NEW YORK, United States — American fashion mogul Andrew Rosen launched Theory in 1997 with a popular women's collection focused on flattering, precisely tailored pants and sleek shirts at contemporary price points. In 2000, shortly after the brand moved into the Japanese market, its local licensing partner Link International acquired the label. As a subsidiary of Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing, the newly formed Link Theory invested in the label’s global expansion and in 2014, Theory reported global sales of approximately $670 million, making it one of the largest contemporary brands worldwide. Chief executive Andrew Rosen explains the theory behind the global brand.
BoF: How would you define the DNA of Theory?
AR: I very much believe that in order to have a successful company, one has to concentrate on the objectives and the process by which a company works. We put the company first. Although we're a big company that operates around the world, we have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in our company. It's in everything that we do: the way we approach our business, the way the environment of our ofces is set up, the way our company functions. We're a relatively large company that operates through many diferent headquarters around the world, but we operate very connectedly and seamlessly. Theory is a company that is founded on its people, its passion and its product.
BoF: Having pioneered the contemporary market, how have you used that entrepreneurial spirit to continue to evolve in an increasingly competitive space?
AR: Although our culture and our aesthetic remains the same, I try to constantly modernise our platform, our thinking and our way of doing business. I'm very conscious of that, and my executives are very conscious of it, too. I like to have people who have been with the company for a long time, but I also like to bring new people and new ideas into the company. I think it's the melding of the old and the new that keeps our company fresh and forward thinking. I very much believe in evolution, not revolution.
BoF: How does Theory fit within the wider Fast Retailing group?
AR: I think that Fast Retailing is an amazing company. Through them we have headquarters in London, China, Japan and I think that has inspired us to do things on a larger scale. Fast Retailing has 24 guiding principles through which they run their businesses — they are all about integrity, innovation and inspiring the customer — and we operate within those principles. Those principles are not too far apart from what our own company principles are, and the beauty is, though they have these guiding principles for us to operate within, we are also able to maintain our own culture and aesthetic as long as we operate within those fundamental principles.
BoF: How has Theory seized the opportunities that contemporary fashion represents in China and emerging markets?
AR: We have operated in China for around seven or eight years and have 20-something stores there; over the last six to nine months we've seen our business really accelerate. China is a country where retailing is a new phenomenon, and finding the right people and training them in the right skills and so on is a challenge. It's a challenge because it is a new industry in China, and there is a lot of competition for talent. We have put a very strong management group in place and that management group and its leadership is making a big diference there. My big push at the moment is expanding our digital platform. And when I say expanding our digital platform, it's not just an e-commerce platform; it's a whole digital strategy of marketing and social media, as well as commerce. I think that's a global opportunity. We are investing a lot of talent and money in this area and believe that as we work it out, it will be the most important channel of business at Theory.
BoF: What kinds of attributes really succeed at Theory? What does a Theory employee share with his or her fellow employees?
AR: I do believe that the next generation of apparel talent is slightly diferent than the past generation. I think that the old talent was very sophisticated in the traditional way of doing business in their retail sector, and the new talent has to be focused on a whole new platform of business. It isn't around traditional marketing, merchandising and brick-and-mortar retailing. It's around a new platform of business that involves digital. I still believe there needs to be exceptional talent in the execution of design and manufacturing. Consumers are reacting to buying clothes in a whole diferent way, and I think that we need to attract talent that understands this. The analytics and algorithms that can be harnessed to expand and steady a business are an essential part of how we will do business in the future.