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How a slow-fashion brand focused on a sustainable future

by Louise Burgers. How a slow-fashion brand focused on a sustainable future: Simon Schofield, Trenery MD, is interviewed by Retailing Africa on his visit to South Africa last week.

by Louise Burgers. Retailers the world over have become complacent and have not moved on enough in engaging with the consumer in a way that gives them unique experiences. This is the view of Simon Schofield, Trenery managing director at Country Road Group, in Melbourne, Australia, speaking to Retailing Africa on his visit to South Africa last week.

“Consumers are bored. Their choice is vast – they have the whole world to choose from. They are more savvy. They are more challenging and they are questioning brands which are not forward thinking. It is so much harder to engage with consumers and keep that loyalty. They have so much more to choose from today.”

Simon Schofield.

Brands today had to give the consumer a good reason to get up off the couch and go into a bricks and mortar store, said Schofield who was in South Africa along with Amph Buachie, a British menswear fashion designer who now works for Country Road in Australia, to participate in the latest Trenery Guild collaboration with local artists and crafters.

South Africa is an important market for the Trenery clothing brand, owned and stocked exclusively by Woolworths in South Africa, with one third of the brand’s total market share coming from South Africa, including 50% of all menswear – given that 40% of the total collection is for men. This is how the brand describes itself in brand material: “Trenery designs are modern in approach and timeless in style. We believe less is more, that beauty lies in simplicity; the flattering cut, subtle details, the colour palette and fabrication. Combining traditional craftsmanship with fabrics sourced from some of the world’s finest mills, we create effortless, enduring designs with lasting integrity.”

Trenery is part of the Country Road Group which is Australia’s leading specialty retail group, with fashion, homeware and accessories. Trenery was founded in 2009 as a quality brand with a modern approach, but classic style. Country Road, which also has the Witchery Group, Mimco and Politix brands, is now wholly owned by Woolworth Holdings Limited (South Africa) since it acquired the remaining shares in 2014, after owning a controlling interest since 1998. The WHL Group employs more than 43,000 employees across 14 countries.

The Trenery brand values include using natural fabrics, and fabrics that have been ethically sourced, said Buachie. “A lot of our fabrics come from the world’s best fabric mills… Irish linens in menswear suiting; Italian wool, merinos from Australia… We are connecting with nature, storytelling, connecting our customer with origin stories. We are a slow-fashion brand, producing things that are enduring.”

Brand narrative

The narrative the brand has woven into its fashion collections is one of craftmanship and unique prints on luxury fabrics that are sustainable and ethically sourced. It’s a global narrative and a narrative of exclusivity which appeals to the more discerning customer who is not only chasing high fashion, but quality fashion with a classical style.

Amph Buachie.

Buachie said they worked with artisans around the globe, sourcing block prints from a studio in Bangalore, India; and woven hats from Ecuador, for example.

Schofield added that sustainable fashion was at the heart of their brand values and concern at how much we are consuming in the world. Their target market favoured fashion that was modern, but classic. Sophistication that transcends fashion and is all about style, explained Schofield. “There is an emotive connection with those pieces. It is about buying something beautiful that will last. It is not about superfast, disposable fashion. We are all questioning whether that is sustainable in the long term.”

As he points out, there will always be new trends and fashion, but there is a slight movement to a more middle ground where people still require fashion, but need it to be more versatile in working with their lifestyles and to be sustainable.

“This was how the brand was crafted and why the brand was created to answer that need. Consumers can curate a wardrobe over a longer period.”

Unknown consumer

Their future consumer, Generation Z, however, is an unknown and interesting quantity, said Schofield, in response to a question on what key challenges the future would throw up.

“They are unknown. Challenging. It will be very interesting to see how they change the landscape. Sustainability will be the first consideration for this new tribe, postulated Schofield. He believes Generation Z will carefully consider brand values and ethics, sustainability, waste production, where they source, how they work with people, before aligning themselves with a brand. Everything a brand does will be amplified.

Trenery was looking at the opportunities from this new conscientised consumer, such as from a circular fashion perspective, they know that Trenery pieces are of a durable quality and can be passed down, sold on, and that the brand is looking at how they can facilitate this.

High street fashion department stores in London, for example, have opened-up pop-up shops and dedicated fashion showrooms for vintage or pre-worn quality garments on their shop floors.

“We are looking at how we as a brand can facilitate that. The rental model is another area we are looking into with partners.

SA vs Australia

Buachie said there were quite a few similarities in the local market and that of Australia, particularly in menswear, with South Africans responding well to prints and more colours. In fact, Schofield said South African men have a better sense of personal style and there is a stronger performance in the sale of more formal blazers in South Africa, than in Australia, where attire is more casual. The womenswear market was similar in fashion trends.

That’s a good thing as trends include more florals and bigger prints, with more illustrative prints and softer, deconstructed tailoring, soft shoulder pads for men, a more relaxed approach to tailoring. The bolder tropical prints are inspiration from the 1980s/90s (think Magnum PI or Miami Vice!)

Other than that ghastly retrospective inspiration from the 1980s, which were a truly awful fashion decade to those of us who lived through them, big hair and all, Trenery plans on building on the foundations of the brand, differentiating the brand by continuing to raise awareness through its sustainable and ethical brand stance.

[THE TRENERY GUILD] The Trenery Guild is a collaborative project that brings the high-end Australian Trenery clothing brand, owned and stocked exclusively by Woolworths in South Africa, together with some of South Africa’s leading artists, artisans and craftspeople. The collaboration has resulted in exposure for emerging artists that has aided their careers and provided inspiration to Trenery designers. This year the brand has taken the collaboration up a notch, with a competition to find a new print pattern for its clothing range for the 2020/21 collection. The winning artist gets to go to Paris, to the prestigious Paris College of Arts for a two-week intensive course in ‘Print Patterns & Trends’. As the fashion sponsor of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair this year, the project culminated at the art fair this February and will be followed by judging by a panel of local creatives, as well as Trenery textile designers in Australia. Bree Dhaliwal, Trenery’s senior textile designer explained what the brand was looking for: “We are looking for an inspired summer print with a unique South African interpretation. We want these young designers to consider a delicate balance between hand-drawn and contemporary graphics. The print should be bold and eye-catching, while staying true to Trenery’s ethos of timeless modern simplicity.” Said Schofield: “It feels great to work with artists and artisans in South Africa who have similar values to the brand: craftmanship, quality materials and unique materials.” The Trenery Guild gives Trenery the chance to show off its brand values in a different way, by working with artisans and crafters in different industries. Since it launched two years ago, they have hosted installations, customer nights and giveaways with purchases and some of the artists have gone on to expand their businesses, for example, the Suki Suki beauty brand, which Trenery worked with, is now stocked in Woolworths. “At the end of the competition we bring it back to the brand,” concluded Schofield.

 

Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.

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