US digs UK high street fashion cool
British retailers are beating the economic blues in America. Kate Youde and Rachel Shields report
Sunday 06 June 2010
It has snapped up everything from the Beatles to the Duchess of York. Now the US is rushing to welcome another British export: high street fashion.
The retailer All Saints took more than $1m (£680,000) last week after opening a flagship shop on New York's Broadway, while the preppy British label Jack Wills and UK street-wear favourite Superdry are all proving hits across the Atlantic, striking a chord with fashion-hungry Americans tired of "homogenised" home-grown brands.
While many UK retailers are licking wounds inflicted by the economic downturn, a band of resilient brands are cashing in in the US.
"The main reason they are doing so well is because they are quite different to anything else trading over there," said Jess Brown, editor of Drapers magazine. "Retailers like All Saints and Jack Wills behave more like brands; they don't slavishly follow catwalk trends like high street shops such as New Look and Topshop." All Saints now plans to roll out 30 to 50 shops across the US in the next five years, while "university outfitters" Jack Wills, which offers public school-style casual wear, is preparing to launch a third US store in Boston in July. The retailer has opened shops in the past six weeks in upmarket Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, popular Massachusetts summer haunts of well-heeled Americans, and is forecasting a full year turnover of £65m for 2010.
Eric Musgrave, director general of the UK Fashion & Textile Association, said: "Jack Wills is viewed by many people as a British take on Abercrombie & Fitch. It will be very interesting to see how Jack Wills does in the home of the look it is channelling," he added.
Superdry, a streetwear brand worn by David Beckham, which blends US vintage style with Japanese design, launched on Broadway in November. Total group sales of its owner, SuperGroup, were up by 83 per cent, to £139m, in the 52 weeks to 2 May, with wholesale sales up 98 per cent to £54m. Further store openings are planned for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami this year, with eight more US stores planned for 2011.
"Being British is cool to Americans, especially those who are style-conscious," said Kevin Fegans, spokesman for the online fashion retailer Asos. Asos already ships to the US but is launching a standalone American site in the autumn. Its head, Nick Robertson, said users would benefit from pricing in dollars and the use of American vocabulary, such as "sweaters" instead of "jumpers".
The US, the number one consumer market in the world according to Mr Musgrave, has attracted British companies for many years. However, the country is difficult to crack due to its size, competitiveness and multiple markets, along with logistical difficulties in managing operations thousands of miles away. Marks & Spencer tried to turn around the US clothing store Brooks Brothers in 1988 but sold it at a loss in 2001.
British successes include the high street chain Reiss, which opened nine stores in the US between 2005 and 2008. Topshop has also welcomed 30,000 shoppers every week to its Broadway store since opening last year.
US retailers are, of course, also still testing the British market. UK shoppers were able to buy J Crew, popular with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, for the first time last month through the website Net-a-Porter.
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