Rachel Riley on her eponymous childrenswear label.
By Rebecca Jackson
18 April 2016
Rachel Riley’s eponymous children’s label seems to be going from strength to strength. After all, when you can count Madonna and Kate Middleton among your list of fans, it can’t all be bad. Following on from the brand’s recent industry recognition from parenting website My Baba, who awarded Rachel Riley Favourite Stand Gold Award in this season’s My Baba Bubble London Awards, now seemed like a good time to find out the company’s next moves. Rebecca Jackson speaks to Rachel Riley to learn more about her business model and classic label.
Rebecca Jackson: Bubble London’s online media partner awarded Rachel Riley Favourite Stand Gold Award in this season’s My Baba Bubble London Awards. What do you think caught their eye?
Rachel Riley: Winning the gold award was lovely recognition for the efforts our wholesale team had made to ensure our stand at Bubble looked different: maybe it was the gold glitter carpet and the gold frames around our a/w 16 lifestyle photography? Or maybe it was our ‘soldier’ who always seems to come out to trade shows with us, standing sentry and blowing his horn featuring our logo banner.
RJ: In terms of the collection itself, what did you present for a/w 16?
RR: The collection is based around winter prints and tartans, with themes such as migrating birds and squirrels on soft cotton flannels. I love tactile fabrics so there are plenty of these, with fake furs, damasks and soft intarsia knits. There is also hand smocking with kissing doves and winter red roses; our customers seem to appreciate the hand-work in our collection.
RJ: What is the company’s current market position?
RR: We are medium to high-end and perceived to be good value for money. We are proud of the quality of our fabrics and manufacturing and our clothing is designed to last and to be handed down to the next generation. Our dress prices range from £16 to £49 wholesale. In terms of brand adjacencies, our customers might also shop at Little White Company, John Lewis and Marie-Chantal.
RJ: How do you grow customer reach?
RR: Since we started, we have always grown through word of mouth, and there is nothing better than being recommended by a friend or relative who can talk about the quality of our products and the service. We’ve also been lucky enough to have press interest in our collections and our lifestyle photography. And as we have grown our wholesale business we have appointed agents in the UK, Ireland and USA.
RJ: How is the wholesale side of the business performing?
RR: We are very pleased with its progress and plan to appoint further agents for new territories soon. We have had a lot of media coverage in the past year or two, and that has been positive as it has created increased demand for both the seasonal collections and our Heritage collection, which is available for re-order year-round.
RJ: How many accounts do you have?
RR: We have approximately 120 stockists, and this includes large department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Seibu and Takashimaya in Japan and Harrods and Selfridges in London, as well as smaller independent shops in the UK and the USA and websites. We are hoping to increase the number of stockists with the appointment of agents, and we have also seen interest from other overseas markets.
RJ: Are there any new territories you’re targeting for accounts?
RR: At present, we are in discussions with overseas markets, but only time will tell if these are suitable. However, we have been pleased with Orchard Agency who we appointed in the UK recently for the south-east territory, and we plan to appoint new agents to cover the rest of Great Britain. For a/w 16 we’ve also started working with agent Nuala McKenna for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
RJ: Aside from wholesale, what other channels do you sell through?
RR: We have two of our own shops in central London. We also have websites in both the UK and USA, and sell to other e-commerce sites. Customers are very informed nowadays; they like the personal service of a shop, but also the practicality of ordering online.
RJ: Do you plan to open more standalone stores?
RR: We are pleased with the performance of the current shops and their growth trajectory, but it demands a great deal of time and attention and of course investment to run shops. So, at present, our strategy is to build our stockists through increasing our wholesale business. That said, I am a shopkeeper at heart, as both my grandparents had shops, so never say never.
RJ: How do you balance your own-store retail presence with the wholesale operation?
RR: I am a great believer that customers shop locally – especially those with small children because it is the most practical way. And, even though we have a shop in Knightsbridge, we also sell to Harrods, and still find that we can co-exist quite happily in proximity. If an independent has customers coming in, its customers will buy for their needs and wants, so having our own shops would not be a negative influence here. On the contrary, we always make sure that our independent stockists receive the collections first, and we do an attractive ‘welcome pack’ for them, too.
RJ: Kate Middleton is a fan of your brand – to what extent has this association helped sales?
RR: It has been delightful to see our outfits on Prince George and both personally and professionally I am honoured. He is a high-profile baby, so the media coverage has been extensive and international as the British Royal Family is very popular abroad. Of course, this has brought increased awareness of our company on an international scale as well as in the UK.
RJ: Do you feel the Prince George Effect has boosted demand for classic childrenswear?
RR: I am sure that classic children’s clothes are now ‘on-trend’ due to this influence, as this is the first time in 30 years that we have a new generation of Royal children. That said, I have always had an interest in what Royal children wore, as the history of children’s clothing is always inspirational: from Queen Victoria dressing her children in matching sailor suits to the smocked dresses that Princess Anne wore in the 50s, and the matching outfits that Prince William and Prince Harry wore in the 80s.
RJ: Are you a fan of social media for business?
RR: Yes, we like using social media as it is so instant. We have a business account for Instagram in both the UK and US, which follows the calendar of new season collections. Our customers often share photos of how sweet their little ones look in our clothing, so it is fun for us to share that. I also have a personal Instagram account: @rachelrileyglam, which is more design-led and inspirational.
RJ: Are there plans for any new product categories?
RR: Last year we did a collaboration with Start-rite shoes and the previous year we expanded the Heritage collection, which had been introduced the year before and proved to be so popular. We continue to add to the Heritage collection, so that is continually evolving, but we do not have any plans to introduce new ranges other than our seasonal collections.
RJ: What are the short and long-term plans for the business?
RR: We are pleased with our overall growth and will continue to expand wholesale both at home and abroad. We would also like to collaborate with overseas markets and will actively pursue this. We have invested in our websites for both retail and wholesale, so our buyers can view our ranges and place orders in both pounds sterling and US dollars, and we will continue to expand e-commerce actively.