Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Thomas Pink thinks women need more shirts.
The shirt and accessories retailer, which is 75 percent owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is on an aggressive international expansion program that involves a rollout of its freestanding women’s wear stores, planning eventually to open as many as 50 stores over the next three to five years.
The program is aimed at increasing Thomas Pink’s sales from its current $45 million a year to more than $75 million by 2005.
The company operates 26 stores worldwide, including three in the U.S. The remaining 25 percent of the company is still owned by its founders James, John and Peter Mullen, who are nonexecutive directors.
Women’s is still a tiny part of the business, with men’s shirts and accessories currently generating about 90 percent of sales. But that is changing.
“Women’s shirts could quickly become as big as our men’s business,” Des Swan, Thomas Pink’s managing director, said in an interview. “We are certainly looking at opening more freestanding women’s stores in the U.K. than men’s. Women’s could become a much stronger business on its own.”
The growth follows the opening of the 16-year-old company’s first freestanding women’s store on Sloane Street here in April. The 1,100-square-foot store is the first to carry primarily Thomas Pink’s women’s shirts and accessories with only a small selection of men’s products. Thomas Pink’s other stores, which range up to 6,200 square feet, generally devote about 25 percent of their space to the women’s line.
Swan said the new Sloane Street store is designed to be more welcoming to women, with a lighter look and shirts displayed on hangers as well as on shelves. The concept is being rolled out to the women’s shirts areas in Thomas Pink’s other stores.
“We changed the store look considerably with different lighting and display than the men’s stores,” Swan said. “We’ve also learned we need to be more innovative product-wise than in the men’s. Women want to wear shirts for more than just work, and they also want styles that no one else is wearing. It’s been a challenge to be so innovative so quickly because we haven’t been geared for that.”
Thomas Pink created a separate design team for its women’s wear last year to develop its collection. But it adhered to the same principles as those of its men’s wear — simplicity, affordability and quality.
The women’s line has about 17 shirt styles a season divided between businesswear, eveningwear, fashion and leisurewear. It also introduced a more fitted style to go along with its regular, more classic cut. The styles include shirt dresses and, for fall, shirts in suede, leather, cashmere and wool. Most of the styles are in solid colors, although Thomas Pink is adding some prints for spring 2001. The fabrics generally are sourced from Italy, while all the shirts are made in Ireland.
The collections are grouped by label, with Thomas Pink Black Label indicating regular cut, Pink Label for its more fitted shirts and Turquoise Label for a tailored style. The women’s shirts start at $78 retail in the U.K., Swan said.
Thomas Pink now sees the potential to open further freestanding women’s wear stores, although there are no firm plans to do so. This would enable the brand to enter some secondary cities too small for a 2,500-square-foot store carrying both women’s and men’s wear. Swan believes a freestanding women’s store in the U.S. also is likely at some stage.
“Nothing is being ruled out,” he insisted
The freestanding women’s stores form part of Thomas Pink’s program to open up to 50 stores worldwide over the next few years. The plan includes about 25 stores in the U.S. and a similar number, or more, in Europe and the Far East. In the U.S., the company will open a store in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., this month; one in the World Trade Center in New York in September; and one in Boston in November. Other cities it is eyeing include Chicago, Dallas and Houston.
In Europe it currently operates stores in Paris and Brussels and will open one in Frankfurt in spring 2001. Other cities it is considering include Geneva, Madrid, Barcelona, and Dublin, as well as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester in the U.K. “Those stores will be mainly men’s but there is no reason we couldn’t eventually add freestanding women’s wear stores as well,” Swan said.
The main push over the next year or 18 months, though, will be the Far East where Thomas Pink hopes to open its first freestanding store next fall. Prior to that, it will link up with another LVMH subsidiary, DFS, to open a store in one of the DFS areas in a Far Eastern airport in spring 2001. It also may open shops in Far Eastern department stores.
“We’ve generally shied away from department stores, especially in the U.S., because they tend to be discount driven,” Swan said. “Our product tends to be a classic product and isn’t really seasonal. We plan to do our current strategy for the next four or five years, and then we might do women’s wear as a concession [leased department] within department stores in the U.K.”
Thomas Pink currently has a men’s leased department in Selfridges in London and would consider opening a similar one on the department store’s women’s wear floor, Swan said.
The one thing Thomas Pink has no plans to do is expand much beyond its core shirts category. It currently does a few accessories — such as ties, wallets, cuff links, diaries, key chains and a handbag — and it will introduce a woman’s watch for fall. But it expects to get about 90 percent of its sales from shirts for at least the next five or six years, Swan said. This is despite the involvement of accessories king LVMH, which acquired its stake in Thomas Pink in September through its LV Capital arm for an estimated $65 million.
“LVMH likes what we do, and it wants us to stay narrow and focused,” Swan said. “We’re a shirt specialist, and we want to do them better than anyone else.”

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