Pour Moi's Michael Thomson on lingerie sales through the pandemic and why swimwear sales are now soaring
Pour Moi Founder Michael Thomson launched his women’s lingerie business in 2005 off the back of selling his autograph collection, which included signatures from the likes of Paul McCartney, Prince and Meatloaf.
Prior to Pour Moi, he gained his knowledge of the market from working in the lingerie department of the UK’s biggest seller of bras and knickers, M&S.
He thought there was a gap in the market to offer a wider variety of bra cup sizes, with a focus on inclusivity which back then was not quite the buzz word it is now. A swimwear offer followed in 2008, and Pour Moi launched a nightwear collection in 2014 and a sportswear collection in 2017 – before every other brand was getting on board with sportswear offers when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and sales of anything fitness related soared.
A clothing collection – with flattering fits at the forefront - was introduced during the pandemic in 2020, but it was a massive 200% spike in lingerie sales during the pandemic which really saw Pour Moi reach sales of £31 million in the 12 months to September 2021, up 46% on the same period in 2020, but that was on top of a 61% growth in 2019.
Direct-to-consumer now accounts for 58% of Pour Moi’s business, but the brand also has a very strong wholesale business with key retailers including Next, Very, ASOS and Zalando.
Sales of swimwear obviously fell through the floor during the pandemic, and Thomson says that was a disaster because just before Covid hit they had invested hugely in it. However, where as other retailers held firmly back on swimwear, with no-one going on holiday to sunnier destinations, Pour Moi is now reaping the benefits of having loads of stock that’s now flying out as its customers book holidays.
Thomson said: “This year swimwear has been phenomenal. Before the pandemic, swimwear was very strong too, but obviously during the pandemic that area of the market literally dropped to zero. We went from 60% of our business being swimwear to 0% within the space of two weeks, which was very scary.
“Thankfully sales of our lingerie rocketed – up 200% during Lockdown 1 all the way through to Lockdown 3. I guess it’s because people were spending a lot more time at home, and they were looking for different things from their lingerie. Comfort was the absolute number one, but we also sold loads of our sexier lingerie too as couples were obviously at home entertaining themselves!” On the flip side, our nightwear really flew out as well.”
Thomson said that although they’d dipped their toes in sportswear in 2017, they really put more of a focus on it just before the pandemic struck. A timely move indeed. He commented: “We were lucky in that we had already launched our sportswear, but we had really gone deeper into it in January 2020.
“In about April 2020 people were really looking at getting outside and doing some sports during Lockdown 1, so we saw a big lift then. It was good that we had got into it before the pandemic, because I think it made the brand feel not as contrived as to why we were entering that sector of the market. Some of the brands that suddenly went into sportswear and loungewear were really treading in to a territory that wasn’t theirs at all. They were shoehorning their brands into it.
“From our perspective it was like we had really already thought about it, and again it was about bringing something unique to the category. A lot of the fuller cupped sports bras on the market didn’t have matching leggings or tops and so on, and that’s what we’re all about. We call it twinning is winning!”
Sales are continuing at a strong growth rate, but now it’s all about managing the balance between the product categories, as while swimwear was 1,000% up year-on-year in February 2022, nightwear and lingerie have taken a slight dip.
Going forward, Thomson believes it will increasingly become more about “the competition for that pound in everyone’s disposable income,” which will no doubt be impacted by rising costs of everything. He thinks people will focus more on exactly what they need.
“They’re going on holiday because they’ve booked it already, and they absolutely need swimwear, but can they live without a new pair of shoes or a new bag? Probably. They are going to be the choices that people have to make.”
Launching a women’s clothing range during the pandemic in 2020 seemed a bold move, but Thomson says they were really just listening to what their customers were wanting. “A lot of them were saying that clothing wasn’t designed for the fuller bust, and that models were always in B cups or below.
“They weren’t being catered for, so we came with that attitude in mind. Our brand is also very good at prints, so instantly it was about fit and about prints. We’ve taken all of our knowledge from lingerie and swimwear and put it into clothing. We’ve incorporated some clever details and fabrics that flatter the wearer. Dresses and tops are our biggest clothing categories, with party wear and ‘going out’ clothes a focus, though we are now seeing some success with jeans too.”
While Pour Moi has had a store in Chester since 2008, with a very established local customer base, there are now plans afoot to open more stores. Thomson said: “The Chester store has been by itself for a long time. We originally set up the business in Macclesfield, an hour away from Chester, and we actually used to have a store in Macclesfield and one in Wilmslow, but we closed them down and just stuck with Chester. It fitted with our customer demographic the best, and it was a lot cheaper than Manchester!
“It’s brilliant for us to meet and engage with customers directly, and the plan is to have about 10 shops around the UK going forward so we can meet all our customers and hold events and fashion shows too.”
The new stores will no doubt raise the brand’s profile and, as well as giving greater opportunity for in-person sales, they will also no doubt increase traffic to the website in the locations Pour Moi opens in, as many brands find these days.
Money taken at the till in-store is not the number one priority, as Thomson said: “Everyone else is saying it, but we are looking at stores more as marketing and community spaces rather than what sales we’ve achieved every week. It’s about giving the brand greater depth and talking about it. We can introduce new collections to our customers in-store with events, and they can get to talk to the designers.”
In terms of new store locations, major UK cities are the target. Thomson says he’d like to start opening them as soon as possible, but he realises a considered approach as to where and when is needed as the business keeps growing.
“I think Brighton will be first this year because that’s where our head office is now, and then we will look at opening in major cities such as London and Edinburgh. The business is growing so quickly and, with the demands on different parts of the business, we’re just trying to work out the priorities.”