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How Pentland is stepping into Karen Millen's shoes

Karen Millen autumn 18

Pentland Brands brand director for fashion Nicola Mathews and Karen Millen CEO Beth Butterwick talk to Drapers about how the the footwear licensing deal between the two is developing.

In June 2018, womenswear brand Karen Millen announced a footwear licensing agreement with Pentland Brands. The licensee, which already runs the footwear offer for Lacoste, Butterfly Twists and until recently Ted Baker, is revamping and producing the womenswear brand’s footwear line. 

Drapers speaks to Karen Millen CEO Beth Butterwick and Pentland brand director for fashion Nicola Mathews about how the partnership is developing.   

Can you update us on Karen Millen’s debut footwear collection?

Nicola Mathews: We have been fast and furiously working on the first collection for autumn 19. The product will launch in store and online in July 2019. We’ve been working very closely with the Karen Millen team, and Beth has led an amazing brand piece to reacquaint us with the Karen Millen brand and all of the changes she has put in place.

Beth Butterwick: We have four key business growth leaders, and product and product extensions are number one. We’ve announced the footwear partnership with Pentland and a bag partnership with GBG. We’ll soon be announcing a swimwear tie-up and we have homeware ranges launching soon. For footwear we’re targeting wholesale stockists on the global premium-market level.

Pentland has come in with a very modern, pared-down, less glitzy handwriting that complements the way we’re going with our clothing

Beth Butterwick, Karen Millen

Our modern, global, working customer tells us that she wants us to be a lifestyle brand with lifestyle products. Having identified that, we’re going to the right partners to make sure we deliver it to the Karen Millen clothing design standard and execution.

How are the Karen Millen designs in clothing and footwear evolving?

BB: We recognise that our woman is now living her life and dressing in a different way. She still wants to be feminine, but she wants to be more relaxed and modern.

I’ve seen all the sketches of footwear and what I’m really delighted that it reflects that change. Pentland has come in with a very modern, pared-down, less glitzy handwriting that complements the way we’re going with our clothing.

NM: We are looking to sign off some of the footwear collection as early as October, and really offering a full repertoire. We’ll have a core collection to complement the Karen Millen brand, including boots, sandals and trainers. But we’ll also offer a choice on the basis that the Karen Millen woman leads a very busy lifestyle-led life.

How are you making sure the clothing and footwear offers will work in harmony?

BB: Karen Millen has dabbled with licensing in the past, but it had almost been as if we had external people creating ranges without any input or direction internally. Now we have someone in design overseeing all the licensing partnerships.

We have a head of design for licensing and she is the lynchpin between Tracey Stainer, our design director, and our licensed partners. She makes sure that we are updating them on our themes and looks, but also on any special details we want, such as the bags matching the footwear.

NM: At Pentland we pride ourselves on collaboration and really working with brands. For the brands we’ve built over the years it’s really been on the grounds of collaboration. It’s really about getting to the heart of the brand.

How are you protecting against the difficulties on the high street?

BB: I say to my team that uncertainty in the new norm – get used to it. It’s about having a purpose, making sure that purpose is relevant to your audience and having a plan, so you know what you need to execute and by when. The underlying theme is that you have to be agile, so you can correct along the way. When I think about my wish list of categories that I would have wanted to add to my business plan two years ago, that has changed.

Have a plan and know where you’re going but stay agile so you can correct.

NM: I’d echo that sentiment. We are a business that is strong on heritage and principles, one of which is agility. The agility to stay current is imperative to making sure we propel businesses and brands forward.

How are you planning for Brexit?

BB: We’re a global business, so we have to think about things like currency exchange, employment and moving stock around the world. Those are all the things we’re looking at to make sure that we have a business that is set up for the future.

The agility to stay current is imperative to making sure we propel businesses and brands forward

Nicola Matthews, Pentland Brands

I echo what [chief executive of Next] Lord Wolfson has said, in that we need to make sure that our business can function efficiently whether we have a clear deal, we’re in an interim process or we come out the other side. We have to make sure that business continues as usual.

What are your focuses for future growth?

BB: Aside from product, a key growth leader for us is digitalisation of the customer journey and creating an integrated shopping channel. We’re putting a lot of focus into how we can bring the physical and digital space together. Whether that’s through investment, the training of people or tools that support that.

NM: We’re looking a lot in innovation. It’s a word that is commonly used across the industry, but to be truly innovative we’re really trying to think outside the box. We have some really great things going on within Pentland, such as material labs [for developing new materials]. We’re looking at innovation everywhere, from digital to physical products.

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