Original Penguin has a new UK Brand Director in Andrew Thomson, and the brand will be back at Moda Gent on 6-8 August with an s/s 18 collection that he believes will strike all the right chords with buyers and independent retailers.
Q: What’s your background within the company?
A: I joined the company in May in a new role as Brand Director, responsible for all commercial aspects of the Original Penguin business in Europe – sales, marketing and the collection. Growth of the Original Penguin business in the UK and Europe had highlighted the need for a new organisation structure. We are also recruiting more salespeople to manage the brand in the UK, as well as appointing new distributors in all key markets in mainland Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Q: How did Original Penguin start?
A: The Original Penguin brand story is one of the most colourful of all the American heritage brands. In 1954, a Munsingwear salesman named Abbot Pederson was delayed for a flight and decided to have a few drinks to while away the time. He then, perhaps ill advisedly, went shopping and bought a stuffed penguin – which he named Pete.
Pete the penguin travelled back home on the flight with him, during which its head unfortunately fell off. Legend has it that an air hostess reattached the penguin’s head with Pederson’s tie, hence the reason why the penguin in our logo wears a tie. Munsingwear launched Original Penguin as a clothing brand in 1955.
Q: When did the Perry Ellis Group acquire the brand, and how big is it within the overall business?
A: Munsingwear was acquired by Perry Ellis in 1996 and the Original Penguin brand was relaunched in 2002. Perry Ellis global sales in 2016/17 were $861m. Original Penguin accounted for 16 approximately half of this. Perry Ellis is one of the largest clothing businesses in the USA, with brands including Perry Ellis and Farah as well as global apparel licences for Callaway Golf and Nike Swimwear.
Q: What restructuring has recently taken place within Original Penguin?
A: It’s not so much a restructure as a re-focusing of our objective to grow Original Penguin in all categories. Where we previously operated with independent sales agencies in certain regions, we have now brought control back in-house under our own employed sales team.
We’re also experiencing significant growth in our licensing business which now includes tailoring, socks, underwear, footwear, bags, accessories and childrenswear. It’s all part of our global strategy to elevate Original Penguin as a full lifestyle brand.
Whilst we have a relatively mature business in the UK, we still have great potential to grow the brand in markets like Germany, France, Netherlands and Belgium. Scandinavia represents a great opportunity and we are currently exploring different ways to service this region.
Q: Where are your showrooms in the UK and what shows do you do?
A: Our London showroom is in our Winsley Street office, overlooking Oxford Street. We also operate showrooms in Manchester and Dublin. Pitti Uomo is important for us from a European and global perspective, and we’re also showing at Moda Gent and the INDX menswear show.
Q: Why is Moda a good platform to re-connect with UK retailers and buyers?
A: This is only our second Moda show, but we found that the last show gave us a great opportunity to see a large number of existing customers all in the one place. We’re also hoping to introduce many new customers to the brand.
Q: What can we expect from the brand at the show?
A: Colour, colour and more colour. As an American heritage brand we have some great iconic pieces, including The EarlTM Polo, which is a signature classic of Original Penguin with its distinctive contrast tipping on the placket. We have blown out each heritage piece to offer a wide range of exciting seasonal colours for s/s 18. A key growth area for us has been our core line programme, where we offer continuity of supply throughout the year on all proven bestsellers such as logo tees, raised rib polos, Oxford shirts, sweats, P55 chinos and shorts. We’re expecting this to be popular at the show. We will also be showcasing our licensed socks and underwear collection at the show, following a great reaction at Pitti.
Q: What are the key looks and styles for s/s 18?
A: Our key collection themes for s/s 18 are Mix Tape, Digital Dobby and Indigo Beach. Mix Tape is built around 1980s musical influences, and Digital Dobby pays homage to the first generation of computer games like Atari, Tetris and Space Invaders. Our summer drop Indigo Beach offer has a classic sun, sea and sand holiday vibe, with a stunning Hawaiian floral print, polos, linen and swim shorts.
Q: How is the brand currently performing in the UK market?
A: We’re lucky in that we have a very strong presence for the brand in both the key department stores like John Lewis and House of Fraser, as well as a good geographical distribution in quality independent stores. As a global brand, we have a wide collection offer which enables customers to select garments from our ranges which are most suitable to their customer demographic. There are, however, still towns in the UK which don’t have Original Penguin stockists, so identifying these is now a key focus.
Q: Where are the brand’s strongest markets?
A: Our brand shares in the USA, UK and Ireland are still the strongest, but we’re now growing rapidly in several South American countries such as Mexico and Argentina. We’re also getting great traction in mainland Europe and the Middle East, having appointed new distributors in markets like Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Israel.
Q: What are the plans to re-engage with old stockists, as well as attracting new customers?
A: The collection has moved on massively for s/s 18, with key looks which may surprise many customers who either haven’t stocked the brand before, or haven’t seen the collection for a while. Retro sportswear has been really important for us in 2017 and we expect this to continue on the back of the athleisure trend into 2018 and beyond. Our collection themes referencing 80s and 90s music and video games have added a new and relevant injection of fun, producing exciting and colourful product to attract a younger demographic.
Q: What advertising and marketing plans do you have going forward?
A: We’re lucky to be one of the few brands with an instantly recognisable logo, but there are still many people who aren’t aware of the brand. Two key strands in our marketing activity are music and social content. We’re sponsoring activity at four music festivals across Europe this year, including Original Penguin stages and dressing many DJs and social influencers. We have an agency focusing solely on creating outstanding social content for all our social platforms and our own website, which we have just recently relaunched. However, we still believe that some traditional media advertising in publications like GQ is important for our consumer. We also invest heavily in shop-fits in our key locations, and we have a dedicated visual merchandising team who travel throughout the country.
Q: What standalone stores does Original Penguin have in the UK?
A: We have a flagship concept store on Long Acre in Covent Garden. We use the store as a venue to introduce influential people to the brand, including musicians, press, bloggers and social influencers, but also hold consumer events to engage with current and new costumers. We also have a small number of out of town outlet stores, which help us to control our obsolete inventory. We’re passionate about protecting the integrity of the brand. Building wholesale distribution is our primary focus right now.
Q: Are menswear independents key for this new wholesale focus?
A: I’m passionate about supporting menswear independents, as these are often the places where the fashion influencers we wish to attract shop for their inspiration. We currently have a great mix of both directional and mainstream stores. There’s an edgier side to the Original Penguin brand which many customers aren’t aware of. Whilst we’re happy to sell the brand to older customers, our marketing is clearly focused on our core demographic of 18-30 year-olds.
See Original Penguin at Moda Gent this August on stand N56.