Brand new heavy

Daniel Green has a niche selling designer labels out of town. He even has a `creche' for bored men.
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The Independent Online
Daniel Green is a true child of the boom-and-bust enterprise culture of the Eighties. His two flourishing Brand Centres, both in unfashionable suburbs of north London, and his Identikit fashion label, generate a turnover of some pounds 20m and provide work for 265 staff.

Women's magazines have been quick to pick up on his business acumen and good looks, regularly featuring him as one of Britain's best-dressed and most eligible bachelors. The City is knocking at his door night and day, and there are plans to build more Brand Centres all over Britain. Indeed, some see in the 30-year-old Green the potential to emulate the success of Richard Branson; business analysts write that his may well be the name we will come to associate with the New Labour generation. Yet Green's prospects haven't always seemed so bright.

After being expelled from primary school, Green managed, miraculously, to secure a place at Leeds Grammar School, where his headmaster feared the worst for his promising student when non-academic distractions threatened to divert him from the path to Oxbridge. "He told me that I was going nowhere fast," explains Green ironically, as he drives me along London's North Circular road towards the original Brand Centre site in Enfield. "I had too much energy, and couldn't handle such an autocratic system."

At the age of 17, with exams looming, Green took a couple of weeks off school to research the feasibility of realising his dream; the creation of a new fashion label, to be called Identikit. "My mum wouldn't write me a sick note," he continues, as we screech to a halt in the giant Brand Centre car park. "I was officially expelled, although I was allowed to take my A-levels, which I passed without distinction."

After gleaning advice from a number of business studies lecturers at various local higher education institutions, Green managed to secure a modest grant from the Small Firms Advice Bureau and went to work in a disused Barnsley warehouse. He hired Karen Wraith, a talented local designer, and a small team of other youngsters, and linked up with a clothing manufacturer to produce samples for the first Identikit collection, aimed at fashion- conscious 18- to 26-year-olds. Green and Wraith took the samples to Top Man, part of the Burton Group, and they returned triumphantly with their first orders.

"Top Man was very encouraging. We had concessions in Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford Circus pretty quickly," Green recalls. "Today we have 35 Identikit outlets, mainly in Top Man shops around Britain, with some in River Island stores and, of course, the rest in the Brand Centres. By the time I was 22, the business was turning over pounds 3.5m."

In 1990, Green decided to put into place phase two of his plan to "make a difference in retailing". He moved to London and began searching for a suitable out-of-town venue to launch the Brand Centre. He found what to most people would have been the most unlikely of locations, an industrial estate not far from the M25 in Enfield, between two sewage works. The concept was straightforward, and until then untried anywhere in the world. Take practically all the designer labels you can think of and place them, open-plan style, under one rather large roof, a good distance from the traffic jams, parking problems and crowded Tube. "It's about taking the clothes to the people. No shopping around from store to store, and no travelling into central London with all of the associated hassle and inconvenience. There's nothing like it anywhere, not even in the States. Designer labels are sexy and stylish. We stock the best part of all of the current designer collections, so quality is guaranteed. Getting the brands to break their traditional retail route was difficult to begin with, but I think my confidence in the idea tipped the scales. We now have some 200 brands."

There is an initial pounds 3 life-membership fee if you want to join the Brand Centre club. To date, some 220,000 folk have signed on in Enfield, with a further 60,000 registering at the new Brand Centre in Uxbridge on the outskirts of north-west London, which opened in December 1996.

One of the most innovative features of the Brand Centre phenomenon is the men's creche area, labelled a "stress-free zone". Here in a cafe I found Rob and Steve from Enfield purchasing freshly cut sandwiches to enjoy while watching a critical Premier League football match. Steve's wife was just disappearing from view with their four-year-old daughter to buy a top for her from the Paul Smith kids' range. Rob's girlfriend was somewhere in the store, possibly considering a Kenzo summer dress. With their YSL shirts by their sides, the boys were obviously in shopping heaven. "We conducted a survey," Green tells me, as we head towards his modest office. "Nearly all women hated shopping with their husbands. Most husbands just hated shopping.

"I want to open five more Brand Centres in the next five years. Maybe one or two in Europe," says Green merrily. "It sounds like a cliche, but I am living proof that you can do virtually anything you dream about. We've made all these brands accessible. We've taken the elitism out of the designer experience without losing the aspirational appeal of it all. That's the key."#

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