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There’s a lot going on at Zone Two, the UK distributors for Scotch & Soda and Samsoe & Samsoe and head agency for Eastpak. Now in bed with US footwear giants Wolverine, Zone Two is heading up UK distribution for Wolverine-owned Sperry and Pro-Keds, as well as taking on the likes of Joe’s Jeans from LA, K-Way, EFM and Esemplare. Tom Bottomley finds out more from sales and marketing director Chris Akrimi.

There’s a certain hunger at UK distributors Zone Two to grow the business and offer up a one-stop shop of desirable fashion across all categories – menswear, womenswear, childrenswear, footwear and accessories.

With a strong anchor brand in Scotch & Soda continuing to be a reliable performer and maintain its organic growth, along with Samsoe & Samsoe going from strength to strength and Easkpak being another heavyweight when it comes to sales-led impact, the scene is set. Zone Two can now take its business to another level at its 14,000 square foot premises at 26 Westland Place in Shoreditch.

Zone Two’s sales and marketing director, Chris Akrimi, says: “Since the successful launch of Scotch & Soda and Samsoe & Samsoe, Zone Two has seen significant acceleration over the last few years, and 2017 is gearing up to be one of our most significant growth phases to date as we take responsibility for a number of new brand-led introductions to our stable.” These include premium LA denim brand Joe’s Jeans, footwear brands Sperry and Pro-Keds, heritage outerwear brand K-Way, and premium outerwear brands EFM and Esemplare. As part of Zone Two’s brand development strategy, they have also invested in significant new showroom space, taking the company’s purpose built showroom and offices in Shoreditch from 10,000 sq ft to 14,000 sq ft. It will mean more new showroom space to house the new brands, as well as existing names that also include Psycho Bunny and King & Tuckfield.

Akrimi says that the strategy is to grow the branded offer whilst avoiding crossover. “Each of the new brands which we have taken on provides clear distinction in the market, giving Zone Two the opportunity to grow without cannibalising existing sales. Also, all of these companies are part of much bigger organisations, each with robust logistics, marketing, branding and retail teams, which goes some significant way in supporting our growth ambitions.”

“There is a feeling out there that although there is this whole sport-lux and technical look going on, there is also a shift back to more heritage and vintage-inspired looks.”

Scotch & Soda currently operates four stores in London, while K-Way will open a new UK store in early 2017. Additionally, both Samsoe & Samsoe and Eastpak are actively looking for London store locations, and Zone Two will be involved in securing and operating these stores. To satisfy the growth of its business, Zone Two is also expanding its team members. It currently has a team of 50, which will grow to 60 over the next 12 months.

Footwear was one key area that Zone Two was keen to bring in to its business, so when the opportunity came up to work with Boston-based brand powerhouse Wolverine, it was hotly pursued. Pro-Keds and Sperry are, after all, two massive US brands with abundance of heritage. Says Akrimi: “There is a feeling out there that although there is this whole sport-lux and technical look going on, there is also a shift back to more heritage and vintage-inspired looks. From our point of view, Pro-Keds, which made the original ‘chukka’ basketball boots – even before Converse – fits in with this resurgence. Even Lanvin showed original plimsoll-type shoes in their most recent catwalk show.”

The game-plan for Zone Two now is for them to be a distributor that retailers can go to and spend all day buying across several different brands and product categories. “In the future, the sartorial look will come back and we will also be on the lookout to have a tailoring offer,” says Akrimi.

With the EFM (Engineered for Motion) brand, the connection for Akrimi goes back to his days at Fashion Marketing. As sales director there he launched Mastrum in the UK, a brand designed by one Donrad Duncan (who was previously the designer of Victorinox also in the Fashion Marketing stable), who left Mastrum to set up EFM. “There’s an old connection there, says,” Akrimi. “With Mastrum I got Donrad involved with Lorenzo Osti to look at the Masimo Osti archive for design inspiration. We took that from zero to about 60 accounts in the UK within a two-year period.” EFM is only just in its second season, and a/w 17 will be its main introduction to the market. Akrimi is expecting good things to happen with that.

 

Left: Eng for Motion. Right: Chris Akrimi

 

Esemplare from Italy is another welcome addition to the Zone Two portfolio. “I think there’s a void in the marketplace,” offers Akrimi. “The UK landscape is very outerwear driven, with the likes of Stone Island, C.P. Company, Canada Goose and Moncler having a strong foothold in the UK. So technical outerwear and sportswear has, for a long time, been in the DNA of the UK market. Esemplare, as well as EFM, are our new offers to the marketplace in this sector.”

Esemplare is owned by Italian group Pattern SRL, which makes for brands including Tom Ford, Burberry and Nike ACG. “It’s top-end manufacturing, made in Italy and it’s all premium, sartorial and technical outerwear and high-end sportswear,” comments Akrimi. Previously Esemplare was selling to UK accounts (only 10 so far) directly via trade shows. It was one such account, Woods in Maidstone, that recommended Zone Two take it on for the UK. “The one thing was it was very unbranded, so we have changed that for the UK market for a/w 17 so it will appeal to that UK ‘urban insider’ kind of consumer. The kind of guy who goes to the football, and those who can appreciate a well put together technical garment.” Akrimi describes EFM as “more sport-lux,” whereas Esemplare is “more sophisticated, tailored outerwear.”

Dipping in to the denim market for Zone Two comes LA brand Joe’s Jeans. Initially it will be much more of a push with the women’s offer, though the men’s denim will also be available. It’s not been in the UK market for a couple of years, so effectively it’s a clean slate for Zone Two to target key accounts. As part of the LA premium denim scene, Joe’s Jeans are available in all the major department stores in the US.

Big advertising and marketing campaigns have certainly helped to elevate the brand’s status, with top American model Bella Hadid currently fronting the campaigns. “There is actually a big investment to now develop the menswear as well,” states Akrimi. “Another year down the line and we will start to properly establish the men’s collection too. It will appeal to a more sophisticated customer, probably more in the 25-45 year-old consumer range.”

The other interesting new addition to the Zone Two portfolio is Paris-founded but now Italian owned K-Way, famous for its cagoules. Up until now, there have only been different variations of the cagoules available to buy in the UK, with stockists including Selfridges and Oi Polloi. But, having visited the brand’s Italian HQ, Akrimi says the collection is actually much bigger. “The reality is, the collection has almost 350 pieces. It’s a huge full-blown collection, with polo shirts, T-shirts, shearling pieces, technical outerwear, skiwear and so on. That’s how they sell in the French market, which is their number one market, and in Italy, their number two market. But none of that has ever been exposed to the UK market.” Zone Two could be on to another winner there then. K-Way already has 40 existing UK accounts, but this will give them the ammunition to grow that strong base considerably – and in much greater depth.

Akrimi views UK retailers as pivotal in telling the story of the brands they carry. He says: “There is no doubt the internet has a significant role to play when it comes to convenience-led shopping. However, there is no comparison to traditional bricks-and-mortar for the immersive, service-led approach to presenting fashion. A big part of our business is storytelling, and there are no better tellers of stories than best-of-breed stores which, at their best, create the most seductive backdrops from which we can present our collections.” Zone Two certainly now has plenty of those to show for a/w 17 and beyond.

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