Karen Millen chief hails London tradition after Christmas record


The boss of Karen Millen has revealed how London is key to the company’s record trading over Christmas because of the fashion brand’s decision to continue making all its clothes in-house and in the heart of the capital.

However, he admitted the firm, which claims to be the UK's biggest international women’s-only fashion brand, lost its way in the UK and must refocus its efforts  to win over domestic customers again if it expects to continue its success overseas.

Chief executive Mike Shearwood said not enough customers know all 500 items in each collection are made initially in its offices in Shoreditch, one of the few businesses in the Silicon Roundabout enclave still making physical products, with banks of sewing machines, cutters, fitters and designers packing out the company’s office.

The fashion house saw Christmas sales jump 10 per cent, or 9 per cent on a like-for-like basis, over the five weeks to January 5 compared with the same period last year.

Internationally, sales have been particularly strong, with Spain up 25 per cent and France up 22 per cent. The UK, Ireland and web sales were respectable, up 12 per cent.

However, Shearwood believes more needs to be done to improve the company’s image in its home country. He said: “We’d been great internationally for a number of years, but the research said we were perceived more highly internationally than we were in the UK.

“The brand got confused and tired and was considered more like another high street retailer, rather than a fashion house. If you are going to be truly global you have to have to be strong in your domestic market and the reality is we neglected it.”

Explaining the reason for sticking with expensive Shoreditch for its base, chief creative officer Gemma Metheringham said the location means she can attract the best staff. She said: “If you want to attract a team of designers that want to draw inspiration from their environment, they want to live in a major capital city and work in a cool, smart part of that city.”

Karen Millen also plans to expand internationally, going into 58 countries by the end of the year, with around 65 new stores, bringing the total to 400.

If all goes well, a management buyout could be on the cards, and the appointment of new chief financial officer Andrew Ware, who advised previous owners Aurora on various acquisitions, would certainly help.