Daniele Sismondi, founder of the luxury childrenswear agency Brand Stable, discusses his business plans and views on the UK childrenswear market.
Laura Turner: What’s the story behind Brand Stable’s creation?
Daniele Sismondi: I launched Brand Stable in 2010, at a time when many fashion houses where launching their kids’ collections and it was apparent there was an opportunity in the UK market for a high-end, designer childrenswear wholesale agency.
Brand Stable started out life with a portfolio of denim brands, including Miss Sixty and Guess kids, before attracting more sophisticated labels such as Simonetta, Fendi and Versace Kids. It now has a portfolio of over 15 international brands.
LT: What experience did you have in the fashion field prior to launching Brand Stable?
DS: After completing a degree in international business at London’s Brunel University, I started working as a sales assistant in Harrods before going on briefly to gain experience in womenswear at Caractere.
It was 2002 that I joined CWF and obtained first-hand experience of dealing with the best, most vast portfolio of childrenswear clients. Through selling brands like Timberland, Burberry and Kenzo kids, I established strong relationships with the buyers of the major UK department stores, including Harrods, Selfridges and Brown Thomas, as well as key independent retailers like Childrensalon, Kids Cavern, plus many more. Relationships with this clientele grew stronger in 2004 when I joined Miss Sixty for its kidswear launch, which was the fastest-growing and biggest girls’ brand of that time. After six years at Miss Sixty, it was the right time, both from a personal and market readiness perspective, to take the big step of establishing my own business.
I’ve never looked back since. The success of the agency has foundations built on extremely loyal and close relationships with all my clients, who I can also, proudly, call friends.
LT: What would you highlight as Brand Stable’s key strengths as a business?
DS: We offer a vast range of services – from visual merchandising and buying, through to brand strategy and distribution, not only for the brands we represent, but also for the retailers. This is possible thanks to the extensive experience in the kidswear market of many of the staff members.
LT: You also offer a service called Brand Wire?
DS: Brand Wire is a PR Agency. With the support of PR expert Shoshana Kazab of Fuse Communications, it delivers ad hoc projects in support of the brands represented by Brand Stable, such as organising the London press days for Guess Kids, Simonetta, Christian Lacroix, St Barth swimwear, Bandits Girl and Jessie & James. Shoshana has vast experience in kidswear PR, having worked with brands such as Rachel Riley, aden + anais, Little Wardrobe, Wild & Gorgeous and last but not least, the kids’ trade exhibition, Bubble London.
LT: Can you tell me more about Brand Stable’s portfolio of brands?
DS: We currently represent 15 brands divided into three main groups: super brands, street style and by category.
In the first segment, super brands, we find the likes of Fendi, Roberto Cavalli, Lanvin, Emilio Pucci, Sonia Rykiel and Simonetta. Within the street style segment we have more commercial brands; labels like Guess – which is currently riding a momentum in sales since introducing a new price strategy – Aston Martin and new for a/w 18, Vespa, a brand from the people behind the famous Italian scooter.
By category is divided into outerwear – with down jackets from Herno, Ai Riders on the Storm and Bomboogie – fun fake fur and capes by Bandits Girl, swimwear from St Barth and shoes from UK brand, Step2wo.
LT: What do you look for in a brand you represent?
DS: The main criteria is that it needs to complement the current brand mix, yet without being in direct competition to avoid cannibalisation. It also has to be distinctive; either by its style, design or category.
LT: Are your brands launching anything exciting for a/w 18?
DS: Guess Kids is launching a collaboration with a popular digital cartoon called Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat. It’s the story of two fashion students who transform into a ladybug and cat at night to protect the city of Paris. The collaboration will see Guess designing a theme-inspired kids’ capsule collection for boys and girls, which will be available in store for a/w 18. It will be promoted through extensive marketing activities in key cities including London, New York, Paris and Milan and will also be advertised on billboards and double decker buses.
LT: Have you taken on any new brands for a/w 18?
DS: Yes, we’ve signed distribution agreements for two brands, both targeting the boys’ market, from a/w 18. Ai Riders on the Storm, which is a very exciting brand of jackets famous for their goggles hoodies, and the iconic Italian brand, Vespa.
LT: Any plans to take on more brands in the near future?
DS: At present, I’d like to focus on the current portfolio, since many of the brands I represent have not yet reached their full potential. However, I always keep my eyes open, relentlessly looking for new labels.
LT: What are your plans for growth?
DS: There are many areas of organic growth within the agency that have yet to be explored and could constitute great opportunities – be they related to ecommerce, retail or partnerships – and not necessarily in the kidswear sector.
LT: What are your thoughts on the current UK kidswear market?
DS: The UK market is getting tougher and tougher, mainly due to the spending power of families shifting to other areas, reshaping the way people spend on childrenswear. Local customers are either price sensitive or attracted by desirable and highly-recognised brands, while retailers in big cities, like London, still rely on the international clientele.
Designer brands need to invest heavily into marketing activities in order to promote their collections and make them desirable. Social media, presence in magazines and media, celebrity endorsements and events all represent big parts of the promotional spend aimed at targeting both local and international markets.
LT: Do you feel confident about the a/w 18 season?
DS: A/w 18 will be a very challenging season. Differentiation in terms of product mix, variety, quality of service and media presence will define the strongest brands.
LT: What would you highlight as the biggest challenge facing the childrenswear industry?
DS: The biggest challenge is being able to differentiate and stand apart from others. From the brand mix, to a tighter and more selective distribution, through to partnering with brands who are flexible to the challenges of the market and can support their clients both commercially and with marketing activities.
Online distribution will be vital to sustaining sales and having fewer online retailers will be the key to controlling the current price war and discount promotions, which in some instances, have become extremely destabilising. Currency fluctuations and the current political climate both represent challenges, too.
LT: What are the long-term plans for Brand Stable?
DS: There are a few things in the pipeline that could potentially see the agency expand into new ventures involving womenswear and menswear, as well as changes to the way the business operates. We’ve already launched bridal this year, for instance.
At present and in the mid-term, however, the focus is – and will remain – on childrenswear, consolidating the current wholesale business and, in the future, possibly partnering with other key players in the current UK retail scene.