Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton has never lacked confidence. But even by his standards, the scale of the ambition represented by the clothing firm’s giant new megastore on Oxford Street is surprising.
Just days ago the store opened to the sounds of pumping music, Superdry-label gin, new brand ambassador Brooklyn Beckham and hundreds of social media influencers – all to lift Superdry back into the hearts and wardrobes of Britain’s youngest fashionistas, and keep it there.
‘I don’t think anyone has done something like this since the original Abercrombie & Fitch store in New York,’ enthuses Dunkerton, referring to a place that gained worldwide notoriety for looking and sounding more like a nightclub than a shop. ‘I think this is of that scale,’ he says.
Challenge: Julian Dunkerton in the Oxford Street Superdry megastore, David Beckham and, left, Brooklyn
A stone’s throw from Selfridges, the new Superdry shop is now the first thing you see when exiting London’s Bond Street station.
Adorned inside with dark wooden timbers, antique furniture, funky music and stocked to the rafters with an intriguingly broad range of products, the store is an ode to where Dunkerton wants the brand to be right now and in the future. ‘You’ll see by the time you’ve finished in here, that man likes some product!’ he says, referring to the vast ranges of organic cotton T-shirts, sweat shirts and coats as we whizz through the store’s mini-departments.
‘This is a company that stopped looking forwards, stopped realising that trends change,’ he says. He pauses to look me in the eye. We both know he’s harking back to a time when he himself was absent from Superdry – forced out only to exact a coup and muscle his way back into the boardroom in 2019.
He continues: ‘But we’re brilliant at capitalising on those trends.
‘Miniskirts – finally we are communicating to 15, 16, 17-year-olds, which we haven’t done for a long time. Flared denim – eight out of ten of our best-selling jeans are flares. Superlong jackets – we are the masters of jackets and outerwear, no one has conquered that market like we have.’
Dunkerton, known to his friends as Jules, stepped down from the board in March 2018 citing ‘other demands on his time’. But as the brand’s appeal waned, the share price dropped to a quarter of its one-time £20 value.
Dunkerton, 56, lost his patience, re-emerging later that year to take aim at what he described as the board’s ‘misguided strategy’ in reducing product ranges. It wasn’t the only time he hit the headlines during the period. In August 2018, he got hitched to Jade Holland Cooper, a designer two decades his junior – with whom he now has a baby daughter. It later emerged that his former wife (also the mother of his two older children) was dating Holland Cooper’s ex-boyfriend.
One of the criticisms levelled at Dunkerton before his departure in 2018 was having too many different types and styles of clothes. But, Covid disruption now hopefully behind us, he seems to be turning his obsession with big Superdry ranges into a strategic virtue.
He says: ‘What you’ll see in here is that there is so much product, so many different ways of wearing Superdry, it becomes your own personal journey. It’s about your interpretation of Superdry which could be completely different to someone else’s.’ He says the brand – which some say lost some of its appeal because ‘too many dads’ had begun wearing it – is now surfing across demographics again.
The company is working with more than 1,500 influencers compared with ‘zero’ just 18 months ago, Dunkerton says.
The whole basement floor is a large showroom – and bar – closed to the public and instead dedicated to hosting the Instagram stars.
On the ground floor, the vast array of brightly coloured sweaters and T-shirts gives way to a smarter, more sophisticated department at the back called ‘The Studio’, where the Superdry logo on one coat is shrunk to the size of a brass button.
‘Superdry’s skill is changing the branding to suit the product, when most brands put the same logo on everything,’ Dunkerton says. ‘There’s a part of society that always wants to show they’ve bought into a particular brand. A statement of who they are. [There’s another part who] prefer branded clothes, but in a sensible way that really sits with the product,’ he says pointing to the myriad styles of new logos.
Upstairs, customers can select from vintage Superdry tops like those worn by David Beckham nearly 20 years ago – a marketing wheeze that undoubtedly contributed to the brand’s early success.
It’s an obvious connection with the arrival of Beckham’s son, Brooklyn, as a brand ambassador. In a sign of how seriously Dunkerton is taking the Superdry revitalisation, Beckham junior is being paid £1million while his dad reputedly earned nothing.
Elsewhere, a ‘Vintage Nike’ shop with hundreds of items will help reconnect with fast fashion-averse teenagers, Dunkerton says. As will a drive to green clothing that began in 2014. Half of Superdry’s clothes are now ‘sustainable’ fabrics from recycled bottles to organic cotton – a figure to put most fast fashion and high street chains to shame.
Any turnaround will not come quickly enough for long-term shareholders. They watched the £20 share price drop to a quarter in just 12 months by early 2019. It is still only £2.95 today.
Dunkerton reels off names of executives he’s brought in to help from rival clothing retailers, adding: ‘This isn’t just the Jules show. But the clothing business is a business of confidence and you need to know what data to look for to make the right decisions. There are certain people who love this industry and are really good at it – and I’m lucky because I’m one of them.’
So what’s the goal?
‘The first stage is to catch up. The next is to take it way beyond where we ever were before. Now we’re talking to multiple more demographics, the prize is much bigger. There is no limit. Are we big in the US? No, we’re not. Are we big in China? No, we’re not.’
‘We as a group believe our ability to take over where we were [valued at £872million at its peak in 2019] is clearly in view.
‘So one would expect us to way exceed that number.’
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