LONDON — Simply Be, the British curve and plus-size clothing label, is gearing up to reposition itself in the U.S. market as it aims to reach a new audience.
The retailer, which has been operating as a catalogue business in the U.S. for more than 6 years, is set to become a digital-first brand with a new logo, a strong focus on social media marketing, influencer partnerships and new, trend-driven capsule ranges.
The company has shifted gears after acknowledging that it needed to service the younger demographic in a more targeted way, particularly in the U.S., which presents a big, untapped opportunity, partly because of the size of the market.
“Given the wide ranges of sizes we cater for, there’s a massive market potential there,” said Richard Clark, international director at the N Brown Group, which owns Simply Be. He added that the company’s goal is to create a brand that feels modern and relevant, and addresses a different market from the one that established fast fashion retailers such as Boohoo.com or Forever21 are after.
The rebranding also comes in response to a bigger, industry-wide shift in attitude and a new focus on diversity: “The macro-landscape has changed and this feels like the right time for us. We don’t have to push it quite as much, as the world is almost demanding it now. It’s not just down to size, it’s about age and ethnicity too. Everyone deserves to be recognized for who they are, and given the confidence and empowerment to be who they want to be,” added Clark.
The label has been listening to customers and influencers in the plus-size arena: “We spoke to every key influencer in the market, as well as very well known models and social media stars. Everybody agreed that they wanted to be able to walk down the street and have people stop them and ask them what they’re wearing – rather than fading into the background,” said Rich Storer, Simply Be’s vice president of marketing in the Americas.
He also pointed to the need for more fashion-forward capsules and advertising imagery in the market. “Customers want to see more relevant fashion, not necessarily younger fashion. For the most part, no one’s offering a current or trend-led standpoint, as a brand, or shooting interesting images that feel editorial.”
The company is marking its relaunch with a new athleisure range that will be exclusive to the U.S. market, and a series of campaigns spotlighting the new range and the spring 2018 swimwear collections.
“I would be stretching it if I said it was almost a crowdsourcing range, but it does have that feel because it was the result of asking people what they are looking for. We would have never thought of introducing a crop top, but by talking to influencers we realized that that’s what we were missing,” added Clark.
The range features fitted crop tops and bodysuits designed to hug curves, sweatpants with big side slits and jersey miniskirts. The new swimwear collections feature a wide range of bikinis and one-pieces in bold colors and playful prints, such as a leopard-print bikini or a bright red one-piece with gold hardware.
The accompanying campaigns feature “size agnostic women” including Sarina Nowak, Natalie Nootenboom and La’Tecia Thomas, who have been shaking up the plus-size market and who are known for their major social media followings.
Storer stressed that in choosing these women he was looking for real partners able to provide feedback on the collections, work with the brand on collaborations and test product out on their social channels.
“I need to feel that they’re connected to the market and the people who are following them. We can get any model to be the face of our brand, what we want is an opinion,” he added pointing to Thomas’ one million Instagram followers, her diverse background (she’s half-Indian and half-Australian) and her commitment to fighting for body confidence and inspiring her community.
The brand has also been gaining traction for its contribution to the conversation around body confidence. Earlier this year it staged a protest outside London Fashion Week where model Hayley Hasselhoff, daughter of the actor David Hasselhoff, and 8 other female protesters stood outside 180 Strand – the British Fashion Council show venue – wearing Simply Be lingerie and holding plaques that read “Love Your Curves” or “Curves Shouldn’t Mean Compromise.”
“The intention, as always with us as a brand, is to highlight things that are under-serviced and not talked about,” said Storer. “The campaigns that we will shoot going forwards will always be diverse in everything from size to ethnicity and background. We always want to support the conversation around the size debate. How political and involved we get would be on a case-by-case basis. If we can empower people through clothing and the way that we portray our brand, that is enough.”
In a further bid to service the younger demographic in the plus-size market, Simply Be is also renewing its focus on e-commerce and social media: It has worked towards increasing its speed of deliveries in the U.S. to under a week, introducing more newness through monthly, category-specific campaigns and focusing on digital content via its new blog, as well as shoppable videos and campaigns.
“The women we are targeting at the moment want to consume brands differently. They always want now, new, next and they want to see what’s happening,” said Storer.
The company also said it has invested more than 100 million pounds in the last few years to build the technology for its site and to enhance its product offering, which ranges from U.S. sizes 6 to 32. Prices for its latest ranges vary from $11 for a T-shirt to $115 for a midi dress.
Brick-and-mortar stores are not on the roadmap for the company. Instead, the focus is on hosting pop-ups across the country and using the storefront of its new Manhattan headquarters – the location has yet to be confirmed – to create an experiential environment.
“The advantage of working digitally is being able to ensure that we can move stock quickly. If we had to hold stock in retail stores, our structure would probably gain a whole new dimension that we don’t need,” said Clark, adding that the company wants to leverage its showroom space, allowing customers to get a feel for the brand by displaying their latest collections for customers to try on and place the order digitally. Simple Be also wants to create fun experiences, like tapping influencers to be their shop-girls for the day.
“I call it an experiential billboard. It’s there to generate awareness, let people touch and feel the clothes. If you make a sale that’s a bonus but it’s not the purpose. The purpose is to show customers who we are, for them to feel the buzz of entering out world,” added Clark.
Following on from the U.S. relaunch, an international roll out is also in the works in markets such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as strategic retail partnerships to enable the company to penetrate the markets it’s not ready to fully invest in.