LONDON, United Kingdom — Come August, British contemporary womenswear brand Whistles will launch in Hong Kong and mainland China in partnership with department store Lane Crawford, both in-store and online.
Three existing Lane Crawford stores in Hong Kong and the newly-opened Shanghai store will carry a selection of 60-odd pieces from Whistles’ premium range, Limited Edition, as well as best-selling items from its core collection, such as cashmere knitwear and silk dresses.
Chief executive Jane Shepherdson believes that her brand’s clean silhouettes and quality fabrics will resonate with Chinese women in search of an understated, chic aesthetic at accessible price points. The move is also a response to increasing demand from the company's existing Chinese customer base, online and at concessions at Printemps in Paris and Harrods in London.
“The Chinese market is increasingly sophisticated and is actually developing faster than any other market in terms of their fashion appreciation,” chief executive Jane Shepherdson told BoF. “There is a whole new generation of young, middle-class Chinese women who have got a bit of money who don’t necessarily buy into everything [from] luxury brands, but who want to shop the contemporary European brands that are providing well-designed quality fashions at a price that they can afford.”
The launch caps off a period of steady growth for the brand, which until five years ago had struggled to inspire shoppers. Shepherdson, whose 20 years at Topshop cemented her reputation as something of a high street style savant, is widely credited with the turnaround. In 2008, she purchased a 20 percent stake in the business and brought in a new team to bring an unfussy, modern sensibility to the Whistles brand. Last year, like-for-like sales grew over 20 percent, a rate Whistles expects to match this year.
“As the brand has developed, our handwriting has just become much more consistent. We learn more and more about our customers and their requirements,” Shepherdson explained. “So we’ve started to drive the volume sales in key product categories, such as leather jackets, cashmere knitwear and silk dresses.”
The brand has also introduced shoes and accessories lines — which has grown the business by 10 percent last year — and begun showing at London Fashion Week to “secure the brand’s status” at the high end of the fast-growing contemporary fashion category, said Shepherdson. It plans to show again in September.
Although Shepherdson acknowledges that China has “leapfrogged” over other countries on Whistles’ list of international expansion targets, the work is far from done. Her team is currently in talks with an American partner for a 2014 launch. Northern Europe and Russia, as well, are on the horizon, with the brand’s Moscow concession in Tsvetnoy Market currently outperforming expectations.