LONDON — As the industry continues the debate on buy-now-wear-now collections and designers are in the midst of adapting their business models to the changing consumer demands, London-based designer Alexander Lewis is making a bold move to answer to the shifting landscape by quitting wholesale to become a direct-to-consumer business and launching a new e-commerce site to service his customers.
The site, which launches today, will stock the label’s fall collection — the last collection that will be sold at wholesale.
“The wholesale side of the business is not a very important part for us so we’ve decided to relinquish it entirely,” Lewis told WWD. “We had really great, strong accounts but there has always been something lacking in the relationship or my ability to actually have visibility on what’s happening with the end consumer. When you’re working with a retailer, you’re not getting very much feedback most of the time and that makes it very difficult.”
Lewis explained that wholesale only accounts for 20 percent of his business, while his private client business is constantly growing and the launch of the new web site will allow him to focus on capitalizing on this growth. In addition, Lewis said that by going straight to the consumer, the brand will be able to improve pricing and create better margins for the business while maintaining the same level of quality, as he plans to continue manufacturing everything in the U.K.
In the past, the brand was stocked in retailers including Avenue 32, Barneys New York and Club 21. Moving forward, the American-Brazilian designer said that he will focus on working with retailers on one-off collaborations and special projects.
Lewis has been thinking of alternative ways of presenting his collection since launching his namesake label in 2013. He started by only showing resort and pre-fall collections, which gave him an immediate point of difference; “What the industry needs is newness, sometime you need to break up the system,” he said.
The brand’s direct-to-consumer business seems to have grown organically, with customers often sending requests to purchase pieces from the collection via social media platforms.
“Previous to this web site, we did service a lot of new customers to us who just sent us a message over Facebook or Instagram asking to buy something and we’re usually able to facilitate that, even off-season, making something special for them,” said Lewis. “I think that it’s really going to open up a new client base that we have not been able to access ourselves previously.”
The web site will be integrated with content from the brand’s social media platforms. Its Instagram account — a visual diary of product, travel snapshots and behind-the-scenes imagery — has recently been converted to a business account, while the team also worked on building up its Pinterest account with visuals which range from backstage imagery to the designer’s favorite recipes and inspiration images, as well as Twitter, which will be used to communicate with customers and answer queries.
The designer also plans to launch a new Instagram account with user-generated content, adding another layer to its social strategy and further developing its relationship with its customer.
“I think it’s definitely a step towards building a lifestyle brand. We’re able to integrate these other elements of what the brand stands for — it’s not just about clothing,” added Lewis.
In order to further communicate the message of the brand, the new web site will also include an editorial section called “Stories” which will “profile women wearing Alexander Lewis, from various walks of life.”
The launch will feature five profiles of London-based women and new stories will roll out once a fortnight. Some of the women who are part of the project include Cressida Pollock, the chief executive of the English National Opera and Florence Kennedy, founder of the flower delivery company Petalon.
In addition, a “Treasures” sections will stock archival pieces as well as non-branded items from home decor to jewelry, sourced by Lewis during his travels.
When it comes to the site’s design, Lewis opted for a minimalistic aesthetic that allows the product to stand out.
“I considered what I would do if I were making a bricks-and-mortar store as a design directive and created a digital, simplified version I guess,” he said. “All the shots on the shopping pages are quite large so that you can really see the product. When we looked at websites of other small brands like myself, I thought that a lot of them try to put too much about the brand on the website, in my opinion. For me, this is a store and you’re there to shop. So we’re trying to make it feel like straight away you’re there to shop.”
While a bricks-and-mortar store definitely seems like the way to go as Lewis shifts his business to a B2C model, he plans on exploring the idea through trunk shows or pop-ups first. “I think that’s definitely a step in between that’s better suited to a lot of brands. The biggest access to customers is online and then after that, if you know you have a pocket of potential customers to go to them with product to buy, that’s the next step.”
Starting this month, Lewis will quit the official London Fashion Week calendar in favor of trunk shows hosted in New York, London and Paris for private clients, while imagery of new collections sold on the site will be released closer to the time the product is available to buy.
“We might be giving a month’s warning of what’s to come. What people will see is what will be available to purchase, there won’t be any superfluous product,” added the designers.
Last year, Matthew Williamson had also announced similar plans to shift his business online in order to focus on creating a lifestyle concept through the addition of new categories such as furniture and activewear. As part of the transition, Williamson closed his Mayfair flagship store and put his wholesale accounts on ice, with the exception of Net-a-porter.com.