from plus-size lingerie, Lewis says her focus is on the development of Huit, a standard fashion lingerie brand. “It was quite a difference for us to move into smaller [standard] cup sizes,” says Lewis. “The last 12 months has been about getting the business back on track because we bought Huit without any product, so we really had to start from scratch, working with Huit’s existing suppliers and working with our suppliers and just building a whole supply chain from a standing start.”
Huit was relaunched for autumn 11 but Lewis says the spring 12 collection will showcase the full extent of Eveden’s plans for it, with the launch of three basics collections. “The brand only had one basics collection that had been around for quite a long time. We very much wanted to move the business on while still offering something that was very wearable but with fantastic new fabrics and beautiful styling.
“One of the basics collections we have introduced is a couture-inspired collection, so it has got some different shapes in it, in terms of moulded product, which is very stylish and beautiful, and we have got some amazing campaign imagery.”
Eveden has has also grown the number of Huit stockists internationally since it acquired the brand, from 370 acounts to 1,150. It is now stocked by etailers Asos and Figleaves and in selected John Lewis and Rigby & Peller stores. The wholesale price architecture has been widened slightly to broaden the brand’s appeal to a wider distribution base, from £14 to £21.40 when Eveden bought Huit last year, to £6.52 to £32.61.
“What we could bring to Huit was greater fulfilment levels [better deliveries and customer service] for the customers by giving it a stronger supply chain and by lowering prices in some markets. Having a French brand under your portfolio can’t be underestimated in terms of its kudos in the market. It is all designed in Paris and we have kept that and now we all speak French too, which is good,” quips Lewis. “And they all speak English, which is even better.”
Smoothly does it
Eveden’s largest and best-known brand, Fantasie, which is sold in 37 countries and stocked in retailers including House of Fraser,Debenhams, Bravissimo, Figleaves and Asos, is also being expanded. For spring 12, Lewis will introduce a J cup across Fantasie’s swimwear collection and relaunch its smoothing collection - a range of seam-free lingerie to be worn under fitted clothes - which will go up to a H cup. For John Lewis’s Spencer, Eveden has picked up the pace with Fantasie in recent seasons by using commercial prints on customer’s favourite bra shapes.
With Freya, which Lewis describes as a “directional brand for the fuller bust”, Eveden is introducing a lot more colour to the moulded range for spring 12, as well as launching a padded moulded sports bra in its spin-off collection Freya Active and going up to a J cup in Freya swimwear. The brand has also teamed up with TV show The X Factor to sponsor the auditions. “It is an incredible programme in terms of the amount of people it reaches and we felt there are a lot of synergies with the people watching the programme and the Freya brand,” says Lewis. “I think across the whole business we are a pretty good UK success story, and maybe we just haven’t shouted about ourselves as much as we should.”