Now worth a staggering £1.255bn, SuperGroup Plc, the company behind the hugely successful Superdry brand, likes to stay ahead of the game. For that reason, and to tap in to what it sees as a gap in the market, it’s launching Superdry Sport as a brand in its own right for a/w 17. James Holder is the creative force heading up SuperDesign Lab to drive this new business. Tom Bottomley caught up with him to find out more.
Tom Bottomley: What’s new within the company?
James Holder: We’ve set up what we’ve called the SuperDesignLab, a pure innovation centre. Of course, Superdry is still the main business and is an incredibly successful business model which is doing outstanding figures, but it’s a big machine that needs time to operate.
If you’ve got 6,000 different products coming out each year, and you’ve got to make 50 samples of each, our sampling runs are bigger than some brands’ production runs. To facilitate that, you need to have a very large, efficient machine, which has all the necessary processes involved.
TB: Is there a downside to that?
JH: There is no downside, only the fact that model needs to be run in a classic design, sampling and sales cycle, like any global brand working within the traditional wholesale model.
What we’re now doing with the SuperDesignLab is fast and innovative and, because we don’t have to make so many samples, we can do the really freaky stuff that may be too extreme for mainline. The mainline has to satisfy the global demand for strong commercial product and must meet the needs of the international customers. But we can really push the boundaries with this, very similar to how we did when we first started Superdry, when our designs were considered to be pioneering and unique. We had some pretty defining products at the start, like the windcheater, of which we have sold millions of units – and it shows no sign of stopping. And the Brad leather jacket with its double collar and multiple zips was another winner that pioneered a new language in leather jackets at the time. With the SuperDesignLab we can do more groundbreaking product, that gives a vision of a future Superdry. That’s important for longevity of the brand.
TB: What has the reaction from buyers been like?
JH: So far, the response to Superdry Sport has been unbelievable. We can be super extreme with the designs, especially with colours and branding. At a time when other labels are paring their branding back, the Superdry Sport line has allowed us to really go full-on with what Superdry is amazing at: colours, fabrics and insane levels of detailing. Graphics are splattered everywhere, but done in a tasteful way. It’s a unique sub-brand for which we have great expectations.
TB: Is Superdry Sport entirely new?
JH: It was launched for s/s 16 as a capsule collection within the mainline women’s collection, which followed with a men’s capsule collection a season later, and that’s been satisfying our traditional wholesale partners. But the Superdry Sport that has come out of the SuperDesignLab is now sitting completely on its own, and is a combination of the fantastic mainline Superdry Sport products blended with the SuperDesignLab styles, so that we can offer a 360-degree product offering with a diversity that has not been seen before in this segment. There are 420 different products across apparel and footwear split equally between genders.
Importantly, it will reach out to new customers, as well as existing fans of the Superdry brand, and price points remain in line with the main collection. You can definitely see the Superdry DNA running through it, but it’s a more extreme version of it.
TB: Is the intention to also have Superdry Sport standalone stores?
JH: In our larger grade A Superdry stores in the UK, such as London’s Regent Street shop, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff, there will initially be Superdry Sport shop-in-shops from this autumn/winter. You will walk in to a Superdry store and experience the usual feel, but then you will get to discover the high impact bright neon Sport section. Alongside that, we are also launching it as shop-in-shops with some UK retail partners, as well as across Europe, the Far East and the USA with more details to follow on that once each deal is finalised.
There are plans to launch Superdry Sport standalone stores in the UK going forward and Julian Dunkerton, my fellow Superdry founding partner, will be selecting the perfect locations. Julian and I are working extremely closely together, now that the SuperDesignLab has been created and he has been freed up to concentrate on new retail, and new product. In a way, this process has reunited and reignited us, and made us more focused than ever on the brand and its long-term relevance and success.
TB: Who’s the competition for this new area?
JH: It’s anyone from volume brands such as Nike and Adidas Originals, to more exclusive labels such as Sweaty Betty and Lululemon, but we’re so much more aggressively priced. We’re able to take absolutely banging classics from the Superdry portfolio, and give them the Sport design treatment. For example, there’s the Windsprinter, the Sports version of the windcheater which we think is going to be highly popular worldwide. There are technical elements in the line too, so there’s moisture wicking and anti-bacterial capabilities built in to certain fabrics. I’d say 50 per cent of the line has some sort of technical element to it, from the most extreme compression gear down to more classic gym wear.
But we’re not stupid; we know we are going to sell a lot of hoodies and jackets, and a lot of footwear. It’s the perfect balance. What you’ve got, when you look at the established players in the sports market, they do sportswear, whereas fashion people do fashion clothing. We’re smashing the two together for a completely new and unique offering, while capturing the whole sportswear trend that has emerged so strongly. It’s fitness meets fashion.
TB: What’s the footwear like?
JH: You could run a marathon in some of the trainers, but equally some of them are more suited for gym work and, of course, for the street. It’s cooler than the competition, and evolving quicker than the competition. And it’s between 30-50 per cent cheaper than the competition on top of that, so very aggressively priced at between £45-£65. It enables us to take modern sports shapes and get the elements of our clothing in to the shoes.
With Superdry, on products like plimsols and flipflops – easy grab items – we do absolutely fantastic business. With the new sports shoes, the quality is a good as the market leaders, because we’ve spent two years working on it and researching the best factories who can achieve class leading quality at accessible pricing. It’s the first time sports trainers have been a major part of our collection. There are 56 styles across men’s and women’s, evenly split across both.
TB: Who is Superdry Sport targeted at consumer-wise?
JH: As the mainline collection has grown up, I think we may have lost a little bit of the youth market. But this will definitely hit that 18-25 year-old market big time, especially with the photography and marketing, and with the slightly more modern cuts that we are doing. On the other hand, with the slightly older age group, we know they are more serious about a product’s technical capabilities, so there’s plenty for them here too. They were already buying in to Superdry in the athleisure market, but this is upping the game substantially.
TB: What’s the appeal of the more technical side?
JH: There’s a sub-brand within Superdry Sport collection, called Carbon, which is unbelievable. It’s £95 for a jacket which, for Superdry, seems quite a lot, but the competition for such a technical piece would be more like £250. So, we’re still taking that Superdry mentality of offering the best product on the planet – pound for pound by far. Everyone is getting fitter, and we’re now supplying the right kit for them. We’re very excited about it. We really saw a gap in the market, and now we’re out to get some of that market share.
I’m ferociously passionate about sport but, of course, primarily Julian and I are rag traders who can instinctively sense an opportunity. If you’re an entrepreneur, and you see a big gap in the market, you attack it.