This year marked the return of Stanley/Stella to Printwear & Promotion LIVE! and with this return, the ethical blank apparel manufacturer has ambitious growth plans for the UK market. P&P editor Melanie Attlesey reports.
At Printwear & Promotion LIVE! in April, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sebastien Williams, Stanley/Stella’s UK and Ireland sales manager, and Dimitri Demol, Stanley/Stella’s chief commercial officer, to find out more about how the brand plans to grow within the UK.
Stanley/Stella has been around for the best part of a decade now. Founded in 2012 by Jean Chabert, who has been a prominent figure in the blank apparel market for many years, Stanley/Stella’s aim from the beginning was to break the mould and offer a different product with the utmost respect for people and the environment.
“Jean could see a gap in the market for sustainability. Something that 10 years ago was unheard of,” explains Sebastien. “Not only this but the brand was also quite fashion-forward, bringing a whole rainbow of colours never seen before in this market.”
From day one
From day one all of the brand’s garment offering has been manufactured from 100% organic or recycled materials, with sustainability and ethical practices running through the core.
Stanley/Stella began life as a T shirt brand, before quickly adding sweatshirts to its offering. Now in 2022, the brand’s collection includes polo shirts, outerwear and accessories, as well as a kids and a babies range. The aim is to keep the range concise, while offering retail-quality products the end-user is proud to wear year after year.
“We are becoming that one-stop shop offering premium, sustainable and fashion-forward clothing to the blank apparel market,” says Sebastien.
“We are always working on innovation, reinventing and bringing new products to the market,” adds Dimitri. This was evident at Printwear & Promotion LIVE! when I walked around the products on display on Stanley/Stella’s stand. Stanley/Stella leads where other brands follow.
“The response and feedback on the new products in particular at the show was phenomenal,” says Sebastien.
Dimitri adds: “Exhibitions enable decorators to discover our complete range. People are happy to touch, feel and see the entire collection together, rather than one piece here, one piece there. Most people have heard of our brand and seen our brand and recognise it as being a premium sustainable brand, but then they want to see what’s trending and we are happy to expose this to them.”
What makes Stanley/Stella unique to other clothing brands of a similar nature is that the brand only partners with a limited selection of dealers (be it decorators, brands or print on-demand suppliers). Official dealers have to meet a series of requirements to ensure their philosophy and work ethics match those of Stanley/Stella. For example, they need to be GOTS certified, just like Stanley/Stella. The official dealers are a vast part of the Stanley/Stella community. They become business partners that share Stanley/Stella’s common goals for long-term growth.
“Rather than working a little with everybody, we would rather work very well with a select few. What we don’t want is to enter into a price war. The official dealers we work with are selected on a variety of different aspects, whether that’s geographical location or the customers they work with. This means there shouldn’t be too many duplications, therefore our dealers won’t have to engage in a price war with a client,” explains Sebastien.
At the moment Stanley/Stella works with 15 official dealers in the UK, but has plans to grow this number to 150 within the next three to four years.
Why the UK?
But as a brand that hails from Belgium, why target the UK market as somewhere to expand and develop?
Sebastien explains: “The UK market is mature and well-developed. It is very Americanised in terms of the fit and style of clothing, which we have adapted to the demands of the UK market and our products are well-suited to it.”
To feed this growing market, which both Sebastien and Dimitri agree has huge potential, Stanley/Stella is opening a new warehouse in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The aim of the warehouse, which is planned for opening later this month, is to increase service levels. Every single colour, size and product will now become available for next day delivery, something which is currently not possible from the warehouse in Belgium.
Stanley/Stella’s products will still be available through Ralawise, for those who prefer to use a one-stop distributor to purchase their blanks through.
Coupled with the opening of the new warehouse, the sales force in the UK will also grow to support the level of growth planned for the market and to provide a premium service to dealers.
“I think the investment that we make is very important,” says Dimitri. “We are doing all of this because we see huge potential in the UK market. The relationship that we have with Ralawise triggered something bigger for the UK. We have a very nice business together currently, which we need to further support and that’s the reason we are making this investment. The market is demanding and that is great.”
As Stanley/Stella pursues its growth plans within the UK over the next three to four years, the future may also see the brand expand outside of Europe and target other markets on a global scale. This is one brand that is not standing still. “We are not just another supplier or another brand. We are so much more than that. We believe in the UK market,” concludes Sebastien.