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When fashion meets bridal: The perfect match

Affordable, available and more fashion forward – why retailers and brands are carving out a new niche in the bridal market

Bridalwear is big business and despite an average of one new specialist store opening every two days in the UK, a number of retailers are hoping to steal a slice of that lucrative wedding cake for spring 16 and beyond.

The average wedding dress comes in at a retail price of £1,378, Brides magazine reports, so affordability is one of the major areas where retailers and brands can stand out with clever design, cheaper fabrics or better sourcing and scale.

Asos.com is launching its bridal range for spring 16, introducing an 18-piece collection priced up to £250, followed by a second drop of 12 pieces for May. It was developed after the success of its bridesmaid collection, which launched last year for spring 15, and because occasionwear is one of the etailer’s best-selling categories, explains womenswear design director Vanessa Spence.

One of the hurdles online and high street retailers have to overcome is replicating the special experience offered by bridalwear specialists, but Spence says given its price points, customers can purchase more than one dress to try at home and then return unwanted items.

“A dedicated bridal process has been developed, which handles all bridal gown packing and returns with all of the pieces in the collection handled by a special bridal team,” says Spence.

Ted Baker has also introduced a 20-piece bridal collection and a 111-piece men’s wedding collection this season, available in selected Ted Baker stores and concessions within John Lewis stores, priced from £169 to £599. And premium womenswear brands Needle & Thread and Self-Portrait have unveiled new fashion-forward offerings, priced from £105 to £850, and £650 to £1,000, respectively.

“The bridal market gives brands and retailers an opportunity to offer existing customers something new but also attract a new type of customer,” says Honor Westnedge, lead retail analyst for clothing and footwear at Verdict Retail. “These types of players also have more of an authority in fashionability than traditional bridal specialists. We can expect many more new entrants going forward.”

Phase Eight launched its first bridal collection in 2013, and this year’s collection of 13 pieces, priced from £275 to £650, is its biggest to date. “We’ve seen demand triple over the past three years [as awareness has grown], and we recently opened our fourth bridal boutique in Ilkley [West Yorkshire] in response to growing demand,” says retail marketing manager Kelly Meade.

She says customers like the designer boutique experience with appointments in its bridal boutiques but online provides the instant convenience and trying on at home.

“We think customers try on in store, consider their purchase then purchase online, so the in-store experience supports the online purchase.”

In numbers: The UK bridal market in 2015/16

Revenue: £301.6m

Profit: £8.4m

Growth rate: 1.3%

Number of specialist stores: 1,009 (up 15.8% in the last five years)

Source: Ibis World, The Local Data Company

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