Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#1844 Stolen Girlfriends Club's Luke Harwood is moving to New York to crack the American market

Luke Harwood. Photo: Zara Mirkin

The three men behind Stolen Girlfriends Club serve three quite different roles: Marc Moore is the charismatic, man-about-town designer; Dan Gosling is the business brain with his fingers in multiple pies; and Luke Harwood is the branding guru whose job it is to steer the ship and manage relationships with retailers, agents and distributors. Harwood is about to undertake his biggest challenge thus far: setting up Stolen Girlfriends Club's first ever international showroom – in New York City – and attempting to take the brand to the next level in what is potentially the largest market for their type of clothing in the entire world. I sat down with Harwood to discuss his plans for New York, the current state of Stolen Girlfriends Club's US business, the costs and challenges involved, and most importantly, how to make it in America. Here's what he had to say.

You're moving to New York City this year. What will you be doing there?
Luke Harwood: The plan is to go head up Stolen Girlfriends Club in USA. It's an important market that is showing great opportunity but it's really about nurturing our business at a steady pace and being there will be everything. We'll set up a showroom and offices and really be looking to build, develop and service the US market.

Where will you set up the showroom?
LH: It will be in central Manhattan somewhere, I'm sure it will be rough around the edges to begin with but it will have the ambiance and feel of Stolen Girlfriends Club.

Who stocks SGC in North America?
LH: The market is made up of three different tears of retailer. We have a bunch of smaller and traditional styled boutiques and directional stores like Atrium, BuyDefinition, Condor, Dear FieldBinder, Pixxie Market, Trash & Vaudeville and Wasteland to name a few. They're always passionate about the brand and the signature pieces. These smaller boutiques really introduce the brand to market and to core customers to build a following. Then we are working with Urban Outfitters, these guys really commit to the brand in a broader sense and we work across their key locations. Aritza and Opening Ceremony groups are also two other partners we are in correspondence with. Online also seems to be a huge and growing business. We work with Revolve, Urban Outfitters and a couple of other smaller but cool online retailers. This mix of retailers all represents a different reach of customer to Stolen Girlfriends Club. But the key thing is quality over quantity – that's one thing you need to understand with the US.

What are the greatest challenges faced by a fashion brand when trying to make it in America?
LH: I think clarity and vision for brand and business is most important within any developing market. Looking at long term vision for the brand in a distant form and working backwards. In a market like the USA with a maze of price point brands, diffusion opportunities, volume deals with department stores and thousands of so-called boutiques and online stores, I can see how people lose their way and their brand positioning. You have to be very clear-minded, pull the reins and know when the right time is to move! I also think brand maturity will be important for us as we develop, when I speak about maturity I speak more in range planning, production, price regulation and consistency. There are now so many other great brands doing things very well and you need to be on the pulse making sure you are continually refining and developing all aspects of business and brand as you grow. Relationships are also crucial; we are lucky to have had two years of building initial relationships which is a big help, Americans can be very distant with their correspondence in the beginning!
We are also a women's and menswear brand and this takes more thought – the two need to be treated and sold as two different lines dealing with different retailers, buyers and sales periods.

Where does Stolen Girlfriends Club sit in the North American market?
LH: We sit at a mid to high end level, alongside other brands like: Acne Denim, T by Alexander Wang, Alexander Wang, Sass and Bide, Opening Ceremony, Surface To Air, Band Of Outsiders and APC to name a few. But really the stores are changing – many are now offering price pointed brands next to luxury in the same arena. With this, it becomes more about making sure your brand is entertaining, has a point of difference and global relevance.

How will you be able to stay a part of the design process from New York?
LH: To some degree I'll lose an amount of input – hands-on stuff like art direction, and some of the little finer details and finishing I enjoy. But Marc [Moore] heads up this area and he has great ideas and vision each season, with Dan [Gosling] and myself there as sounding boards. So it's going to work fine. Possibly those guys can fly up and hang out for a few weeks and we could plan and design ranges up there. The areas I'll work more closely on will be the range planning and business for both Northern/Southern markets to insure agents, distributors, retailers and buyers have depth and representation to choose within categories and styles. This stuff is getting much more crucial to catering for in-store merchandising and representation which relates back to sales. I also think bringing more international content and relevance to the brand will be a great thing, being in New York I hope will open more doors. Just to collaborate with some other creatives and artists, people who have strong profiles for what they do, you know maybe some sort of rad print for a season or stuff like that.

What are the most important new products that SGC is working on right now?
LH: Well we launch the new Jeffrey Campbell shoe collaboration soon, really cool girls' western styles. This gets launched globally and I think it will be a success. There is always talk of things happening but at the moment we're just really putting a lot of time into maturing and polishing the brand so we can be ready to handle strong growth.

How is SGC going to absorb the cost of the New York expansion?
LH: It's calculated to some degree, we'll work forward and forecast our profits and losses for 24 months, run with the minimal sales outcome to see if the venture can be achieved on those numbers while still making profit and adding benefit to the brand. As an outcome Hamish our financial dude said it looks good... do it! (Hamish is a good man, I like his confidence.) But any idea worthy of being called an idea needs to be of risk to some degree. If we don't have a go now while we are gaining traction then what's the point? We might as well go surfing!

Finally, what are your favourite places in New York?
LH: Oh man, where do I start? You can get lost all day in that city! I'm a big fan of the Balthazar and Pastis for French bistro. I like Native Leather, a little Indian western store for great western embroidered shirts and belts, there are a lot of other cool underground stores like that. Doyle & Doyle Jewellery, Moss Furniture, Gagosian gallery... Hudson Furniture showroom is pretty impressive. Montauk is a lot of fun for a weekend escape! You can have a handful of trips to NYC and not even scratch the surface. Valery Gherman was telling me about a gallery that's a half hour train ride out of the city into the country and has some rad old Warhol stuff in a barn. It sounded amazing. All these sorts of things I'm yet to discover.

I LIKE YOU!

4 comments:

oldgirl said...

bloody good on him, being in new york with a cool label to sell he will do so well, thats what we need to see people doing more of getting overseas and selling the labels......... oh to be young and have the energy 

Jimmy said...

I know a lot of people are like me and don't understand the apparel in this hipster street wear scene but it's amazing what they have accomplished and understand its that much harder to do it from NZ!

Amy said...

Thanks for the great interview Isaac! Exciting stuff :)

Samantha said...

Love this sentiment "...any idea worthy of being called an idea needs to be of risk to some degree."