EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rigby & Peller managing director Isabel Baert

In her first interview as Rigby & Peller’s UK managing director, Isabel Baert lays out her plans evolve the lingerie retailer’s renowned fitting and styling service, both in store and online.

Isabel Baert is all smiles as she sits down with Lingerie Insight editor Sarah Clarke to talk about her new role as the UK managing director of Rigby & Peller – and with good reason.

She joins the company at an exciting time in the industry, when online lingerie sales are soaring year on year and there’s never been a greater focus on customer experience in the physical boutique world.

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In her new role, she hopes to grow the brand in these areas and strengthen Rigby & Peller’s renowned client service across all platforms.

“I’m super, super excited. For me, it’s a real honour to take up this challenge because the UK market is really exciting,” she says.

“I’m immensely proud of working in our flagship market – where the brand originates – with a dynamic and talented team.”

Baert is the former global head of Buying Retail at Rigby & Peller, the retail brand of Belgian lingerie manufacturer Van de Velde.

She has held several posts within this group over the last four years, starting out as a merchandiser in the US, before being promoted as head of buying and, later, regional manager for lingerie boutiques in the north-eastern states.

Reminiscing on when her new role as managing director first came about, Baert says she seized the opportunity with both hands.

“When the opportunity came to lead the UK market I jumped at the chance,” she recalls.

“The joys of being a managing director means that no two days are the same – it is multi-faceted role, which I need. What I love specifically about Rigby & Peller is how it combines a fantastic quality product with an unrivalled shopping experience. To help drive this is an absolute honour.”

In her first few months in the role, Baert has been learning the business from the bottom up.

“I’ve been learning all about the UK business – our boutiques and online, but also about our clients’ wants and needs,” she explains.

“I’ve also been getting to know the teams. As with many businesses, people are at the heart of ours and I have been concentrating on not only getting to know our teams, but ensuring that the right people are in the right places.”

Baert has been most surprised by the commitment of Rigby & Peller’s in-store lingerie stylists.

“I always knew that they were experts in their field, but what I hadn’t realised is the extent of pride they take in giving excellent client service.

“I’m constantly humbled by how our lingerie stylists can touch so many of our clients’ lives. I am so grateful for the loyalty of our clients and also for how vocal they are in sharing their positive experiences.”

Rigby & Peller is best known for its lingerie styling expertise, and it is this industry knowledge that attracts customers to its stores every day. But the company is not about to rest on its laurels.

“I am very passionate about training,” Baert says. “Whether you are new in the business or a long-standing member of staff, training is an ongoing focus, which is needed to ensure that we exceed client expectations. Our stylists need to be equipped with knowledge to ensure that they can help women during key moments of their lives,” she continues.

Recognising the upward trend for shopping online – driven by consumers’ growing confidence in ecommerce and the need for convenience – Baert also has plans to translate Rigby & Peller’s in-store services in an online environment.
“This will be an interesting challenge to tackle. We see fast growth online, which is really exciting, but we need to make sure that it is a true reflection of what Rigby & Peller stands for,” she explains.

“I want to focus on how we will deliver our fit and style service online, so having more style and fit content on our website and also having a client service representative on the phone who is able to assist our clients and, if necessary, direct them to one of our boutiques,” she adds.

“In line with the overall UK market, we have enjoyed fast growth online, but I believe that online and offline work hand and hand. Online is often the gateway to understanding the brand. Efforts will be focused on enhancing our online service to provide as much expertise and advice as possible and making lingerie shopping an enjoyable experience, without retracting from our boutiques.”

Going forward, Baert will also help oversee the accumulation of the best brands in the industry in store and online, including those labels that are embracing the underwear as outerwear trend.

She believes that more women are recognising lingerie as an enabler of outerwear – off-the shoulder and asymmetric tops for example – and that some underwear styles have become fashion statements in their own right.

“I really believe that the gap between lingerie and ready-to-wear is closing. Lingerie brands are getting faster at interpreting and adapting runway trends,” she says.

“For AW17, I think we will see a return to opulence, with detailed fabric fabrications with key embellishments. That said, I think silhouettes will remain clean and simple, with the bralette remaining a wardrobe staple alongside the balconette.”

So what is Rigby & Peller’s new UK managing director most looking forward to about the AW16 trading season?
“Without shadow of a doubt, the Christmas trade,” she enthuses. “We produce a festive guide to the season, which includes all key pieces that shoppers might need for the season, reaching from lingerie solutions and statement pieces to nightwear – for cosy nights in – and gifting.

But how will Rigby & Peller convince Christmas shoppers to splash out on new lingerie? A survey conducted by Rigby & Peller on US and UK customers earlier this year found that three in 10 women have been wearing the same two bras for over 10 years, with 5% owning at least one bra that is over 20 years old.

Baert explains that the retailer will continue to promote the positive benefits of building an effective lingerie wardrobe and focus on making the shopping experience more pleasurable.

“I truly believe that is an area where we, as an industry, have work to do. We should be under no illusions that when people buy lingerie it can be seen as an intimidating experience, so we need to look at how we can make that experience more enjoyable.

“It is our job to raise awareness and educate women on building effective lingerie wardrobes and, naturally, we want to be at the front of their minds when they do this, whichever channel they use,” Baert continues.

“We have enjoyed steady growth over the last few years and believe that women in general are taking more of an interest in the positive benefits of quality lingerie and, indeed, how lingerie can be used as key fashion items.

“One of the trends that we have seen growing over the last couple of years is women buying lingerie for other women. This is a really positive message, as it shows the emotional benefits lingerie can bring.”

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