Tuesday, 18 August 2009

This is not just any birthday. This is M&S' 125th birthday.

When Minsk born Michael Marks set up a market stall in1884, little did he know that his name would remembered, loved and celebrated 125 years on, appearing on over 650 stores in the UK and over 285 around the world.

Earlier this year, Fashionista brought you a sneak preview of the August Anniversary Post. Well, the wait is over, as this month Fashionista celebrates one of our most iconic and well loved brands - M&S - which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.

In May, we saw M&S' 125th celebrations kick off in style with a television advertising campaign fronted by sixties icon Twiggy, who first modelled for M&S in 1967 before returning to the brand in 1995. We also saw the hugely successful 3 day Penny Bazaar which was launched in stores across the country, echoing the brand's origins, where the original market stall in Leeds bore a sign saying "Don't ask the price, it's a penny" – masking Marks' inability to speak English.

With more than 70% of M&S clothing designed in-house by its designers, all products are exclusive to M&S. This is a clever marketing strategy. If you want the M&S brand, you have to go to an M&S store. Whilst many brands operate through concessions which typically sell a limited selection of a brand's full range, M&S stores have the capacity to display much more of a collection as the brand is not competing for floor space with other brands. It can sell a much larger range of products, so the customer who may have walked in for a skirt, will see the perfect shoes, bag and accessories to match - a true one stop shop!

To celebrate the 125 anniversary through fashion, M&S has already launched a spring/summer collection, with the classically elegant grey polka dot dress an immediate sell out. Another 125 collection is planned for later this year. This is a brand we all know and love. Its reputation and recognition is immense. Fashionista was fascinated to learn that:

* M&S sells around 30 pairs of men’s slippers every minute;
* In the UK, 1 in 3 women wear an M&S bra and 1 in 4 men wear M&S pants;
* Each year M&S sells enough men’s underwear to clothe the entire male population of the UK;
* Every year M&S sells enough tights and stockings to stretch from London to Hong Kong and back – nearly 12,000 miles of hosiery;
* On average, M&S sells a men’s suit every 30 seconds; and
* The number of bras that M&S sells every year would stretch to the moon and back.

It's not only the volume and breadth of its reputation that M&S is known for. This is a fashion forward high street giant – mixing with the luxury brands by pitching itself at their level, advertising in Vogue as early as 1975. Always seeking to be one step ahead of the competition, M&S:

* launched the first ever high street petite range in 1953 because the majority of women were shorter than the average of 5’5”;
* carried out the first comprehensive leg survey in 1954, to improve the fit of its stockings basing size on calf and leg measurements as well as foot size;
* trialled fitting rooms for the first time at the Plymouth M&S store in 1977. They were so popular that they were then rolled out to all M&S stores over the next few years;
* launched the first machine washable suits for men in 2001;
* launched the Limited Collection for women in 2003 providing new styles on a weekly basis in response to the demand for fast fashion; and
* launched ‘Stormwear’ in 2007 – a range of clothing for men with a unique fabric, which is water and stain repellent.

And that's not all! Loyal readers will know that Fashionista likes to be green – and applauds M&S for being green too by:

* recycling over 120 million coat hangers every year;
* using over 25 million recycled waste plastic bottles to make polyester, which is used in its homeware and bedding as well as in polyester garments;
* introducing the "Look Behind the Label" campaign in 2006 to highlight the ethical and environmentally friendly aspects of the production and sourcing methods used by M&S;
* being the first retailer to launch schoolwear made from recycled plastic bottles in 2007;
* opening its first ‘eco factory’ in Sri Lanka in 2008 (designed to be carbon neutral the factory combines energy saving devices, renewable energy and waste reduction processes); and

* launching the Oxfam Clothes Exchange in 2008 to encourage customers to recycle their old clothes, raise money to support the work of Oxfam, and reduce the amount of clothing sent to landfill in the UK.

For the Fashionista-at-Law Birthday Q&A, Fashionista was lucky enough to speak with Tania Littlehales, Head of Product PR at M&S, and asked:

(1) What is the M&S brand?

Quality Value Service Innovation and Trust are the key pillars of the brand and remain as relevant today in our 125th year as they did in 1884. Plan A - our plan to work with our customers and our suppliers to combat climate change, reduce waste, safeguard natural resources, trade ethically and build a healthier nation - is now completely integrated into the way we do business. It isn't a separate activity but represents the way we behave and act across the board.

(2) Who is the M&S customer and how has she changed over the years?

Our customers are an incredibly broad base from every walk of life and that has really always been the case. She (or he) can be any age, size, lifestyle, income or taste. It's one of the aspects that make this such a challenging and exciting business as our customers are so varied - and they often have a very clear view and idea of what M&S is to them and what they want from us.

(3) What inspires M&S?

Our customers - we get amazing feedback and input from them every day and everything we do is inspired by what they want and what we think they will want.

(4) What does the future hold for the brand?

It's our 125th Birthday this year and we plan on being around for another 125 years. We aim to continue to show that you can be both an ethical business and a profitable one (as we always have done), to continue to be a trusted retailer who offers Quality Value Service and Innovation to all our customers. We are also continuing to expand our international business both in terms of shops and with initiatives such as overseas delivery from our website.

Not wanting to wish away the summer, but Fashionista is looking forward to seeing what the Autumn/Winter 125 collection will bring, and wishes one of our most loved iconic brands a very happy and well deserved birthday. Twiggy tells us "Not bad for a Penny Bazaar". No, not bad at all...