As Buying Director of Stuarts London, Ravi Grewal knows the ins and outs of contemporary style. We sat down with him to learn more about the art of e-tail, Fall/Winter 2013 trends and more.
Established as a tailoring outfit in the mid ’60s making made-to-measure trousers and suits, Stuarts London has since gone on to become a staple in London’s menswear landscape. Always one to keep up with the times, the English shop gave both their web presence and their Shepherd’s Bush location a makeover in 2011. We were curious to find out more about this delicate balancing act between retail and e-tail so we sat down with the shop’s Buying Director, Ravi Grewal, for a little one-on-one.
The original store in London has been a key men’s retailer for over 40 years, how do you continue to stay ahead in the fast-paced world of fashion both in-store and online?
There is no real secret to what or how we do it. We stay tuned into what our customers want from us, what they expect and what we think they will like if we introduced them to a new brand. We generally search the globe for hidden gems, brands that have great stories to tell and brands that have a history that our customers would love to know more about. However, the two most important things that we survive on is providing the very best in customer service and making sure our products selected are of high standards in quality and fit.
Advice – Don’t build a wall around your business so you can’t adopt new seasonal trends or add commercial brands; be ready to make changes all the time, what speed you do it at is your own choice. Your business will always need improving no matter how good you think it is.
The list of brands carried is wide-ranging and well-curated. How do you decide which new brands will be stocked?
I’ve been a menswear fashion buyer for a very long time (20 years) and I have always felt, “I was born to do this job.” Most of the time it’s the quality and style that attracts me to the product. Sometimes I find a brand that is forward-thinking yet still commercial enough to appeal to a majority rather than the minority. It doesn’t have to be a known brand, it just has to be good value for the money. Other times I find a brand that will only appeal to a select few.
When we add a new brand it’s got to make me tick and do a merry jig. I get this gut feeling that it’s just right. Of course, I’ve made mistakes with some brands in the past and that’s when my personal feelings/taste come in the way of my “commercial/niche” buying head.
My buying check list:
1. Looks great – will it look this great next season?
2. Quality is amazing – now is the price justifiable?
3. Will my customers think this is cool?
4. How does this brand sit with my other brands?
5. Can we make this brand work – will it grow over time?
6. Is this going to be more for my online customers or in-store ?
7. Can I work with these people? How will they be able to bring value and support to Stuarts London?
8. Who else is selling this out there? Will I get exclusivity or if shared then is it in the right stores?
(Now lets take these thoughts away and see if I like this brand as much as I did yesterday.)
Since the opening of your online store, how has the shopping experience changed for your customer?
It’s helped us expose Stuarts London globally. We have been serving customers from all corners of the world who like what we sell and then actually make the effort to come and see us in London. When we started to see an increase of online customers visiting our store we decided that we needed to update the business from head to toe. We had the stage builders of Lady Gaga come and help design and build the store. We wanted something unusual that still maintained a gentlemen’s outfitter feel to the store and we re-invested in the online site to make it more user friendly in many ways. Additionally, we are located in Shepherd’s Bush away from the city’s hustle and bustle so it’s not a busy parade.
The online store has made such a huge impact to our business that we attract a high amount of high-profile customers, from celebrities to company directors. Due to this, we now operate the store from Monday to Thursday and by appointment only. Friday and Saturday we are open to all.
Don’t worry though, we don’t turn away business. We have a “Ring the Bell” policy as in if a member of staff is free we can assist immediately.
Our customers love this, we are able to give all our online and regular customers a more personalized service. When someone has traveled to London from abroad or another part of England, then we find it’s important they get our full attention.
What’s your secret to being a successful e-tailer?
Hard graft and a 17-hour work day.
How do you strike a balance between the traditional tailored clothing you were originally known for with the more sports/street aesthetic popular today?
Good question. The answer is there is a very fine balance indeed, so we don’t tip the boat too far any one way which will alienate existing clients. The solution is to introduce an equal amount of both sides of the coin to keep the balance.
Are there any trends you’re noticing for the current Fall/Winter 2013 season?
At the end of last winter, the Arctic Parka was strong and this season we’ve done amazing business featuring starting offers from Penfield to top-end offers from Canada Goose and Woolrich. Sheepskin and denim jackets with faux sheepskin have done very well too. With smart footwear it’s still very much about Brogues with commando soles, although I personally feel a slight shift in trend to the oxford boots which will be come more apparent in coming seasons.
Casual street is still hitting heavily on sweats and running sneakers combined with jackets from the likes of Norse Projects. Our football (casual) customers are hot on all the archive CP Company Collections we have in-store. The tailored trend of this season has been mixed between three main brands: Hardy Amies, Our Legacy and Oliver Spencer.
What are some upcoming brands you see real potential in?
Tailoring – A brand with loads of history we added for this season was Hardy Amies and they have been selling very well. Customers love the simplicity but high attention to detail and the fine-quality fabrics used.
Casual smart – Our Legacy are doing a fine job mixing it up for the younger consumer who wants a clean look with interesting fabrics and fine quality.
Sport – Saucony sneakers seem to creating a wave over here in the UK.
What would you wear from Stuarts London as an outfit right now?
For a smart outfit, I’d wear a Crombie Overcoat, Hardy Amies Blazer, Liberty London Printed Shirt, Levi’s Vintage ZXX 501 or Edwin Ed55 Jeans, Tricker’s Boots, Pleated Anderson’s Belt, Paul Smith Socks, and Grenson or Churches for footwear shoes.
For a casual outfit, I’d go with a Canada Goose Arctic Parka, Our Legacy Shirt, Brooklyn We Go Hard Sweatshirt, Dockers Corduroy, Burlington Argyle Diamond socks, and Nike or New Balance Sneakers.
Men’s style has evolved a lot in the past 10 years, where do you see it headed in the next 10? Are there any particular long-term trends we should watch out for?
Over the years there has been a massive split and the young will always be looking into more street-inspired trends, but as we get older, we smarten up. We are seeing the suits/blazers and smart shirts make a come back along with the early ’90s dress-wear look.
How long this stays, only time will tell. One long-term trend that will remain in fashion is the Ivy League look. It’s always been an instant cool – Baracuta Harrington Jacket, a white T-shirt, Levis Vintage Original 501 Zxx, and a Brogue or Penny loafer. Timeless fashion.
See the shop’s current offerings here.