On the verge of a £400m float, SuperGroup has proved a fashion triumph. That’s no surprise given co-founder Julian Dunkerton’s eye for a winning brand, says Lisa Berwin

julian_dunkerton_final.jpg

Julian Dunkerton, New Look’s Tom Singh and Matalan’s John Hargreaves all started their careers on market stalls. This year all three have tried to sell or float their businesses, but only one - Dunkerton - still looks likely to be successful.

SuperGroup, the retailer co-founded by Dunkerton, is expected to be backed with investment from institutions, employees, customers and suppliers, and is one of the most impressive fashion retail growth stories of recent years

Dunkerton comes from a family of entrepreneurs. His parents moved to Herefordshire in 1979 to produce and sell their own cider. After leaving school with three Es at A-level, Dunkerton cut his teeth in fashion when he ran market stalls.

From those humble, government grant-assisted origins in 1985, SuperGroup was built. First came the Cult chain and then, in 2003, Superdry.

On first impressions Dunkerton comes across as laid back, almost aloof. However, those that work with him assure that when it comes to his work he is anything but.

SuperGroup brand and design director James Holder says: “He is on the floor and involved on a daily basis when many other people in his position would be on a yacht - or, in his case, up to his waist in a river fishing - and kicking back.”

Holder also says that Dunkerton is good at nurturing those he works with and has kept many people with him in the business for years. Holder and Theo Karpathios both worked very closely with Dunkerton in building the group’s brands and retail presence. They are all set to realise some of their investment if the float goes through. SuperGroup is expected to be valued at about £400m, valuing Dunkerton himself at about £200m.

Holder says that an eye for the next big thing has helped Dunkerton succeed in fashion. “He was the first person to jump on to Bench [as a buyer] in the early 1990s and was fundamental in the growth of the brand. I cannot think of another person who could have seen the potential in what was being created with Superdry and translated it so quickly and accurately throughout the UK,” he says.

Superdry was created by Holder and Dunkerton following a trip to Tokyo. The brand has been phenomenally successful in the UK and, increasingly, abroad, gaining cult status when worn by celebrities such as David Beckham and Zac Efron.

With ambitious overseas expansion on the agenda and plans to expand womenswear and footwear, a float of SuperGroup - some of the proceeds of which will be invested in growth - will give it the opportunity to become a real force in fashion retail.

Dunkerton is confident that, despite some fashion sectors suffering as a result of the downturn, young fashion is still flying off the rails. “Young people will always spend money on clothes,” he says. “They want to get laid. They also can’t think about getting a mortgage.”

Aside from selling clothes, Dunkerton has also worked in the past with his film director brother, and produced and acted in the not particularly well received 2000 Brit-comedy Brothers.

But it is fashion rather than film that has provided Dunkerton with success. Like Hargreaves and Singh, entrepreneurial flair, a trading mentality and keen understanding of product and customer have enabled him to build a successful retail business. Aged 44, the expectation is that he will do a lot more yet.

Dunkerton’s Rise

  • 2009 Proposes float for SuperGroup
  • 2003 Superdry set up along with Bench founder James Holder
  • 1985 Starts selling clothes on a market stall with money from government grants. The business eventually grows to become SuperGroup