Whistles: high end, high street

Whistles is a London based fashion brand that aims to deliver contemporary clothing to women and since 2014, men. My current University project (Buying and Merchandising) is all about this brand so I have been learning and researching deeper in to it's style.

The company launched in the 1970’s but was re launched in 2008 by Jane Shepherdson, previously the Brand Director at Topshop, she bought a large share in the company and became CEO. The first thing she noted about the brand was that it ‘wasn’t relevant’ anymore, it had held on to the boho trend for too long and had lost creative direction. 

Jane then went on to refine and update Whistles approach to contemporary classic clothing, stepping away from the bohemian look and more in to versatile, effortless dressing all year round. The turning point for the brand did not come until 2009 however, after financial problems in 2008 clashing with their change in target customer and product.

In London particularly the rebrand has led the products to become a favourite with female office workers, particularly in the creative industries.

The brand has had some tough financial times, in 2008 one of its major backers, Icelandic investment company Baugur, went bankrupt, Whistles lost its working capital and for a month or so weren’t sure if they could pay the staff, this led to the company not becoming profitable until 2011. More recently, Whistles made a  £2.4million loss for the year to January 31, 2015, due to expansion costs [Bridge, 2015]

The company has recently entered the US market with concessions now in Bloomingdale stores meaning there are now over 50 stores and 74 concessions spread across the UK, USA and Europe. Jane Shepherdson has revealed she wants to expand in to Australia and eventually have ‘a small physical presence in the right places in the world’.

Whistles are  minimalistic, contemporary and laid back. Garments are more often than not, transitional from work to leisure to celebrations.

Small, finer details and a focus on quality are clearly very important and reflect the type of effortless style they want their customers to achieve and feel.

Whistles are focussed on delivering high quality, directional garments that are luxurious and desirable but have a pared-down and also slightly sporty twist with utility pockets and zips.  

Their website is really key to the business and they hope to achieve as many customers on there as possible. Whisltes has recently expanded their site to have American, French and German accessibility. It is a goal for the brand to be able to offer  the full Whistles experience online. 

It is now thought only one in 10 Whistles customers of the old brand image still shop there now. 
Muses include Kate Moss, Charlotte Rampling, Sade Adu and Alexa Chung, all of whom have individual approaches to classic looks and versatility.

Whistles also strives to be ethical in all its practices with a programme that puts Human rights, higher labour standards and respect for the environment first. The brand became members of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) as foundation members In July 2015 and has applied its foundation principles to their own code of conduct.

The brand has also signed the ‘Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020’  in 2012, working to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprint of clothing sold in the UK by 2020.
Whistles does not use any real fur and all leather products are sustanibly sourced as by-products of other industries. 

Jane Shepherdson CEO

Born in Bristol, Jane attended North London Polytechnic for business studies at the age of 18. From there she went to Topshop, where her first big break was in the late 1980s when she bought a job-lot of tank tops. Her instinct proved right and has barely failed since. In 1999 she took over as brand director. The company had an annual profit of £9 million. After six years it was racking up more than £100 million (in 2005, a tabloid described her as the “Shy Genius Who Turned Flopshop Into The High Street Darling Topshop”). 

In 2007 after leaving Topshop she became a non-executive director of People Tree, the Fairtrade ethical fashion company. ‘I certainly felt that anything that I did do would have to be in my value set. But I also didn’t want to do anything where I would have to compromise or sell out in any way,’. Then in 2008, she joined Whistles with shares that made her the new CEO.

Amongst other charities and event work (UAL, GCU and Marie Claire for example) Jane worked with Oxfam as a creative advisor starting in 2008, helping them improve their charity shop appearance and layout.

Jane considers herself a feminist and is very keen to help other women climb the fashion industry ladder, she openly supports Business Secretary Vince Cable’s idea of all-women shortlists for certain British board appointments. [Cave,2014]

Jane is very hands on and claims to visit stores in person about twice a week. She likes to see what customers are trying on, hear what they’re saying about the products and watch their reactions to it. She also tries on things herself and says ‘Sixty or 70 percent’ of her own wardrobe is Whistles [Crisell, 2014].

Jess xx 

It is march which means it's almost time for the M&S x Alexa Chung collection to launch (eeeeek). Read more about it here and sign up to the newsletter for news on the collaboration here : http://www.marksandspencer.com/s/women/alexa-chung

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