The Interview: Superdry's Julian Dunkerton on the importance of affordability and sustainability
Julian Dunkerton founded Superdry in 2003 and has gone on to build a global retail business and brand with a reputation for quality, fit, design, and value for money.
In 2010, he led the successful float of Superdry on the London Stock Exchange at an initial value of £400m. In 2015, Dunkerton stepped down from his role as Chief Executive Officer, later returning to Superdry in April 2019, becoming its permanent CEO in December 2020. He continues to focus on brand and design and is an ambassador for sustainability.
Dunkerton tells TheIndustry.fashion about his plans for the business, how Superdry is navigating a difficult retail environment, its new Merchant Store collection, how Merchant Store links with future business plans, and why sustainability is essential.
Against a difficult macroeconomic backdrop, how is Superdry navigating a struggling retail environment?
We're all about putting value into our products. If you look at the ranges that Superdry offer and compare them to others on the high street, we're the best for value. Personally, I think we're the best for value in the world. We've moved forward a lot in the last six months in terms of product offering and, by pricing it sensibly, as well as offering good value for money to the customer, we have put ourselves in a good place.
As the Superdry brand moves in the right direction, what steps are you taking to ensure it remains relevant with its current audience?
It's all about product. If we get the product right and evolve, we keep our core customer. Three years ago, the product was very static.
This year, we have moved faster in changing our product offering than we have in a very long time. We're pushing new products that are right for our customer and we're seeing the return as a result.
I always think that in times of adversity - it's a chance to get better. I've seen several recessions in my life and it’s always interesting to see that the world doesn't come to an end and when times are tough - people still spend money on clothes to feel great. Whilst Brexit is having a detrimental effect on the country (and we're desperately in need of a free-trade deal), people are really trying to make themselves feel better by turning to fashion, and, in extension, our products.
How are you bringing in new customers who aren’t currently Superdry customers? Is it driven through product or marketing, or both?
It's a combination really. If we look at marketing, we need to approach different demographics in different ways. With regards Gen-Zs and millennials, we are reaching them through the likes of TikTok and through event showcases. We already have a very broad range of consumers and continue to build on who they are by bringing out engaging product, which sells out, and appeals to a completely new customer, who perhaps hasn't shopped with us before.
I was also proud of our womenswear sales in 2022, which saw a spike and brought in a bigger female demographic than we've seen before.
How quickly can Superdry react to the performance of collections? Are you, for example, already acting on the data you’ve learnt from Christmas 2022?
We react quickly. However, we can't physically implement it - from a consumer point of view - for quite some time as we're not a fast-fashion brand, nor do we want to be. For example, we had a very successful period of sales of a particular coat over the Christmas period, and we've taken note from its success, with the aim of applying that for future seasons.
We are like good food preparation - the ingredients really need to be carefully considered, cooked and delivered perfectly, and to do anything less would be a disservice to every step of the production process.
We also like to ship as environmentally friendly as possible, meaning we cannot use the same methods of shipment that you see from some fast-fashion brands - it's not a sustainable model. Superdry is about delivering products with as little environmental impact as possible.
Superdry has recently launched a brand-new premium collection, Merchant Store. Read more about the new collection.
What does ‘heritage inspired work wear’ mean to you?
It's very classic fabrics and silhouettes, where product quality has been the number one focus. There are so many intricate details to the collection that we felt were important to include. A consumer would struggle to find such quality in the craftsmanship at an affordable price point elsewhere. The new collection ranges from £54.99 – £174.99 and exudes everything heritage, whilst looking forward to the future.
You’ve previously described Superdry as the “number-one sustainable style destination” – how has the company worked towards increased levels of sustainability, and how does it link to success in the future?
Superdry has guaranteed its customers that by 2025 we will be using 100% organic cotton, and this collection is another step towards that. We're already above our own internal targets towards sustainability, which feels exciting.
We're in the process of converting 20,000 farmers to organic cotton practices and this makes me very proud. We're the only brand investing in an organic cotton farming programme where we continue to support the farmers throughout the process. I really enjoy going straight to the core of a product and seeing it through every step of the journey.
The final step for me is delivering these products at an affordable price. We don't want to price something within a bracket where most customers are unable to afford it and are priced out because it's a sustainable garment. Sustainability shouldn't be unaffordable.
Almost four years back at the helm of the business, can you summarise one of your biggest achievements?
The thing I'm most proud of is how we have improved the clarity of the product and driven it forward. Our team of designers have been inspired to look ahead, not back, which has really helped to elevate the business. I think the whole business was going backwards at one point in time, however we've turned a corner and are in a much better place now.
The next 12 months, how does it look for Superdry? Is this brand-new premium menswear collection an indicator of what is to come?
Absolutely. Historically, Superdry has had a small group of products that have sold amazingly well across the globe. However, we have now divided our ranges up into different demographics which is allowing us to speak to individual consumer groups. We're no longer reliant on one product for everybody, we've got the best products for the best group of people and can tailor that for each - no one group is the same.
This will allow us to become a much more sophisticated brand. We have been too static previously and kept the business going on very similar products for the same people. Now, I'm all about making sure that we are constantly bringing in and impressing new customers.