Jack and Jones country director Rikke Dahl-Thorup launched the menswear brand in Australia just a few years ago. Here she shares the challenges of dealing with reverse seasonality, the importance of connecting with local customers and the changing skills of fashion retail professionals. Jack and Jones was founded in 1990 in Denmark. You helped launch Jack and Jones in Australia in this current role. It can be a challenge when you’re a new brand entering a new market. What was it like for you?
u? Bestseller is currently represented with seven of our 18 brands here in Australia. Our success in creating a healthy business is by ensuring we work close with partners. We bring a retail mindset to the wholesale environment, and our daily focus revolves around how our products are performing. With this knowledge, we can ensure strong and lasting partnerships. We call it a partnership because it goes beyond simply buying and selling. Navigating reverse seasonality, in a continent with so many varying climates, while offering on-trend European fashion is the key focus and challenge for all Bestseller brands in the market. It was really important that we flew the Australian flag at our head office in Denmark, as reverse seasonality affects many elements of the business; from buying and design, right through to our supply chain and marketing. Since launching, we now have a fully dedicated team in Denmark, working closely with us, developing collections in line with our specific market and climatic needs. The reaction to our Australian-focused collections has exceeded our expectations. Tell me about some of the other roles that you’ve held and the lessons that you learnt from them. Being Danish, and having held similar positions for the past 20 years internationally both in North America, Japan, and predominantly in Australia, I’ve been fortunate to represent global companies where one of my key priorities has always been how to take global strategies and align these with local requirements. This could sound pretty straight forward, however, in an ever-changing retail environment, the entire business has to be agile to ensure success. You need to always challenge yourself and the status quo. Something important that I’ve used and focused on throughout my career is the ability to navigate the complexities of working within a subsidiary, whilst bridging the business between a global setup and the local retailers. The key to success lies in how well the local team has been enabled to navigate within the dynamics of being in a small subsidiary more than 14,000km away from our head office. I always see cultural differences as an advantage, and it’s all about being global, but acting local. We also always strive to stay close to the needs and requirements of the end-consumer, in order for us to be the best partner for any retailer we work with. What are some of the interesting insights that you’ve gathered about customers and fashion since the pandemic? Looking back at the past 12 months, from bushfires to floods, pandemics and port strikes, Australia has been challenged on so many levels. This has forced us to sharpen our focus on understanding the needs and requirements both from partners and end consumers. As seen across most industries, purchasing online has been the biggest shift we’ve noticed. While our key wholesale partners were closed due to the lockdown, we saw sales across our various online marketplaces increase. Now that stores have reopened, our online sales have remained strong. In regards to bricks-and-mortar stores, we’ve also noticed a huge shift in where customers are purchasing. Traditionally, capital city centres had driven the majority of our sales, but with most offices still closed, we’ve seen a lift in people purchasing in regional areas. Of course, what customers are purchasing has changed too. When the pandemic first hit, we saw a decline in work and formalwear and an increase in more comfort and casual categories. What was most surprising was that sales remained somewhat buoyant during the pandemic. One theory could be that the decline in travel has allowed for more discretionary spend in categories like clothing and homewares. It is my strong belief that this pandemic will continue to change the face of traditional retail. How would you describe the denim landscape and how has it changed? Denim has always been a wardrobe staple, and who doesn’t look good in a pair of denim? We dress everybody in denim – kids, women and men. We’ve recently seen a lot of brands dip their toes into the denim category, however, it takes a lot to conquer the market. Jack and Jones was founded 30 years ago, and from small beginnings, we’ve evolved into one of Europe’s leading producers of menswear, strongly rooted in denim. Our jeans are made by using the finest craftsmanship, highest quality fabrics and production techniques. We’ve always stayed true to our jeanswear heritage, while continuing to grow and innovate. We speak the language and know the fit and above all, we believe that jeans are the most important item in anybody’s wardrobe. For us, jeans truly are your best friend, which is why every pair of ours will fit like a glove. With increased focus and our ongoing commitment to being more sustainable, we’ve developed initiatives like our Low Impact Denim collection. Through this, we have worked hard to get the following important things right: Choosing organic and recycled fibres;Saving water and energy with innovative fabric dyeing techniques;Reducing water and energy consumption and cutting out conventional bleaching agents during the finishing process. With these initiatives, we support more innovative methods of jeans manufacturing and help drive the denim industry towards a more sustainable future. How would you describe Australian men’s style compared to Europe? I think it’s a lot less different than compared to 10 years ago, mainly due to more international brands being introduced into the market. It’s simply become more affordable and accessible. Australians have also always looked to Scandinavia for inspiration – from architecture, right through to fashion. In general, the world is becoming ‘smaller’, from social media through to global online retailing, more international brands in Australia have allowed Australian men to be right in the midst of accessible international fashion and trends. What would you say are some of the new skills that fashion retailers now need to bring to the table, compared to five years ago? We now live in an ever-changing world and retailers need to be able to adapt quickly in order to succeed. Technology is now more important than ever and needs to be embraced in many forms – whether it’s buying from digital showrooms, to having RFID scanners in-store – so much technology has been developed to shorten supply chains, provide better customer service, buy smarter and sell more. Sustainability is also no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a must-have for all fashion retailers. At Bestseller, we want to accelerate fashion’s journey towards a sustainable reality. We aim to be climate positive, fair for all and circular by design, and want to take more action and enable greater progress, faster. In short, we want to give more than we take.