An enduring force with international reach, London-based retailer Browns turned 50 in 2020. Here, Holli Rogers, still-CEO (and board member as of 1 April) at Browns, reveals the strategies at play in bringing the concept forward.
Holli Rogers stepped into her role as Browns’ CEO in 2015. Armed with experience from heavyweights such as Chanel, Neiman Marcus, and Net-a-Porter–which she joined as a founding member in 2002–she’s strategically steering Browns in a direction that respects its heritage yet aligns with the ever-shifting retail terrain. As of 1 April, Rogers is stepping down as CEO and transitioning to a chair position at Browns to focus more on her role as chief brand officer of Browns parent Farfetch.
Browns celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. How has the concept evolved since Joan and Sidney Burstein founded the store in 1970?
Fundamentally, our ethos has remained the same. We like to innovate and take risks, support and celebrate talent, place value in our community and our people and putting creativity, fashion and culture at the heart of everything we do. In terms of changing customer behavior, today’s consumers want convenience, enabling them to move seamlessly between the physical and digital worlds. They also want to feel connected and inspired, with a personalized retail experience. We very much see the value in bricks-and-mortar and how retail spaces allow customers to experience and engage with the brand, and for us, it’s all about resurfacing the magic of physical stores via technology.
You opened an edgier sister concept in 2017. How does Browns East complement the original store on South Molton Street, and how is the synergy between the pair playing out?
Retail has been at an inflection point for the last few years, and this is one of the many reasons why we opened Browns East. I’d describe it as an augmented retail environment designed to be entirely flexible, creating the perfect landscape for the ever-evolving needs and desires of the client of tomorrow. With experience at the forefront, you’ll find a café, an immersive room and an art gallery in-store, and the space changes up every four weeks to offer the consumer new experiences regularly.
You need to engage the customer in different ways today. When I joined five years ago, I deemed it essential to get the online side of the business up and running in a more robust and meaningful way, not just offering functionality. For us, it’s about bringing the best attributes of online and offline and leveraging these carefully. Our 50th celebration coincides with a design refresh of brownsfashion.com. This includes a newly dedicated boutiques hub bringing the joy of service to the forefront via Browns Residencies–a series of virtual and physical customer experiences. As part of this initiative, we’ll be inviting key players from different disciplines–from fashion and beauty to food–to offer various bespoke services unique to Browns. We’ve also been working hard on our in-store app over the past few months and this will be rolled out to all our sales associates. The pandemic-enforced store closure has allowed us to shift our priorities and accelerate these developments whilst taking into consideration the needs of the customer in this climate.
What’s the most recent consumer shift you’ve seen, aside from the digital transition?
Our customers are much more consciously minded these days, particularly the younger generation. They’re making more sustainability-led purchasing decisions, while also looking at holding brands accountable. Looking to the future, I’m keen to make sure that we are affecting as much change as we can instead of going along for the ride. We’re constantly looking at our product offering, expanding into new categories and really putting an emphasis on our Conscious edit.
Promoting new talent has always been Browns forte. How do you go about teaming up with new talent in these difficult times?
Browns’ legacy as an incubator for new talent and bringing huge designers to the forefront remains a focus to this day. When Browns launched, it was the first multibrand luxury retailer of its kind, serving as a UK-market platform for so many international brands including Ralph Lauren, Jil Sander and Calvin Klein. It’s the curation and edit that make Browns what it is. We’ve been blown away by the creativity from young designers over the past year, particularly in the conscious space. The impact of 2020 has brought out a lot of creativity, giving people the time to consider their businesses and decide what makes sense to them. A few years ago, we revisited payment terms and made the decision to pre-pay young designers once an order was placed, ensuring that the production cost could be covered. During the pandemic, many designers have been vulnerable with regards to cash flow, and we continue to work with our accounts team to prioritize their payments. The Browns buying team and wider business are in constant communication with brand partners to see if more can be done to support them–we’re here to talk, listen and find solutions.
As for the Covid-19 crisis, how has it affected the business and consumer attitudes? What might arise in the pandemic’s wake?
What we’ve learned is whilst the digital arena is accessible 24/7, the in-store experience is in demand more than ever. For s/s ’21–due to the more streamlined view for seasonality and flexible delivery windows–product is focused on buy-now-wear now, which I hope will stay with us. I also hope that the women’s and men’s markets can find a way to continue showing their new collections at the same time, to offset some of the travel. This shift, coupled with a more sustainable mindset, will hopefully result in a slower pace and the championing of longevity in fashion.
Through our new space in London’s Mayfair, we’ll be offering a vital and engaging customer experience that draws on the ‘store of the future technology’ whilst also paying homage to the history and story of both the location – 39 Brook Street – and fundamentally Browns. Utilizing all our experience and knowledge, we wanted to create an intuitive, complementary environment that blends exceptional service with technology to create a seamless and connected customer journey that signifies our on-going commitment to the human aspect of physical retail.
[Please note: A shortened version of this interview was published in the printed issue of The SPIN OFF, #01]