Kim Winser's Style Agenda

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Kim Winser's Style Agenda

Kim Winser's Style Agenda

You had an illustrious career in the fashion industry before launching Winser London in 2013. Did you always harbour a desire to create your own label?

I started my career as a Management Trainee at Marks and Spencer, and was proud to become the retailer’s youngest and first female director, before going on to become CEO of British heritage brands Aquascutum and Pringle of Scotland, overseeing their regeneration. I also worked as an advisor to Natalie Massenet at net-a-porter and as a consultant to a variety of small independent labels.

Over many years, I made some incredible contacts – designers, pattern cutters, manufacturers and more – and learned about sourcing, manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing across the spectrum, from High Street to international designer labels. I realised, as I watched the rise of fast fashion and the digital world, then the fallout of the economic crash of 2008, that these were shaping the future of the industry. It was then that I decided to put all my experience and knowledge into a new style of business.

What was your original vision for Winser London?

I wanted to bring the quality, style and fit of luxury fashion to women, streamlining the supply chain to sell direct to customers online, without the ‘middle men’ and inflated prices of designer labels.

My aim was to produce flattering, comfortable, beautifully-made clothes that would be loved and cherished and build women’s confidence. The goal was that the collection would literally be collected over time, not replaced, building a versatile and enduring wardrobe that worked as hard as the women wearing it.

Everything is designed to be comfortable for busy lifestyles and to travel well - whether that’s on the morning commute, moving around a series of business meetings or flying abroad – using stretch fabrics that don’t crease and fibres that recover well from creasing.

I was keen to bring together some of the best talent in the business, without being tied to those who lived in or near London. I don’t need to see people in an office or have them working fixed hours: I trust the people I employ to do what they need to do, and I’m flexible about how that works. So, from the word go, I had people working remotely, across the UK and Europe, and we  get the job done, regardless of location.

March 2021 marks the eighth anniversary of Winser London’s launch. Can you tell us how the label has evolved and how you envisage it moving forward?

Fundamentally, we have remained true to my original vision, building a core collection of well-cut modern workwear and off duty staples in luxurious fabrics that women love and want to wear again and again. A huge proportion of our customers are career women in different phases of their working life, some participating in small team meetings, others at international board level or running their own businesses. Some are formal dressers, others have a more relaxed style, but their wardrobe needs are similar: they want to feel fabulously comfortable, look stylish and know that their clothes are a business asset that isn’t going to let them down. All of that is empowering and confidence-building.

Part of my vision for Winser London was to partner with some of the amazing, talented and successful ladies that I admire in different fields. Our special Design Director, Jayne Cady, has collaborated with supermodel Yasmin Le Bon and Golden Globe-winning actress Gillian Anderson to realise their unique personalities and sense of style in signature capsule collections. And watch this space - we’re about to launch another exciting partnership that will add a different dynamic to the world of Winser.

Tell us about the new Limited Edition Circular Fashion Collection

Our collections are always designed to be forever clothes and from the outset, I had sustainability in mind when I built the Winser London brand. We sourced premium yarns and fabrics and had the garments manufactured in factories near to the mills, reducing the carbon footprint and the costs of production, creating a saving to pass on to the women who would buy them.

Like all businesses across different sectors, we are always learning about environmental impact and how things can be done better. Over the years, I’ve seen that in the clothing business, there is a lot of wastage: collections are sampled in small quantities, but materials aren’t used if designs don’t go into production.

During the pandemic, we decided that we needed to be pro-actively working towards a circular economy, tackling wastage head-on. So, we are now using some of those premium quality surplus yarns and fabrics to make a limited-edition collection of special pieces for summer 2021. Our design team has sourced lengths of beautiful, recycled cashmere, sustainable merino wool, crisp cottons and sumptuous silks, and created some stunning pieces that I know our customers will love.

We will continue to look at what’s available for us to work with and hope this ‘Circular Fashion’ range will be an ongoing part of the business, ensuring we curate the best unused fabrics and yarns and bring them our customers in the signature Winser London style.

What impact did the pandemic have on Winser London?

In an operational sense, we were reasonably well equipped to deal with lockdown, because we are a digital-first, e-commerce business, without lots of bricks-and-mortar stores, and our we were used to remote working. However, there were still enormous challenges to overcome, and we needed to be agile and creative, not least because many of our customers come to us for work clothes and they weren’t going into to the office.

My team has always had a familial feel to it and I’m proud of the respect we all have for each other and the way we support each other. At the start of the pandemic, we came together (virtually, of course!) and everyone was unanimous in saying if we don't make it, it won't be for lack of imagination, energy, or determination. We brainstormed ideas and early on, we hid Easter bunnies on the website with surprise gifts for customers then we hosted a sell-out designer sample sale online.

The events of the last year have accelerated changes in society and have prompted lots of people to think more carefully about how they want to live, work and shop and what their values are as members of the global community. We are a business run by women for women and have always supported female-focused charities, but during the pandemic we wanted to do more for our customers and in the communities on our doorstep. We did a fun advent calendar, with a different initiative every day in December, offering discounts or gifts with purchases and the chance for people to nominate key workers to receive treat packages. It was immensely popular and we received incredible feedback.

Many women have either had enough of the corporate world or want to reap the rewards of their hard work for themselves, doing things on their terms. Or they have reached a crossroads in life, perhaps their children have flown the nest and they are ready for a new challenge. Sometimes they have an idea they have always wanted to implement but haven’t had the energy or resources to do it.

I would say that you always need to talk to someone who will challenge your thinking: not a friend or family member, but other business people and people in your target market who can be honest about the potential for your concept. Researching the market is vital: look at your competition, find data about demographics and growth. There are lots of enterprises dedicated to supporting start-ups with this, offering feedback and guidance: some are free, so it’s worth exploring what’s available. I would say around three quarters of start-ups fail, but there’s a lot you can do to optimise your chances of success, and lots of people don’t do the basics. It’s important not to be under the illusion you’re going to make a fortune: the reality of a start up is that it’s hard work and requires long hours and you can go for a long time without a salary. Use your network and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from people who you respect.

How would you describe your personal style and what are the key go-to pieces in your wardrobe?

I live in the Audrey sweater, and have it in multiple colours. I love that alluring wide neckline, which is extremely flattering, and it’s a shape that works well with wide legged trousers or narrower pants. I wear navy and black most frequently, but I love a pop of colour, say a turquoise Audrey with white capris. When I travel, I often have the matching wrap, which is great for an air-conditioned office, on planes or when the temperature drops in the evening. The Lauren rib sweater is set to become a personal favourite too: it’s great for country walks and Zoom calls alike.

I also love our classic silk tunic shirt and the bow silk shirt, but I tend to leave the ties loose: our silks are the most luxurious, tactile weave, with elastane, so they drape beautifully, barely crease and you can move freely in them. I’ve also nabbed one of our Limited Edition oversized cotton shirts with deep cuffs, made from surplus fabric stock. It’s very chic silhouette and a great way to add to your wardrobe with a clear conscience.

I’m tall and tend to be a trouser wearer and have a variety of styles I dress up or down: the Winser leggings, the jersey Miracle legging, and the Winser Classic wide leg trousers. Finally, the chic edge-to-edge Milano knitted coat is a very versatile piece that can make you feel dressed in an instant, without the formality of some tailoring.

You previously travelled extensively on buying and business trips, for Winser London, and as a board member at Peninsula Hotels. How have you spent your time at home during the pandemic?

I miss travelling but I live in the countryside outside London, and I have loved that sense of space and solitude, having the peace to think. Walking with my lovely Springer Spaniel is a favourite pastime: I often leave the phone at home, enjoying the headspace that being outdoors offers.

I’m not a gardener, but I love beautiful gardens and I really enjoy being in mine, especially when I can have friends round and enjoy drinks, conversation, and laughter in the sunshine. It will be a joy to be able to do that again.

I used to play a lot of tennis and have always loved sport. These days, I use my rowing machine and when I can, swimming in an outdoor pool is an invigorating way to start the day in the warmer months. As a spectator, I like watching Formula 1, cricket, rugby, and tennis – preferably live at the venue, so I’m hoping that will resume soon. I find cooking extremely relaxing and relish having some time to potter in the kitchen, with some music on. I think one of my biggest indulgences is a few hours in a spa, having a facial or a massage, and I really miss that - in an ideal world I would do that once a week.

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