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The Interview: Mark Batista, founder and director, Brand Progression and Welcome Edition

Tom Bottomley
23 March 2020

Mark Batista is addressing the very real prospect that buyers may well not be able to travel to his Welcome Edition show in Paris this summer, by launching a new online showroom in June for the SS21 season. Having had his Brand Progression sales agency for 22 years this year, he’s well aware of the need to change and adapt to the times. With coronavirus the biggest threat to the fashion and retail industry to date, he’s gearing up for the challenge in typically positive and proactive style.

How are you adjusting to these uncertain times?

We’re launching a Welcome Edition online showroom – something that we’ve had in the pipeline for a while. We’ve toyed with it, but we’ve decided it’s now very appropriate. Welcome Edition takes place every season in Paris. We had plans to launch it in New York, but obviously we’ve put that on ice for the moment. That’s why we’ve decided to put our efforts in to this online showroom. Speaking to brands, they are saying this is perfect for now, and exactly what they need, so the uptake will be strong. I showed it to Kenneth Mackenzie from 6876 who came by yesterday, and he was absolutely blown away with it.

How will it work?

It’s being conceived as an additional service for the brands that are involved in Welcome Edition showroom in Paris, but then we are also going to offer it out to a couple of other friends of ours in the business who have brands that we think are going to be appropriate to add to the existing brands, which include Kestin Hare, Berghaus, Blueprints, Yogi, Pendleton and Quoddy. If you look at the brand list for Welcome Edition on the website, which include all the brands we have with Brand Progression, pretty much all of them will be on the new online showroom platform, so you can pick and choose as you wish.

What prompted the urgency to bring forward the online concept?

We’ve had emails from buyers saying they are possibly not going to be able to travel for the SS21 buying season, so we felt that if we create this online platform – where brands can have their collections on show for next season – that’s going to address a lot of the problems that are going on right now with travel and isolation. We’ve learnt a lot over the years from our mailers, and we’ve become very adept at checking analytics and being able to specify emails and mailshots to specific territories and specific retailers, so we can be really proactive with getting collections in front of buyers as well. Not naming names, but any other platforms are more reactive and are more just a service, where as we are going to be very proactive. We’re sales agents ourselves with Brand Progression, so we want to make sure that we’re pushing all of the collections that are in both the physical showroom and now the online showroom as hard as possible.

How do you think the whole SS21 show season will pan out?

With what’s going on now with coronavirus, nobody knows where this is going to end up. We’re trying to be as positive as we can, but there’s a very real possibility that there may be a travel ban in place come June and July this year. We have to be ready for that and we have to address that. Giving people the option to use the online showroom is the most constructive way that we can deal with this.

When will the online platform launch and what about your actual Welcome Edition Paris showroom this summer?

We’re probably going to launch it around the same time as Paris Men’s Fashion Week – which starts on 23 June, so everyone will have to get their collections together and ready for then. Our dates for Welcome Edition Paris are the 25-29 June. We are still very much hopeful that we can continue throughout all of this and deliver and open our showroom in Paris on those dates, but Government intervention and a travel ban could prevent us from doing so, and people’s health is first and foremost. I’m sure a travel ban will still be in place if there’s any risk at all.

How is the crisis affecting your Brand Progression agency right now?

We had pretty much the best season we’ve ever had in 22 years at Brand Progression for AW20. It was phenomenal, and that was coming out of three years of real uncertainty. The reasoning behind it is, if you look at the brands within Brand Progression right now, they are all of a certain ilk and they are all doing a different job to each other. Nothing is too high fashion, it’s all very good and strong product. We’re even switching over a bit to brands like Far Afield which are becoming quite commercial for us because we are selling that in to John Lewis and it’s retailing phenomenally in there. So, we’ve seen the business grow really nicely for AW20. Portuguese Flannel is also doing incredibly well for us, as is Baracuta, Gloverall, Hestra, Fracap, and Sanders. All very strong brands and products, and a very complementary group of brands when you look at it. Buyers having been coming in and buying everything. It’s the strongest group of brands we’ve ever had at Brand Progression. It’s taken 22 years to get to this stage because we started out in 1998. We’ve also got La Paz, which we’ve just had our best season ever with, and Hikerdelic, which is really getting more established and popular.

What kind of feedback are you currently getting from the retailer front line?

It’s obviously tough at the minute because people are having to temporarily shut their stores, and they are having to rely heavily on their online businesses, which most UK retailers do have now, though I know that in Italy it’s not as common as it is here. But, our business with Brand Progression is predominantly in the UK, so fingers crossed we haven’t had any order cancellations yet, and we’ve pretty much fully delivered for SS20. We’re not expecting to get paid anything in Q1, and we’re not pressuring people to pay us in Q1 either, but we’re hoping that by Q2 retailers will have had a bit of a better time and things will have improved.

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