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Wal-Mart/Asda Unveils George Collection

On Tuesday, Wal-Mart’s British subsidiary, Asda, plans to extend its George franchise with the launch of a classic, higher-priced George Collection.

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LONDON — Call it the mass market’s G-force.

On Tuesday, Wal-Mart’s British subsidiary, Asda, plans to add more fuel to the already-mighty George apparel business with the launch of George Collection, a higher-priced line that features classic styles and accessories, and is aimed at an 18- to 60-year-old demographic.

George Collection is the latest extension to the core fashion brand after fast-fashion, maternity, sports, ski, plus-size and petite collections. Andy Bond, the managing director of George and director of all of Asda’s nonfood business, called the new line a “big, business-driving” project.

In an exclusive interview, Bond said he expects George Collection to generate 20 percent of all George sales within the next two to three years. “We haven’t set any limits for this collection. But we consider it a big idea and expect it to be a major driver of the business.

“We’ve invested a lot of time in George Collection, and are very passionate about the line. And we don’t want to sell two or three garments. We want this to be a high-volume business.”

In 2002, sales of the George line were approximately $1.5 billion, or 8 percent of total Asda sales. The company declined to reveal sales projections for this year, but said like-for-like sales growth is in the double digits. Industry sources estimate George sales have been growing by 20 to 25 percent annually.

Asda currently ranks second in apparel sales in Britain after Marks & Spencer. In the two years prior to June 2003, the company increased its market share of the total U.K. clothing market to 3.1 percent from 2.6 percent, according to TNS, a British provider of market information. The most significant growth during that period was in women’s wear.

The new women’s and men’s line, priced roughly 15 percent more than George, will be sold in most of Asda’s 240 stores here, as well as in the first two stand-alone George units, which open on Sept. 15. As reported, George is readying a 12,000-square-foot store in Leeds and an 8,000-square-foot space in Croydon, a distant London suburb, as a one-year test.

“George Collection is a natural evolution of what we’re trying to do at Asda,” said Bond. “We want George to be an inclusive — rather than exclusive — brand. Our goal is to serve and satisfy everyone coming through the Asda door.”

He added that over the past three years, the number of regular Asda shoppers buying George-branded apparel and accessories has risen to 40 percent from 13 percent. And Bond’s goal remains to have every customer buy a George product, as well as his or her groceries. “It was obvious to us from customer feedback that we needed a more premium brand.”

With price points at $64 for a tailored, tobacco leather jacket, $103 for a gray wool trouser suit with contrasting top-stitching and $25 for a white cotton stretch wraparound blouse, Bond said George Collection will offer “stunning value” compared with U.K. competitors like Next and Marks & Spencer.

And while the prices may be competitive, the last place these clothes belong is on supermarket shelves. The dusky rose ruffle-front blouses, black drawstring sweaters, suede skirts and jackets could easily be sold through department stores on both sides of the Atlantic.

The new brand has its own logo, a pewter-toned, stylized G, which appears on labels, hangers and carrier bags. The print ad campaign was shot by Sean Cook and will run in the October issues of U.K. magazines including Marie Claire, Red, She, Hello, Loaded, FHM, Maxim and Esquire. The ads star Rosemary Ferguson — a friend of Kate Moss and Sadie Frost — and her twin brother, Ed Ferguson. The new campaign is the first print advertising that George has ever done.

George Collection is designed by the same fashion team as George, under the direction of design chief Kate Bostock. As reported in January, Asda opened a fashion studio — located across the street from its headquarters in Leeds — in order to streamline its design and production operations.

The new studio houses the design, pattern-cutting and sample-making operations and has enabled the company to cut its lead time by about two weeks. George’s fast-fashion collections take about seven to eight weeks to go from sketch to store, and appear every two weeks at Asda stores.

George Collection has approximately 60 pieces this season. It will be distributed in groups of 20 styles every six weeks.

The George line has been around for 13 years, although it’s been under the direction of Bond and Bostock for only the past three. The two have been the driving force behind the new lines and growth strategy.

Bond said it was too early to say whether George Collection would appear on Wal-Mart shelves in the U.S., although Wal-Mart continues to roll out other George products in its American stores. “We want to see if it works in our core market first. We’re taking the project one step at a time.”

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