Sunspel’s CEO on telling new stories as a heritage brand

Despite its rich heritage, luxury fashion brand Sunspel is eager to tell more modern stories to keep its customers coming back.

Sunspel

Sunspel has a rich heritage as a brand, but you might not know it. Despite being founded in 1860, the luxury British clothing brand only opened its first shop six years ago. Before that it was purely a wholesale brand.

It was owned by the Hill family until 2005, when it was sold to Nicholas Brooke and Dominic Hazlehurst. Brooke has been Sunspel’s CEO since the time of the acquisition at which point he recognised there was a large job to do in terms of brand building. As a result, he decided to kick-start a process of modernisation.

“Unlike other retailers, we started building our brand on the internet. We knew the brand of the future was going to be a digital brand. As time went on, however, we felt we needed a physical space to fully represent the brand and opened a few shops – but not too many of them,” he tells Marketing Week.

Even though Brooke says he works “incredibly” closely with the marketing team, he admits the brand is very selective of the channels it uses and doesn’t do a large amount of above-the-line marketing. Sunspel largely relies on PR, digital marketing, targeted magazine advertising and word-of-mouth.

“We’re too small to be doing expensive marketing. What makes us different as a brand is that we are not trying to raise overall awareness among a vast number of people – whatever we do, we are targeted,” he explains.

Besides building up its digital business, Brooke also put a bigger focus on storytelling. Even though the brand has a long history, Sunspel prefers to focus on a different story.

“We are a heritage brand but at the same time there are a lot of other brands that pretend to have that or present a heritage feel. We could have done that, but that’s not what makes us different as a brand – we use incredible fabrics and have become famous for certain products like the polo shirt or boxer shorts,” he says.

While other brands focus solely on one story, we are always creating new stories around the brand. That is central to our marketing strategy.

Nicholas Brooke, Sunspel

Sunspel is also keen to ensure it stays modern and relevant by constantly finding new stories to shout about.

“Whether it’s developing new products or using organic cottons, there are always interesting developments to tell stories about. It’s what sets us apart. While other brands focus solely on one story, we are always creating new stories around the brand. That is central to our marketing strategy,” he says.

To stay ahead of other emerging fashion brands, Sunspel likes partnering with other companies and prominent individuals within the fashion world. For example, in 2008 it teamed up with fashion designer JW Anderson to cast his influence over the brand.

“With any partnership we look at whether they fit in with our values as a brand. For example, we would be interested in working with another brand that has a really interesting story to tell around fabric. But we’ve also collaborated with a pottery in St. Ives, whose products we’ve presented in our shops,” he says.

Going into 2017, Brooke seems bullish about the future. Sunspel has big plans for branching out, setting its sights firmly on Japan as part of a global drive after opening three stores in the country last year.

He concludes: “It’s important for us as a brand to not only cherish our heritage but to be a contemporary, outward looking and international company. It’s going to be an exciting year for us.”

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