British premium brand Whistles’ decision to launch a menswear range for autumn/winter 2014 will enable it to widen its reach and tap into the lucrative UK menswear market.

British premium brand Whistles’ decision to launch a menswear range for autumn/winter 2014 will enable it to widen its reach and tap into the lucrative UK menswear market. Diversifying into menswear, now that its womenswear offer is well established and the brand is turning a profit, is sensible, but Whistles must work hard to create a unisex brand image.

Whistles’ strength lies in its well-designed product offer and mix of basics alongside more trend-led pieces, ensuring it caters for a range of shoppers. Having garnered a loyal female customer base, the retailer’s move into menswear will not only attract male shoppers but will also encourage existing customers to buy for their partners. The menswear launch in 2014 is well timed given the sector is forecast to grow by 18.6% in the four years to 2018, boosted by male consumers’ growing interest in fashion. Therefore a focus on quality, style and fit is imperative to build its appeal among male shoppers and compete with the likes of Cos, Reiss and Ted Baker.

The retailer’s existing stores have a neutral store environment, enabling a smooth transition to complementary menswear and womenswear spaces. However, space allocation in stores is likely to be an issue due to Whistles’ small standalones, so it must ensure the menswear ranges are clearly segmented and stand out in stores. We expect the range to work better in department stores, such as John Lewis and House of Fraser, since presenting the collection to appeal to male shoppers will be easier given the environment and surrounding menswear brands.

Whistles’ current transactional website fully complements the instore shopping experience, communicating its brand ethos well and providing an easy and enjoyable browsing session. When launching its menswear offer, the retailer must focus on engaging male consumers, introducing relevant editorial content to boost awareness of its ranges and encourage sales. Additionally as its menswear offer will only be available in select stores, Whistles must extend its reach by making click & collect available across its entire network of standalone stores.

Though still a niche brand, Whistles has become a success story, with its unique design handwriting ensuring its offer is differentiated from competitors. The challenge with the expansion into menswear is to retain its design edge and become top of mind among male consumers, who have only ever seen Whistles as a womenswear retailer.

  • Kate Ormrod is a retail analyst at Verdict