Clothes for people like us: Alexander Lobrano on the successful mail-order catalogue now racing

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The Independent Online
RACING GREEN, the mail-order clothing company, is named after the classic colour of British racing cars. That seems appropriate for a firm that started trading in January 1992 and has roared to pounds 5.5m-worth of sales of T-shirts and other basic leisurewear. This month it takes to the high street, with a flagship store in the West End of London.

The shop's style will be warm, comforting and familiar, says David Krantz, Racing Green's founder. In other words, it will be just like the clothes. Mr Krantz describes Racing Green's image as 'happy, healthy and wholesome'. He says the company 'will remain primarily a mail-order operation - a shop will just allow people to experience the product first-hand'.

How, with sales still flat on the high street, has Racing Green achieved such dramatic growth? Its style is soft. Both catalogue and products are devoid of sexuality and none of the clothes seems designed to incite. Who is responding to this gentle and seemingly simple formula?

'We sell clothing to people who are afraid of fashion or uninterested in it, and our market studies have shown that this is a very broad and dynamic group,' Mr Krantz says. Among his core customers (people aged 25 to 45), Mr Krantz sees a resurgence of Sixties values, chiefly a concern about social injustice and the environment. 'Things that were important in the Sixties are becoming important again, and for people with this outlook, clothing is a commodity and not an issue,' he says.

These people are just like the ones depicted in the catalogue. Cheerful, well-scrubbed people wearing comfortable, practical clothing: jeans, chambray and denim shirts, Melton donkey jackets, heavy-knit tunics, tracksuits, leggings, T-shirts. Nothing, really, that would bring fashion to mind.

Racing Green is a deft practitioner of one of the oldest arts of retailing: flattery. Its catalogue offers an opportunity to identify with a cast of attractive, polite, individualistic, practical people - in other words, people like us. And even if these people are like somebody else, Mr Krantz still thinks he has a chance to make you a customer. 'In the end, the merchandise speaks for itself.'

Designer labels, he says, were a thing of the Eighties. 'Consumption habits have changed, and even an economic recovery is not going to a mean a return to the way that people shopped in the Eighties,' he says. 'The main reason for buying clothing now is need, so you have to provide customers with clothing that closely corresponds to the way they really live.'

However, even customers for Racing Green's 'weathered' cotton mock-turtle ( pounds 23) or chino trousers ( pounds 39) still need tailored clothing, so the company plans to offer more blousons and jackets next year. Fitted clothing will be a challenge, though, since sizing is as various as the shapes of the human body.

The new products will have been extensively evaluated and tested by the company's employees, all of whom - in tune with its neo-Sixties philosophy - are encouraged to give their opinions and suggestions on all merchandise at the prototype stage. But there is still the possibility that mail-order customers willing to take a chance on a simple item, such as a polo shirt, will resist buying anything more elaborate without trying it on.

With the opening of the Regent Street store on 18 October, some of Racing Green's customers will also be able to try before they buy.

(Photograph omitted)

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